Women and Hip Hop (Part 3): Major Labels, Major Control

by Ashy to Jazzy in

major record labels

Women and Hip Hop: 
Major labels, major control

In Part 2 of our series, we discussed the lack of balance for female mc's from the aspect of exposure, artistic freedom, and content. In a continuation of my talk with Toronto MC Lex Leosis, we discussed why the hip hop world has become such a challenging space for female artists and female fans.


Lex, we seem to be losing the core of educated and “enlightened” female fans in hip hop, at least those that rep hip hop outside the privacy of their earbuds. How do we bring these women back to the hip hop world?
I understand that women feel that they’re being portrayed poorly in Hip Hop, but look at our society, how can you expect a genre of music to know better when the world doesn’t? As a woman in Hip Hop, I will always argue that you can’t judge Hip Hop on the basis of mainstream, because the underground is very much keeping Hip Hop alive and there are tons of male artists who celebrate women in a positive way. Hip Hop is a community of people, you are either in it or you are not. We welcome everyone with an open mind. I guess it really goes back to “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover”, mainstream has been speaking for our community for too long and that’s the problem. The mainstream is ran by labels, corporations and the government, so how can you expect a society who still underpays their female employees compared to men, abides by stereotypical gender roles, and is male dominated to portray something different within its society’s music? This isn’t a Hip Hop problem, this is a societal problem. Mainstream will not change, until society does. There are an army of artists trying to change society within the voice of Hip Hop, but we are largely outnumbered.

It used to be the case that if you wanted to record a track or an album and have professional distribution and radioplay, you needed to either know someone or have a “connection” or a record deal with a label. The “major record label”, as the primary 'gatekeepers' of music distribution, is a dying industry. The internet is making so many things easy to learn from the click of a mouse, and it is easier than ever to outsource every aspect of the music development process. A great example of a talented artist getting stuck in the outdated major label process is Eve.

Eve was the third female rapper to debut at #1 (following Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliot), and  she simultaneously had a hit tv show. So what happens to this successful, and obviously marketable, artist? She then went 11 years without an album release. And not for lack of trying, as she had albums delayed and “shelved” due to label politics with Interscope. It took her 2 years after having her album officially shelved to be released from Interscope, only to leave for another label to spend the next year trying to get out. Finally, this past May Eve signed independently to her own label “The Rib Music” and dropped her first album in 11 years “Lip Lock”.

Give her album a listen, and don't forget to support her independent hustle!

The thing that we many times seem to forget is that major labels are following business models. The goal from a business standpoint is to maximize output and maximize the almighty dollar$. The art is objectified, using objective “statistics” and “models” used to predict a “hit” and predict radioplay. Eve herself is quoted as saying that Jimmy Iovine of Interscope has an artistic ear "but is more concerned with trends than the artist". Now, I understand growing sick of living the life of the starving artist and signing to a major label for that financial break. But we can't forget what is traded when creative control is handed over from the hands of a female artist to a male-dominated/male-run major record label. Not only is the creative freedom compromised, but the female perspective is lost in the process. But how did hip hop get put into the hands of the mainstream music business?

For more on that, I chatted with mc, educator, author, and avid Hip Hop Ed contributor Charity Clay. Charity is originally from Minneapolis by way of Chicago, and currently lives in Oakland, CA  where she works as a youth educator. She's an upper echelon emcee (who hates the word femcee). A former collegiate Division 1 hooper, she's currently writing a dissertation/book on the experiences of black women playing collegiate Division 1 basketball. She is also working on a book about growing up during the "golden era" of hiphop. “I love sneakers and Stuart Weitzman's, prefer to be heard not seen. I have impeccable comedic timing and absolutely no discernible sense of style. I'm pro black, pro woman but NOT A FEMINIST. I tend to ramble”....


