Music/Features

Bring brass knuckles to the scuffle: Reimagining equality in the Canadian rap industry

“Today is a reminder that being a women, albeit the daily hurdles and emotional labour, isn’t a crutch; it’s a strength that pushes us to create the world we want to participate in and how to monetize off of it.”

March 8, 2019

For International Women’s Day, we’re passing the mic to the women on the frontlines. As part of this series Erin Lowers, who’s been working in the music industry for over a decade, and is the first woman to hold the position of Hip-Hop editor at Exclaim! Magazine in addition to recently working on the Emmy Award and Peabody-winning, series Hip-Hop Evolution, explains her vision for the future of the Canadian rap industry .

When I was 22, I heard words from a woman that would shape the way I worked within the hip-hop industry for the rest of my life: “I never use my gender as a crutch to not get things done.” The words pierced like a knife and took me by surprise. After all, for the amount of women-only music panels I had soaked up in my early career, it was the first time someone spoke a different truth — but ultimately, it was their truth.

From the beginning of my career, I was fortunate to work within several music-related environments that listened to women and often put them in superior positions. However, I quickly learned that was a power dynamic that lived within the four walls of these offices rather than the hip-hop music industry at large. And in Canada’s “urban” music industry, that power structure was almost non-existent. It still isn’t.

Drake, The Weeked and Tory Lanez are a handful of names that come to mind when speaking about the state of Canadian music, and under their umbrella networks are an equally successful group of, well, more men. These umbrella networks have created an uneven platform for female talents in both Hip-Hop and R&B genres, stifling everything from performance opportunities to corporate investment, and of course, label deals.

But as history has taught society that “women are a risky investment,” it has also encouraged a patriarchal mentality of lazy men with money that has since been passed down from generation to generation and boardroom to boardroom. This preconception has also created a dynamic where the “return on investment” on women isn’t as valued as that on men and now, corporate spaces are filled with people who make decisions based on what they’ve been told, not what moves their heart.

History has taught us that women are a risky investment, but it has also taught us that risks are worth taking

It begs the question as to why worldwide success seems unachievable for Canadian female talent unless you’re a pop singer (i.e. Alessia Cara). It also raises concerns surrounding the role of labels and the amount of men in A&R positions in the urban market, while women are typically left in organizational positions that are ultimately the backbone of the music industry (i.e. publicists, managers, agents).

So, where do we go from here? How do we create an equitable space for women who are rappers and singers and women who are marginalized artists in this industry? How do we start seeing gender as a force against the systems that are built against us in the first place?

From festival stages and panels, to media representation and funding, in the past few years, women have become more vocal about the inequalities of the Canadian music industry — but that’s just the start of what we need to do. Beyond speaking out, whether in person or on social media, it’s equally as important to build a community of women who are like-minded but find their own strength in different creative fields. It’s about finding allies in men who occupy decision making spaces and elevate the women around you in the boardroom.

Above all, it’s about playing nice with decision makers, gatekeepers and corporate buyers, but not nice enough for them to forget your name.

History has taught us that women are a risky investment, but it has also taught us that risks are worth taking — both on us as a group and also from within ourselves. Today is a reminder that being a women, albeit the daily hurdles and emotional labour, isn’t a crutch; it’s a strength that pushes us to create the world we want to participate in and how to monetize off of it. In the wise words of Cardi B:

I was born to flex / Diamonds on my neck / I like boardin’ jets, I like mornin’ sex / But nothing in this world that I like more than checks (Money).

 

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