Two weeks ago, I sat nervously at A3C’s “Ladies First” panel watching seven women I admire discuss gender conflicts in rap music. Every seat in the room was filled and every spot along the wall was held. Even the aisles were obstructed with people sitting Indian-style, listening intently. The panelists were some of the most influential women in the music industry: Grand Hustle’s Hannah Kang, Deb Antney, Karen Civil, Da Brat, author Shanti Das, DTP’s COO Aiysha Obafemi, and Bossip’s Senior Editor, Janee Bolden, who moderated. Throughout the evening, debates ensued about topics ranging from women being lower earners than men in music, to misogyny, to the appropriateness of the term “female rapper”.
The crowd was made up mostly of women but there were a few men in attendance. Applause and cheers erupted from the room throughout the entire segment by women agreeing with the panelists' responses to questions being asked. On women earning less money than men, author Shanti Das responded, “There were some jobs where my male counterparts were making 30, 40, sometimes even 50 percent more than what I was making. I knew that I was a good marketer and a good executive so I hired my own attorney, did my own research on what the guys were making, and renegotiated my contract.” In response to the controversy of the term “female rapper”, both Aiysha Obafemi and Da Brat felt being known as woman first isn’t an issue since their work speaks for itself.
Men in the room were almost an afterthought because of how vocal the ladies were. When the floor was opened to the audience for questions, women flew from their seats to the microphone for the opportunity to address the panel. “How do I further my career?” one young lady asked. “How do you remain professional when conducting business with a male?” asked another. Witnessing this huge response left me with one feeling: another era of women captivating rap culture could be dawning on us again.
We were spoiled in the 90s and early 2000s when females maintained a balance in music: When Salt & Peppa were telling dudes to “Shoop”, Gangsta Boo was asking “Where Them Dollas At?”, and Lil Kim was proclaiming “Fuck Niggas, Get Money”. Then, a dry spell plagued the culture. Whether they were looking for us in the foreground or behind the scenes, everyone started asking where the women were in the music industry. But it’s not just within music; for ages there haven’t been enough women in industries across the board.
Societal pressures are hugely to blame for women being pushed out of the limelight, making our presence almost nonexistent. As if living in a patriarchal society isn’t enough, a woman’s image is always being called into question, whether it be social, physical, or mental. While it does seem that men dominate and dictate industries such as music, we also have ourselves to blame for perpetuating this mentality of inferiority. On a personal level, I recently turned down an invitation to participate on a panel about local hip-hop for fear of not being credible enough. The males on this panel were veterans in the music business and I thought I could be perceived as unfit, had I agreed to do it. But who said that this would be the case?
I got in my own way. However, as a woman, I can’t let society’s oppression influence me to internalize its misconceptions of who I am. I appreciate the women of the A3C panel for showing up and having a voice for us in the music culture. In such a male-dominated industry, there needs to be a balance provided for the stories of women to be told. In the past we’ve valued voices such as MC Lyte and Queen Latifah who gave us messages of female empowerment. Even when Kiah was telling us to pop our pussies in the club or Nicki says shake our anacondas, we get a feeling of satisfaction--like we’ve finally got one over on the guys. There are female voices that still exist, from mainstream to local, but it is up to us to embrace them with open arms and let them lead the movement towards balance being restored.
At the end of the panel, everyone, including me, flocked towards the front of the room anxious to ask more questions and take pictures. I was nervous, but it felt like the first step towards a queen rising. Probably something every woman in the audience felt that night.
-Janae Griffin / @trudatblog