Who’s your favorite female mc?
Lauryn Hill because she’s the one who was introduced to me at a time when I was working to develop MY voice as a woman in Hip Hop. I was a young girl when I heard Yo-Yo, Queen Latifah, and MC Lyte so I looked up to them, but as like aunts. With Lauryn, she was like my big sister. She was a lyrical BEAST who could out-rhyme any guy with technical skill AND content, but she also had a feminine vulnerability that reminded ME that even the most BEAUTIFUL, TALENTED, INTELLIGENT women “go through it” when it comes to love. Self love, romantic love, familial love. And most importantly, she taught me that IT WAS OKAY, that it’s okay to admit that you’re hurting, that you don’t have everything figured out and that you can still be beautiful and regal. It’s crazy to me how people try to downplay her impact because she only put out one solo album (they forget The Fugees “The Score” album AND the dopeness that was on her unplugged album)...but they don’t hesitate to give Biggie the crown after 2 albums (one after he died). I also respect her decision to walk away from the industry when they attempted to “market” her in a way she was uncomfortable with. People claim that she’s crazy but the reality is that the industry has no love for artists and even less for a woman so we’ll never know ALL of the bullshit she edured.
So why do you personally think that female emcees aren’t getting recognition like they were in the so-called “golden days” (days of MC Lyte, Queen latifah, etc)?
Good question...I honestly think that the commercialization of Hip Hop had a lot to do with it because the audience changed. When Black people were the primary audience, there was respect for women’s voices because we have a strong tradition of woman vocalists in every genre...jazz, blues, soul, rock...Black women’s voices have always been respected within Black music. When people started targeting Hip Hop to young suburban whites, privilege was given to the stereotypes of Black people that they were already comfortable with. The most common of those stereotypes are the “aggressive/dangerous black man” that was embodied in the image of the thug and the “hyper-sexual/immoral black woman” that was embodied in the “bitches/hos”. Recognizing that was the direction, there were those like Lil Kim and Foxy Brown who tried to give a VOICE to that “bitch/ho” to give people insight into HER situation and struggles but the preference was for the women to be SEEN and NOT heard...so as time went on and industry execs saw how people responded to how the women LOOKED more than what they were actually saying...the weaves, boobs and booties got bigger and the lyrics got drowned out.

Now, its to the point in Hip Hop in general where people don't even want to hear anything REAL.  For the most part they want fantasy they want rap to paint pictures of a grandiose lifestyle that doesn't exist.  I hear people critique J. Cole and Big K.R.I.T. for being "boring" because their rhymes reflect THEIR experiences...and I think that both are talented artists. So considering that authenticity is not respected from MEN, in Hip Hop, it's so much harder for women. I was told by an A&R that I'm not marketable because my music doesn't make women want to BE me and it doesn't make men want to FUCK me. When that’s the mindset of the industry executives, it determines what type of artists they'll even invest in. The sad thing is that I think there are more dope women emcees out now than any time I remember. But it's so tough for us to get heard.

LoDo: “Where do we go as women in the hip hop world?”

Charity Clay: “I've been listening to hip hop since I was 5 and I've always stayed away from misogynistic lyrics. I used to hate Wu tang clan because being objectified as a flavor of ice cream made me uncomfortable because guys were using those terms in their street harassment, and this is before I even hit puberty. BUT I DIDNT TURN MY BACK ON HIP HOP. Because Hip Hop helped me find my voice, i have more of an intimate relationship with it.  I've always done the WORK of seeking out empowering images and messages in hip hop.  We have to understand that just like all other Black art forms, it is being used as a tool of oppression, but that doesn't mean that the resistance within it is dead, its just not on top 40 radio and on television.  The misogyny in Hip Hop reflects the REALITY of the gender disconnect in our community, WE CAN'T TURN OUR BACKS ON THAT. Plus, I don't believe that change comes from the outside, so if everyone fighting for better decides to abandon the culture, then it's going to be completely devoid of the values it was built on. I try to introduce women who focus on the misogyny within Hip Hop music to more empowering images and messages. But that’s something THEY should be willing to do for themselves.”

It is no secret that hip hop is a male-dominated industry with a majority of artists being males and a majority of label executives being males. So how can we as women really place blame to males within the industry for not bringing the female perspective. You can't have a room full of men and be pissed off that they are not discussing women's issues or women's perspectives. It is the same to walk into a room full of women and complain that there is no male perspective: rightfully so if there are no males present to provide the male view. You know who needs to bring the female perspective: FEMALES! When you notice there is no female voice in the room, THEN CHOOSE TO BE THE FEMALE VOICE! Remaining neutral or on the sidelines will do nothing for the female hip hop world.

Now many people will argue that major record labels have been involved with hip hop for a long time, which is true. So why is is that we've seen such a drastic change in female emcee's within the world of mainstream and major record labels? There were a wide variety of emcees back in the day that signed major record deals, yet still managed to have a balanced, variety of topics in their music. So what did artists like Eve, Trina, Ladybug Mecca, Remy Ma, Da Brat, Lauryn Hill, Shawna, Missy Elliot, and Lil Kim all have in common? At their peaks of success, they were all backed and supported by strong crews.

Join us for the continuation of our series with Part 4 “Women and Hip Hop: The Fall Out Of The Crew” featuring Toronto mc pHoenix Pagliacci @ItsMePagliacci

If you liked what you heard from Lex Leosis and Charity Clay, don't forget to follow them on @MissLexxxLeo and @UrfavCharity

If you didn't see the first two parts of this 3 part series "Women in Hip Hop", here are the links!  

women hip hop
balance and hip hop
 @LoDoTheDrumrchk twitter.com/lodothedrumrchk
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