5 Questions for Asad Whitehead

The senior music industry major is interning at “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” this semester.

Entrepreneur. Social justice advocate. Mentor. Student leader. Asad Whitehead wears many hats, but music is what fuels his soul. 

A two-sport standout in high school, Whitehead turned down multiple athletic scholarships from smaller schools because none offered the musical opportunities he found at Monmouth. Now a senior, he says he loves the mix of classes he takes as a music industry major: “I’m getting a bit of everything: performance, production, and the business side of it all.”

Outside of class, Whitehead is involved in several campus organizations, including Blue Hawk Records (BHR), WMCX, the Black Student Union (BSU), and Empowering Young Black Males. He’s also steadily building his own live entertainment brand, Versatile Arts and Entertainment. When we talked in December, Whitehead had just completed an internship with the United Justice Coalition (UJC) and Roc Nation, the multimedia company founded by Jay-Z. As one of a handful of college students selected from across the country, Whitehead helped organize the second-annual UJC Summit, which brought together thought leaders and entertainers to address issues in social justice and criminal justice reform. 

How did you land the UJC internship, and what was the experience like? 

I was already doing a lot of work advocating for social justice, bringing awareness to police brutality, and increasing civic engagement. When I interviewed, I also told them the story behind the brand I created, Versatile. It all sort of aligned with what UJC does. 

Every day last summer, and once a week during the past semester, I was at Roc Nation’s headquarters in New York City. Being an artist and a music guy, just being in that building was an amazing experience. I had a lot of meetings with UJC’s advisory board, which is made up of powerful people from different industries—everyone from Charlamagne tha God to Michael Eric Dyson to Gayle King. I made a lot of connections with influential people who share my passion for social justice, so I’m grateful to have had that opportunity. 

You mentioned your brand. Can you share the story behind it and what you do?

Versatile grew out of a rap group I was in that was formed as the result of shared tragedies. My best friend’s father was killed by police brutality in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 2018. My brother had also passed away recently, and the other person in our group had lost his two-year old nephew. It was a traumatic time, and we were all looking for a way to cope. We had all made music separately, so we channeled our grief into doing it together. We released a song, “What Else?”, that addressed the topic of police brutality, and we performed it at shows around Wilkes-Barre, where we also promoted awareness of the issue.

Asad Whitehead against a white seamless background
“I know that everything I did at Monmouth will play a role in my future,” says Whitehead.

In the years since, I have started diving more into the arts and entertainment, which led me to create Versatile Arts and Entertainment. It’s a media business that serves as a platform for celebrating and promoting artistic freedom by bringing together musicians, visual artists, dancers, fashion designers, and other creative individuals. In the music realm, we showcase a diverse range of artists and musical genres. Within the visual arts realm, we host exhibitions showcasing the creations of painters, sculptors, photographers, and mixed-media artists. But music is the key to it all. 

You’re in your second year as president of BSU. How have you grown from that experience?

I’m a big “event guy.” I’m creative. I like to put things together—to take nothing and make it something nice. BSU gives me the opportunity to sponsor events, bring in speakers, plan trips, and fundraise. It’s like a practice run for what I want to do with Versatile: running artistic- and music-based events. 

BSU has also helped me become a better leader. I speak at meetings, and I’m the moderator for a lot of the events we sponsor. Monmouth is still a primarily white institution, so I understand the importance of maintaining thriving intercultural clubs and organizations such as BSU. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I put my all into it and love the work.

What inspired you to start mentoring high school students, and what’s been the biggest takeaway for you?

My roommate, Gildon Smith, who’s vice president of BSU, got me involved with Empowering Young Black Males, which is a collaboration between Monmouth and Big Brothers Big Sisters. Every other Tuesday, students from Neptune and Long Branch high schools visit campus, and we’ll do various activities together. The goal is to build relationships with these young Black men and give them life advice, since they’re about to go through the same thing we did heading into college. 

I think the biggest takeaway for me has been that I’ve learned to be open-minded and vulnerable. You never know what someone else is going through. I’ve realized there’s a lot you can learn from everyone, regardless of their age. 

You’ll be graduating in a few months. What’s next for you? 

This spring, I’ll be a music intern at “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” I’ll be working closely with the daily musical guests and the house band, The Roots, to ensure seamless and memorable performances on the show. I’m looking forward to getting an immersive experience in the fast-paced world of television and having a front-row seat to the excitement of live music production on a national stage. 

As far as after graduation, regardless of where I go, I know that everything I did at Monmouth will play a role in my future. That’s why I did mentoring: to enlighten people and help the younger generation. That’s why I joined BSU: to learn how to be a leader and throw events.

That’s why I joined Blue Hawk Records: to learn how to work with other artists and see how a label works. Everything I’ve done here has been for a reason, and I’m grateful I’ve had these opportunities. Without them, I don’t know where I’d be.

Musical Aside

Asad Whitehead’s commitment to social justice, entrepreneurial drive, and natural leadership abilities converge around his passion for music, which he says is his “personal outlet for self-expression and setting an example for others.” Here’s a look at how that has taken shape at Monmouth.

Blue Hawk Records

As a singer, rapper, and songwriter performing under the name Kid Ace, Whitehead has appeared on two of the student-run record label’s albums. He’s also secretary of The Music Alliance, BHR’s live event planning team. 

Equal Sound Initiative

The project, which Whitehead secured grant funding for, has enabled several campuswide musical programs, including a “Classroom Concert” series held in collaboration with BSU, BHR, and WMCX.

Live Nation Scholarship

Whitehead was one of six recipients selected nationwide to receive a $10,000 scholarship from Live Nation and the Music Forward Foundation. The award supports students pursuing careers in Live Nation’s core business areas: concert promotion, venue operation, sponsorship, ticketing, and artist management.

“Vice Versa” 

Whitehead’s biweekly radio show on WMCX, where he’s also head of media production, features a heavy dose of hip-hop and R&B as well as discussions of such topics as mental health, college life, and the struggles of being Black in today’s society.