An Open Letter, A Call to Action to Our Hip-Hop Community: Put us Women on that Line-Up & Stop the Disrespect!

Big shout out to DJ Kuttin Kandi for always speaking up and reminding all of us our responsibility. What makes this letter so important is that as much as we in Hip Hop like to smash on the troubling aspects of mainstream and corporate backed Hip Hop,our so called progressiveness and ‘us keeping it real’ stop at the front door when it comes to women. Something is seriously amiss, we can turn on the BET awards as much as we like to criticize, and see MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Nicki Minaj and others hosting and performing and not see a cadre of women artists on the line up for a popular ‘alternative’ outlet like Rock the Bells we all have to take a pause and ask ourselves some hard questions. Why and how is this happening?

And for the record, RTB is not the only one, its just the most visible, but we can take a look at dozens of so called underground spots all over the country and see a lack of women rocking the house.  The offerings get even more sparse when you listen to an underground mix show or club spot and ‘hardly hear any women in a nice 2 hour set. How are we allowing this to happen? We pride ourselves on crate digging and can’t find some women spitting nice flows?

People like to say women don’t draw. Well someone didn’t give that memo to artists like Invincible who put together an all woman showcase during SxSW this past spring. She had everyone from Psalm One to Tiye Phoenix. It was held a good mile away from the other showcases and yet people found their way to the venue and it was packed to the hilt..

Again shout out to Kuttin Kandi for this article…

-Davey D-



Dear Hip-Hop Community

I come to you openly as a long-time Hip-Hop DJ, Hip-Hop Poet, Hip-Hop lover, fan and etc… I come to you as someone who appreciates all of you whole-heartedly, for all that you do for Hip-Hop, for all that you do for keeping Hip-Hop going, living and breathing. I come to you for giving so much to Hip-Hop, for providing all of us with such dope Hip-Hop beats, rhythm’s and dance. I come to you for all that we have been through with Hip-Hop. I come to you because I know Hip-Hop is a space for me to be honest, a space for me to challenge others and myself.

But I also come to you as a woman in Hip-Hop, a community organizer, a Hip-Hop feminist and activist who is tired; tired of the industry that can be so cold in leaving women out of the picture all of the time. And sadly, when we are in the picture, we’re often pictured in misogynistic, sexist videos and pictures. I am tired of seeing these images over and over again. I am also tired of not having enough alternatives of these sexist music. And even when there are these so-called “alternative” spaces, it’s just as sexist too. That’s right, I’m not just talking about “mainstream” Hip-Hop, I’m also talking about that “alternative” what has often been labeled “underground Hip-Hop”, “real Hip-Hop” too. However, let me be clear that I also say “industry” because it is not Hip-Hop culture that treats women this way. Sadly, it is our own people in this industry that is doing this to our women, and each other.

So, if these alternative spaces are created to give us other kinds of outlets for other kinds of Hip-Hop we prefer which is supposingly more ethical, more “moral”, more conscious and more “Hip-Hop”; and if these supposed more ethical, more “conscious” Hip-Hop are also just as sexist and misogynistic, then where do we go from here?

During the USSF forum in Detroit, Invincible managed to bring an all-star line up of dope female artists who are in point including Miz Korona and Monica Blair

I am specifically tired of seeing this 1 year after year show, one that will remain nameless (ahem, few coming up this August), where there is an all-star-line-up and all of them are men with 1 solo female act. This show is widely considered the “real Hip-Hop” deal. I mean really, a huge line-up of about 20 something men and maybe 1 or 2 women on the bill!? And maybe a few other women who some of the artists bring along as a surprise guest but don’t even make it on the flier or even heard or seen unless you were there? Seriously? HIP-HOP, IS THIS WHERE WE’RE AT? I can name tons of female artists, and not just “developing artists”, but dope long-time women veterans who can spit dope game and cut it up on the tablez who need to be in that supposed “all-star-line-up.” They have paid their dues by paving the way, setting their own mark, making their own records, winning battles… do they not deserve to be on that bill?

