Women on the Move, which originated in New York was co-founded by Dee Vazquez of HOT 97 and FUSE’s The Chronicles as well as Amber Ravenel, made its way up north as one of the featured panels for the Manifesto Festival of Community & Culture‘s So Much Things To Say Evolution Summit. The panel featured XXL‘s Editor-in-Chief Vanessa Satten; blogger and “digital renaissance woman” Karen Civil; Vivian Barclay, the Toronto-based General Manager of Warner Chappell Music Canada Ltd.; and Nirvana“NvS” Simm-Smith, singer/song-writer/artist, with Dee moderating the conversation.
Although the panel focuses on women in hip hop who have made leaps and bounds through business and artistry, it was open to both sexes and I was happy to see a healthy turn out of young men. Often, hip hop is perceived as a brutal boys club and it is crucial that we not only facilitate discussions about women’s roles in the industry but also celebrate them. Women can flourish in hip hop and not have to be a dancer, video girl or eye candy model – not that there’s anything wrong with that. These women just serve as a reminder that nothing will get you as far in the business as hard work and intelligence.
The ladies broke down the keys to success step-by-step and here’s what I’ve learned…
In order for you to break into any aspect of the industry, networking is key. Karen Civil discussed how she started off interning for Funkmaster Flex and gradually built her own empire. She always maintained a pleasant repertoire with the people she came into contact with and emphasized the importance of “step[ping] to people at your best; come cocked don’t come half-cocked.”
She also shared humorous (and somewhat creepy) anecdotes of people who’ve approached her at ungodly morning hours at the gas station and even stalking her at her brother’s wedding! According to Karen this is a no-no. “You can’t bombard people – you have to nurture relationships.”
They do say patience is a virtue, so as eager as you are to make it big, don’t go begging key industry players for a job, “show and prove,” as Vanessa says and remember that not every opportunity will necessarily be the right opportunity.
Once you’ve gotten yourself through the golden gates of whatever office you aim to work at, you’re going to have to grind as hard as you can and make smart decisions. Driving home the key point that Manifesto promotes, ‘knowledge is power,’ Vivian Barclay said it best; “Have fun but by no stretch of the imagination can you discredit hard work.”
Often times it seems like hip hop is just one big bottle popping party but what people don’t see is the behind-the-scenes effort that goes into staging these world tours, music festivals, chart topping albums and magazine covers. This type of success only comes from diligent work – nights and weekends spent at the office, sometimes all alone, sleepless nights, missed social functions – all these sacrifices must be made in order to achieve a greater good in hip hop.
Once you’ve earned your stripes, you’ll learn that sitting on top of the world can sometimes be a lonely place. Key women in the industry not only need a tough skin to make sure their voices are heard but also a no-bullshit demeanour to be able to lead a team. These women don’t begin their sentences with “I’m sorry to bother you but…” and they certainly don’t let their team slack. Sometimes their strength earns them the ‘bitch’ label but Vanessa doesn’t mind. “Be the bitch!” she said. It’s much easier to deal with the shit that comes along with being a successful, assertive woman than it is with the grief you’ll feel as an unaccomplished wallflower who was too scared of stepping on anyone’s toes.
Finally, no matter what you encounter on your journey towards your dreams, especially as a woman, “Don’t give it up! Stand your ground and find your tribe. Hold your ground!” says Nirvana.
As a singer and artist whose journey has taken her all throughout the United States, producers have often told her that they would only work with her if she had sexual relations with them. As a woman with tremendous poise, she saw herself for the queen that she was and promptly said no to anyone who couldn’t offer her the respect and professionalism she deserved. “Grace and love describes our feminine energy; we are emotional, we are intuitive,” Nirvana says and we as women should never settle for letting anyone see us as less than that.
Dee finished off the panel by posing the question “How does one woman looking at another woman as a comrade instead of competition change the dynamic?”
Vanessa spoke about women wanted to be the only female in a group of men – the First Lady. But often times it’ll be your fellow sister that will understand your struggle the best. So while there’s nothing wrong with some healthy competition, we have to remember that we’re only as strong as our weakest link. Women as a whole will never achieve our true potential in hip hop unless we uplift and support each other. Our relationships with one another set the example for how we expect men to treat us.
After the panel, I had the opportunity of meeting Vanessa face-to-face after our telephone interview the day before. She took the time to speak to everyone in the long line that was eager to meet her and even posed for a picture. I’d like to once again thank her for speaking with me and sharing her wisdom with the BP team and our readers!
Be sure to check out my one-on-one interview with Vanessa.