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…
AN OPEN LETTER, A CALL-TO-ACTION TO OUR HIP-HOP COMMUNITY: PUT US, WOMEN ON THAT LINE-UP & STOP THE DISRESPECT!
A BIG THANK YOU TO MY SISTER IN THE MOVEMENT – ROSA CLEMENTE WHO IS MY INSPIRATION TO WRITE THIS PIECE… I LOVE YOU SISTER!
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?
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.
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.
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!