For nearly 15 years, in the industry, I have witnessed women being treated unfairly and unjustly. Whether it be through watching the way music videos depicted women as only sex objects or whether it was behind the scenes with record labels giving horrible deals and men back stages overstepping boundaries, I’ve witnessed it all. If you know me well enough, you would know that this is not the first time I’ve spoken about this. And this is not the first time that I’m tired of it all. However, I decided to make a “I AM TIRED OF HOW WOMEN ARE BEING TREATED IN HIP-HOP LIST” that I hope all of you can help add and pass on:

So, here is just a few of what I am tired of: (this is a growing list – women and allies, pls feel free to add to this list)

• I am tired of going to a show where a sound engineer would not value my expertise because they didn’t deem me as “expert” enough to know what I am talking about.

• I am tired of being the only woman headline on a bill.

• I am tired of not seeing myself or other women headline on a bill.

• I am tired of feeling uncomfortable and intimidated because I’m the only woman backstage.

• I am tired of seeing music videos of women being objectified.

• I am tired of seeing men groping women backstage.

• I am tired of seeing men grope women on stage.

• I am tired of men calling women a “b*tch” or a “h*e” when they feel threatened by her ability to know what she is doing and doing it good.

• I am tired of women being pigeonholed into stereotyped categories within Hip-Hop.

• I am tired of seeing “female battles” within Hip-Hop when women can compete and win against men.

• I am tired of women being seen as a “rarity” in the field that they tokenize a “female” artist and put any woman on doesn’t matter if she has no skill as long as she looks “good”.

• I am tired of women getting offered only “collabos” on songs but not getting offered deals.

• I am tired of the deals women are offered and how it’s often less than what a male artist would receive.

• I am tired of the “token female DJ night”. Come on now, give a woman a regular night spinning with other men too!

• I am tired of being bumped to either first or last or at a really horrible time slot last minute because someone with more “credibility” (more than likely a male) needed to go on because he has a last minute conflict on his schedule.

• I am tired of how male artists are typically offered more money then women artists and then how others use an excuse like “because he is more known”, but ideally a woman would be “more known” had female artists were given the same equal treatments of publicity, marketing and deals. DUH!

• I’m tired of women getting pushed off a bill or a track when someone with more “credibility” (more than likely a male) comes along.

• I am tired of not feeling safe enough to talk about my own gender identity, my sexual orientation and being free to be who I truly am.

• I am tired of seeing how Asian women, Black Women, Latina Women, Queer Women, and women of color as a whole are treated and perceived in Hip-Hop because of their race, class and gender.

• I am tired that people think it’s just mainstream Hip-Hop, when “underground” Hip-Hop disrespect women and LGBTQ folks too.

• I am tired that this music industry is also a size/ist and lookism industry that as a woman I have to have a certain sex appeal and size to get offers, deals and etc..

• I am tired when none of our supposed male allies within Hip-Hop don’t check other men on their privileges.

• I am tired of men not recognizing that they are the only ones on the line-up and not sayin or doing anything about it.

• I am tired of not feeling safe enough to check anyone.

• I’m tired of the women who are buying into the patriarchal thinking and get competitive with other women and enjoy being the “only female”.

• I am tired of being one of those women who once bought into the patriarchal thinking and being competitive with other women for that 1 gig or spot in the bill.

• I am tired of people not knowing that there are dope women Hip-Hop artists and Hip-Hop activists all over the world.

• I am tired of being scared right now, as we speak, writing this open letter, knowing that at any show I could be and more than likely will be threatened and/or attacked if I call out anyone on this article.

Eternia just did a nice remake of 'Live at the Barbeque' featuring all women including Rah Digga, Jean Grae, Tiye Phoenix and Lady of Rage

I am tired of being the token female artist in a Hip-Hop male lineup. This music industry has led me to behave in such a way where I would buy into the “only female-in-the-click” syndrome. While I respect the crews I have been part of in my past, it is today, and now more than ever that I recognize how important it is that we make room for more women to be included. This music industry makes no room for more women to enter the doors, that it creates a dynamic for women to compete against each other, for that 1 gig, that 1 offer, that 1 deal, that 1 spotlight. Because it only comes so often, because the chance is only once in a lifetime, us women, jump for it… because it is our only opportunity. We’re all jumping for the scraps they are offering us… and I am tired of falling for it.

