By  on September 28, 2005

NEW YORK — "I've never been to a book party in my life," admitted Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter on Monday night, surveying the packed room assembled for the launch party for Kevin Liles' book, "Make It Happen: The Hip-Hop Generation Guide to Success" (Atria Books, cowritten with Samantha Marshall). "Actually, this looks like a rap party."

He wasn't kidding. Liles, who in nine years rose from unpaid intern to president of Def Jam Records — and is now executive vice president of Warner Music Group — has over the years worked with some of music's top names, and several hundred of them turned out to celebrate his book.

"Kevin and I come from the same story and epitomize the entrepreneurial spirit of the inner city, the community we came from," said Sean "Diddy" Combs, who arrived fashionably late, clad in a stylish mix of Gucci and Sean John apparel.

Agreed Russell Simmons: "I've known Kevin for many years, and he has always been the best example of what we can do with hip-hop."

Gayle King, editor at large of O, the Oprah Magazine, had a slightly different view: "I am a square with four corners," she cracked, "and Kevin is the epitome of cool."

As he introduced Liles, Edgar Bronfman Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Warner Music Group, said dryly: "Kevin felt it was important that at least one white person get up here and say something nice." Turning serious, he added, "Kevin has been a blessing to the Warner Music Group…in some ways, he is its spiritual center."

Liles' message, both in his book and in day-to-day life, is clear: hard work, and plenty of it, will pay off in the long run. "Anyone who doesn't believe in hard work — don't read this book," he told the crowd, a theme he continued in a private conversation. "A lot of people want to put the initials 'ceo' in front of their name — but that has to be backed up with hard work," he said later. Liles had studied engineering at Morgan State for four years before heading into the hip-hop arena. He now advises aspiring moguls to go after internships. "Not necessarily unpaid internships, like I had," Liles said with a laugh, "but if you start at that level, no one can ever say that you didn't pay your dues."

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