Kamal Gray

GRAMMY® Award winner, member of the Roots, keyboard player and vocalist

Athletes and entertainers face unique wealth management opportunities, considerations and challenges. The athletes and entertainers we interviewed shared their personal stories and perspectives to highlight the need for more financial education in the sports and entertainment world. We thank them for being strong advocates of financial literacy.

Microphone for a singer is standing next to a keyboard.

Kamal’s advice

“Many of us were not raised in homes where money was openly discussed. Don’t let that stop you from learning how to manage your wealth. You have to plan for the future. The pandemic is a wake-up call. Will you be OK if you stop working? For how long?”

The age of seventeen

When Kamal was 17, a music manager called him with an opportunity to join a hip-hop band that had landed a new record deal. The gifted, young keyboard player was still a high school student in Philadelphia, while the band was in London preparing for their European tour. Although his parents thought it was more important for him to earn a college degree, Kamal wanted to pursue his music dreams. In 1994, he accepted the band’s offer the day after his high school graduation. “I told my parents ‘I’m moving to London. I’ll figure out college later.’ That’s how I ended up joining the Roots.”

Rich with music

Founded by childhood friends Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, the Roots were building their name in the early 1990s by playing in venues across Europe. “We shared everything. We bought food together and partied together. Money was looked at as a necessity, not the goal. We were nomads, doing small shows for peanuts. All the money we made was used to get to the next show. We had just enough money to travel back and forth.” The laissez-faire attitude toward finances suited Kamal. His childhood home was rich with music but at times short on cash. The sounds of Bob Marley, Prince, Herbie Hancock and Thelonious Monk were interspersed with talk of unpaid bills that he overheard through the walls.

It was taboo to talk about money with the kids. We were told to stay in our child’s place. This is grown-up stuff.

Spending freely

The Roots returned stateside two years later. Kamal and his bandmates started receiving generous cash advances from their record label. “I never thought ‘Let me save my money.’ I was making more money but also spending more money. That mentality went on and on. Life was a party. My closest friends and I would go to a club and I’d pick up the tab.” Kamal notes that financial literacy is lacking among many entertainers because it’s not openly discussed. “In the African American household, money and credit isn’t always taught. You don’t learn about checks and balances. I didn’t even have a bank account. I’d come home with $10,000 in cash.”

New money mindset

Kamal became a father at age 23. The responsibilities of being a parent changed his money mindset. Providing a secure future for a growing family became a priority. “Before that, my mentality was to play hard and spend it while I have it. You can’t take it with you. When I had my first kid, I started to wake up a bit.” Parenthood pulled him away from the party scene. “I started spending a lot more time on my craft, creating and recording music.”

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