I am so tired of hearing other women complaining and still it is the same. This is the not the first letter or article that has been written. Other women have been writing this for years. This is nothing new. I’ve just been lucky that within these past 15 years, I’ve been able to create my own alternatives to help keep my own sanity amongst a music industry that can make anyone lose their mind. I’ve been able to join female crews and build my own network of friends who would support me and other women. I’ve been able to find folks who have helped me out over the years during the most challenging times by providing me outlets and spaces to speak my peace and express my art. These spaces were safe that gave me a place to be real with myself, to know that I can be whoever I am. I am thankful for these spaces within Hip-Hop. I am thankful for these Hip-Hop folks that help make these spaces happen. These Hip-Hop folks are women, male allies and other allies in our communities.

However, there comes a time, where we need to stand up to the spaces and the people that don’t make help create these spaces either. There comes a time to stand up to the people that create elitist spaces, not making room for others to speak, share and be part of it. Especially, when these spaces claim to be Hip-Hop and make no room for women to be part of it. There comes a time where we as women have a right to claim these spaces, because women have been part of Hip-Hop since day one.

It would be great to see the VH1 Hip Hop Honors pay tribute to the pioneering women of this culture, like the all female crew Mercedes Ladies who have long been overlooked...

But like I am in other times that I speak up against something I am not right with, I am in fear of the repercussions. I am in fear of being attacked. I am fear of the literal physical attack that can happen when speaking out. I am also in fear that people will think that I am trying to be about me. Because it’s not about me. This isn’t about me trying to get a gig. Sorry, that’s not on my agenda. I’m not someone bitter that I didn’t get an opportunity to get my shine on. This is about my sisters, this is about us having a voice, about us having talent too. This is about the shine for all of us. This is for all my sisters out there who are practicing everyday. This is for the movement that Barbara, Eve, Lady Pink, Mercedes Ladies, Lady B, Sweet Tee, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Sista Souljah, Wanda Dee, Jazzy Joyce, Roxanne Shante, Pebblee Poo, started long before me, so that we can be put on too. This for all of them who are still doing it today. And this is about women today, who are doing their thing. I have witnessed Queen Godis, Mystic, Medusa, Anomolies, Abeer, Maria Isa, Eternia, Jean Grae, Bahamadia, Miki Vale, Apani B Fly, Bless Roxwell, Sara Kana, DJ Killa Jewel, Tyra from Saigon, DJ Shortee, DJ Chela, Pam the Funktress to the La Femme Deadly Venoms… and this list goes on and on and on and on and on. Too many to name. And I’m sad that I can’t list them all. Because we are out there and we exist. And it is for this reason that I must speak. I have learned from Audre Lorde – “your silence will not save you.”

So, come on, male promoters – you know who you are. I highly suggest to all the men within Hip-Hop to read male privilege check-list and etc. I suggest if you don’t know, you google it and educate yourself. I also suggest our male allies in Hip-Hop to stand up with us. It is not enough that you acknowledge that this goes on within Hip-Hop. If you know it does, then let a promoter know they should even out the line-up. Refer other women artists. Invite female artists on your showset to get some shine. BUT don’t tokenize us either! Also, check your male friends backstage who mistreat women. Invite us to your practice sessions, but don’t make us feel uncomfortable by making us look like rare creatures or putting us up on some pedastal or treating us like trophies or prized possessions. Don’t intimidate us by your male chauvinisms, machoisms and egotisms. But don’t think we’re gentle and demure either. Don’t victimize us or romanticize some notion that you’re going to save us. Because at the end of the day, we been always fighting our own battles. With or Without you, we have done it, made it, claimed it and taken it. We’re strong, we got a mind of our own and we got skillz. We don’t fit into any label or category because we are all shapes and sizes. We are like Hip-Hop, fluid in what what say, think, do, feel, wear, and etc… We are anything and everything we imagine ourselves to be, so don’t package us into what you envision us to be. We have our own visions and dreams.

