Karen Civil is a Jane of All Trades. While helping grow the digital footprints of artists among the likes of Lil Wayne and Jeezy, the New Jersey native has simultaneously built a personal brand so reputable that Hillary Clinton employed her services at a recent campaign rally in Atlanta. Funkmaster Flex's former intern went from answering phones and ordering his dinner to having 15 employees of her own and owning multiple companies, creating a story great enough to turn into a book. So she did.
Just days before Be You & Live Civil became available, Karen and I met up at Inked's headquarters to add to our respective tattoo collections. The book's release landed on Karen's birthday, so while it was certainly a great gift to herself as far as personal endeavors go, it's also quite the gift to others.
“It's really just about helping people become well-rounded individuals,” she explains as Leathernecks Tattoo's Kenny K-Bar works on her new ink. “It's about self-motivation, finding your happiness, your inner peace. It's not really music industry-related, but rather about you unlocking your potential and finding your purpose.”
After the successful launch of her hip-hop entertainment website in 2008, KarenCivil.com, Karen would later go on to create LiveCivil.com, a portal catered toward positive affirmations and tips for a better living. Suffice to say, Be You & Live Civil is right on brand with that. And while she'd scored a deal through rap mogul Birdman's publishing partnership with Simon & Schuster, she's putting this one out on her own. However, that one's still coming.
“The official book is actually 10 chapters, but I wanted to put that out through the Simon & Schuster deal that I had with Birdman,” Karen says. “But since so many people have been asking me for it, I took a small part of it and decided to make this workbook. But I'm taking my time with the bigger book, I'm not rushing. So I was like, let me give the people these four chapters at least, so they have something they can enjoy and help them as well.”
Like I said, it's a pretty selfless gift—and this isn't the first time she's celebrated in such a way. On her 30th birthday last year, Karen broke ground on a brand new playground in Haiti, built with her own money and her own vision.
“The playground was something that I wanted to do,” she says. “I know the importance of a playground and how important it was to me growing up in New Jersey. I could look to the left and the right and there was a park in Elizabeth. It was just an idea I was toying with and I put it on my vision board. I tried to do it first in Elizabeth because I wanted to redo Jefferson Park near where I grew up, and I couldn't get any answers from anyone. So since my roots are there, I took my talents to Haiti.”
What was once an empty lot now has a basketball court, tables to eat outside, shade, benches. There's running water and bathrooms that they didn't have before. And, says Karen, it's a work-in-progress, because a full-fledged soccer field is on its way. My last birthday, I got drunk in a bar in Manhattan. Suffice to say, Karen's birthdays trump most.
K-Bar has moved on from the arrow he tattooed on her inner wrist (“This is where I need to go—continue to move forward and not backward and this is just my small, little, gentle reminder,”) to touching up Karen's other tattoos—a cross on her right hand's ring finger, and a heart on her left hand's ring finger.
“A few years ago, I went to Vegas with my friend Jessica and we got matching tattoos,” Civil says of the one on her right hand. “I got a cross because I felt like I was at a crossroad in my life, trying to figure out what to do next. I was at Beats By Dre and I felt like my Beats life was doing great, but my brand was suffering. And the heart on my other hand, it's all about self-love.”
A personal friend of mine for over a decade now, I honestly still couldn't understand how Karen possibly fits everything she does into the same 24 hours that we all have. She's like that Beyoncé meme, except—she's Karen Civil. K Bar was done with the tattoos for both of us now, but I still needed some more answers.
“All together, there's about 15 different people who work for me,” Civil explained. “From writers and content producers, to people who work with my digital media company. I'm at a point where you have to start trusting people, and bringing people in who understand. So it's just like, I delegate a lot to them. It's not about me just being the smartest person. I show them how things are done, and I have all these people who are in places who know what needs to be done, and they then delegate it to the next person. I have a good system set up now, so I'm excited about that because it's much more freeing.”
With her digital content locked in, it frees Karen up to write a book, look ridiculously flawless on Instagram and travel the world on speaking engagements, because as one would imagine, I'm not the only person who is dying to pick her brain.
“People want to hear that encouragement. They want to hear the story, because unfortunately the way social media is set up, they're like, 'Oh, you make it look easy!' But when I go and I talk to them, I'm like, this shit was not easy! I was an intern, I dealt with things, I was broke. I went through the process! I did a lot, and you lose yourself, you find yourself, you change for the good, for the worst and everything in between. And when they hear the story, they're like, 'Oh, so you're like, normal!' Yes, just like you! They get it, and I feel like they feel renewed, they feel refreshed. I've met so many different people who've left my panels or my speaking engagements, and they've come up to me later telling me I inspired them to do bigger things. I know what Angie Martinez meant to me, so if I could be that for someone else, why wouldn't I be?”