As far as for us, women, I don’t think I really need to tell you much. You already know what we are coming into because you feel it and you are experiencing it. However, I will just say for the sake of saying – We, women, we need to just continue to come together. I say continue, because we are a movement been happening. We have been coming together long before my crew Anomolies and long before Mercedes Ladies. We have been standing together, rising up together, teaching each other, learning from one another and we need to continue to do so because we are standing at a time where we are at the crossroads. The world is going chaotic and the earth is speaking to us to stay united. And if we women hold up half the sky, we’re going to have to continue keeping it balanced by staying at peace amongst each other, loving one another and being in unity with one another. We need to acknowledge our differences, value them, and talk about our intersections. We need to talk about the things that are complexed and come out with our own plan of actions. We need to support those who are speaking out for us, voicing themselves at the risk of losing everything. We need to help each other in our crafts to progress, we need to create spaces for more women, transgender and non-conforming genders to be included, we need to check each other in our perpetuation of patriarchal-thinkings and check the men that do it to us.

So, as I close this open letter…. I close it with saying in the words of my friend’s Dead Prez’s words “It’s Bigger than Hip-Hop…”, because we all know that this is all bigger than Hip-Hop. And I’m not just talking about the genre of music, for we all know that sexism exists everywhere. However, I am saying that this is bigger than Hip-Hop, because this is not just about women being in the picture. It’s about respect. And like Hip-Hop, being about gaining respect, we too, be it a woman Hip-Hop head or not, that’s all we want too. Respect.

with love, peace and respect
DJ Kuttin Kandi

p.s. also a big shout out to DJ MarkLuv for your allyship in writing this piece as well!

12 comments on “An Open Letter, A Call to Action to Our Hip-Hop Community: Put us Women on that Line-Up & Stop the Disrespect!

  1. Pingback: An Open Letter, A Call to Action to Our Hip-Hop Community: Put us Women on that Line-Up & Stop the Disrespect! (via Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner-(The Blog)) « Davey D’s Archived Essential Hip Hop Articles

  2. I think that one thing is that women within the industry need to be held accountable… meaning how many decisions to objectify women in “hip hop/rap” videos and music are made by other women, especially women of color? For every strong woman out there that wants to hold her own and flex her skills you have 10 who will act out, and are ready to be the next video hoe, and then some. The “industry” is a shambles, Go figure…

  3. Everything Kuttin Kandi has said is precisely why over the years I have been moving away from Hip Hop. What self respecting woman in her right mind would put up with this madness when truthfully, we really don’t have to? I have been on the front lines a long time and have seen many things go down both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. It is truly shameful how a lot of the brothers who call themselves conscious rappers, while trying to be leaders, further help to perpetuate the dismissal and invisibility of women in Hip Hop. These are supposed to be our allies! lol A few have even confessed to me that they don’t even like women, with the exception of being able to seduce and sleep with them. Now although I appreciate the honesty of these confessions, it made me question whether or not it was even in my best interest to have any involvement with these particular men on a professional or even on a friendship level. lol A lot of times men just see women for what they can get out of us and don’t truly value our contributions. It is a reflection of western society in general really. Over time, I have realized that my talents, skills and awareness is best served working primarily outside of the Hip Hop framework.

    Now personally speaking as an artist, DJ and producer, I send out some of my tunes from time to time but I do not expect support from Hip Hop because it has been something that has been off and on for me. I have always had a fan base but you can only hear “where are the female emcees?” but for so long until you start to question your effectiveness in reaching the people. Just like the men have that obstacle of reaching the masses, so do the women. The internet rapper contingent are not reaching the people like they think they are unfortunately. A lot of people are being gassed up on hype! Right now, the only female effectively reaching the masses is Nicki Minaj. Lil Kim, when she drops her record, will reach them but that is about it. Every other female that is currently active just has their own little niche but I wouldn’t say one female is more important than the other. The majority of people outside of Hip Hop do not know who Tiye Phoenix is or Jean Grae or Psalm One or Eternia or whomever else you want to mention. The work Invincible is doing is cool but it is not reaching the people enough for it to constitute a movement. The overwhelming majority of females are relegated to a shrinking populace called “underground Hip Hop”. I don’t mean to offend anyone by my comments though as I am just speaking honestly.

    Upon reflection, I’ve since gone back completely to a grassroots methodology and subsequently have dropped off the more known Hip Hop grid because of it but I am much happier for it. Hip Hop is a toxic environment for women and as an art form has been co-opted for some time now. I can respect the efforts of those women who are still fighting for their respect within the established Hip Hop paradigm but to me it is a losing battle within the current structure. Thus, I have chosen a different route which keeps me in control of everything I am doing but doesn’t keep me trapped within the stuffy claustrophobic world called Hip Hop where everyone is fighting each other for air and attention. The downside is I usually get ignored from the Hip Hop press as they don’t think I have enough “hype” or support to generate interest from their target audience. lol. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t! Ultimately though, we must carve our own path! I wish everyone success and happiness!

  4. I already bought my ticket to RTB. After reading this, I wish I hadn’t. It’s funny how someone with more knowledge has to point out the obvious. I know there are A LOT of great lady emcees out there that I don’t ever get to hear. From now on, I’ll not got to a hip hop show that doesn’t have at least 2 ladies on the bill.

    And many thanks to Kuttin Khandi for putting the so-called “conscious” hip hop scene on blast. Personally, I am thinking specifically of Common and Talib Kwele. Common disappointed me greatly when he did that stupid “Make Her Say” song with Kanye and what’s his face…the “Night and Day” dude. I was so upset, I threw out all his CDs. I put the betrayal on the level of Nas and “Oochiewallie.” The difference is that Nas did that when he was a kid and he’s since done better, so I can call myself of fan again. But Common, do some sh*t like that at 40? Come on. And don’t get me started on Talib Kwele. Judging from statements he’s made over the years, I really think that guy is a raging mysogynist. Just because he doesn’t have half-nekkid women in his videos doesn’t mean he automatically respects your humanity. But, that’s just my perception.

    I say to the ladies out there, nobody will take us seriously if we don’t stand up for ourselves. Fans, don’t spend your $$$ with performers and shows that don’t respect and showcase females in hip hop. Artists and DJs, don’t be content to be the “only female in your crew.” Do everything you can to make your true, authentic voice heard. You can be sure some of us are out there listening.

  5. peace to kuttin kandy, all fem-peeps representing hip hop, no doubt, things need to change for the better.. more female artists on radio, more female groups, mainstream exposure.. shout out to Northern State, Crew Grrl Order, they make some cool records..

  6. Let’s not forget who the target audience of Hip Hop is, teenage white males and white young adult males. Those are the groups that buy most of the records and parafanalia and make up most of the concert audiences. So for anyone to do well in Hip Hop’s current structure (whether underground or mainstream, female or male, etc.), they would have to cater to and subsequently rely on the target audience mentioned above.

    So now the question becomes “Can a female MC spit about something (besides her t and a, sex, money, etc.) that a young white male will pay to listen to and go see? Well seeing how a large part of this audience (as well as many other men) is programmed to look upon women (especially Blacks and Hispanics) as nothing more than sex objects, I’d have to say it’s not likely. To me, the last one to come close was Lauryn Hill. But at the end of the day, she refused to turn herself into what they wanted her to become.

    If like Lauryn Hill, someone can get Black people to start buying and supporting Black artists, then Blacks would become the target audience, and the female MC would have more of a fanbase from which to build. However, as someone posted earlier, most of the ladies who spit fire just have their own little nitche of fans carved out across the globe, and that’s about it.

    Instead of being targets of the music, Blacks are targets of the lifestyle sold in the words and videos. The more we allow ourselves to be portrayed this way, the more this crazy cycle will continue. We have the power to “Tobacco Road” it.!!!

  7. My perspective is different from that of most women reading this but it’s what I’ve got so it’s what I offer, because I so much appreciate other people talking about it.

    When I was a teenager hip hop didn’t come across as male-dominated, many of the performers I knew about were female, SaltnPepa, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Monie Love, Neneh Cherry, on and on. When I was at college there were still women but they weren’t as high profile, Sista Souljah, Lady of Rage, Lauryn Hill as the dominant voice in the Fugees, and others. Then something happened in the midnineties and it seems to me that hip hop began to be targeted very aggressively at adolescent males, the Beavis and Butthead/Wayne’s World demographic, and women were not part of that scene. There were bitches and babes, but no women. Hip hop became that way too, a cartoon.

    I was frustrated and insulted when I realized hip hop didn’t value my contributions because of my being a woman, but I was a white middleclass European, and I had other ways of identifying myself as a person rather than a bitch or a honey. But I often come across American women who grew up with the culture and who harbour a lot of rage and grief at being rejected by it.

    It’s also not only about women being excluded, it’s also about men doing themselves a disservice. The middleclass boys who bought the cartoon grew out of it, they moved on, they know that they have to consult and negotiate with the women in their lives. Bút for those men to whom hip hop was their one identity, they were mostly men who were otherwise socially excluded, they internalized that absence of women and live with a frame of mind like it’s still the 1950’s in terms of the balance of power between the sexes.

    And that’s not what’s happening in the rest of the world. In a generation or so the world will no longer be run as a boys’ club, and whoever only has experience dealing with boys will not be able to negotiate that territory.

    Ít’s hard to distinguish the sexism that’s unique to the hip hop world from general US misogyny or worldwide male domination, but that’s how I see it.

    Some people say the hypermasculine male swagger is what hip hop has always been about. Well, never to me. Not to a lot of people. My dad bought that book about Subway Art that came out in ’80 or ’81, I was only 8 or 9 but I remember how he brought it back from NYC and it was a precious treasure from a distant land on the kitchen table. It was about resistance and creativity, that’s what moves people. Not the hype.

    I also remember a dance performance I saw maybe ten years ago, it was an all-male street dance company and they had decided to put on a version of Romeo and Juliet. They had a guy playing Romeo, but there was no Juliet since there were no women, the rest of the guys were the warring families. That kind of thing is sad but it’s also comical, and I think many male hip hop heads have painted themselves into that kind of corner in the past couple of decades.

    But many others are busy, building community gardens, teaching skills for the real world. That’s going on too, the contempt and ignorance are not in charge everywhere, it just feels like it sometimes.

  8. @ jubiq The target Hip Hop audience is not teenage white males and white young adult males so no one needs to cater to them. That is laughable! lol Not only is that a racist and sexist notion in the first place but it is a false idea based upon distorted and skewed statistics. You are confusing internet hype with actual retail purchases just like the creators of Rock The Bells. They book their acts based upon internet hype and blog activity. They believe just like you, that white people are the best supporters of Hip Hop and cater to them. This is why their festival has been lame the past few years, this is why people are asking for the females and this is why people are not happy with them in general (amongst a plethora of other reasons). Statistics show that WOMEN have the overwhelming purchasing power in music and not men. If the day ever arises that the target audience becomes just white males then Hip Hop truly is dead!

  9. Yes the whole white people buy Hip Hop is a myth which I broke down for folks a while ago since our station was one that pioneeered the whole thing.. It was a ratings ploy based upon false statistics to justify ad dollars from skittish advertisers..


  11. NICE TRY TARENO.. WHAT DID YOU WRITE THAT LETTER TO GET A RISE..OR ARE U EVEN REAL?-LOL Its a phony letter that makes no sense and doesn’t speak to what Kandi wrote..

Let us know what u think..

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s