The New Glass Ceiling

Written by on 18 May 2016

The New Glass Ceiling by L. Burner

What has happened to the balanced presence of female artists in urban music? Back in the 80s and 90s there was an abundance of female artists that were present with burgeoning careers. In Hip Hop alone we had Roxanne Shante, Salt -N Pepa, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Moni Love, Yo Yo and Nikki D. There were R&B groups like En Vogue, SWV, Jade; soloists like Anita Baker, Mikki Howard, Toni Braxton, and of course Pop superstars like Janet and Whitney! Their careers ran simultaneously and congruent through the 80s and 90s. You could actually turn on the radio and hear several current female artists, in the urban rhythmic format, in the same hour.

But somewhere in the millenium, female artists began to dwindle, especially in Hip-Hop. It’s almost as if the labels arbitrarily decided to only promote one female artist per genre, at time or just one at a time! It has to be more than coincidence or happenstance because it has been duly noted, yet nothing has changed. This has been the trend for the last 15 to 20 years. How is it that all of a sudden there wasn’t enough room in the industry for more than one female artist to prevail? For nearly a decade, Nicki Minaj dominated the industry, so much so that if you were to watch an awards show the other artists in the Rap category would be obsolete or just completely unfamiliar. Now Nicki’s out and Cardi is in. And if the trend continues…Megan Thee Stallion will overtake Cardi…because God forbid they all co-exist. Some industry experts have theorized that the decline of multiple prevalent females in the industry is economical, a deliberate strategy record companies use to cut budgets after physical sales declined due to streaming and illegal downloads. The idea (excuse) was that women as artists are more expensive due to hair, wardrobe, makeup, and accessories vs. males artists who, on average, outsell female artists and are less expensive to maintain. So it would seem that the labels cut their losses by building one or two female superstars that sold millions and filled stadiums instead of filling their roster with mid level artists that only went gold; even though this quashed a great deal of diversity, talent and artistry. Let’s face it; most superstars are forced to fit a very pop-ish and commercial sound even if that is not who they were artistically to begin with. If they are fortunate enough to be “the chosen one” that the label puts “the machine” behind then they have to assimilate to being sexualized, with some even wearing burlesque costumes while normalizing explicit lyrics. And yes, this is true with another dominant industry woman, The Queen Bee herself, Beyonce. Is there any denial that this is the formula for the top performing urban or Black female artists of today? But the listener is robbed of substance and choice in the process.
In today’s market, groups like Brownstone could not exist. Why spend the wardrobe and promotional budget on a group of 3 women, with limited commercial appeal when you can spend that same money on a soloist like Cardi B who represents a whole brand and whose revenue can carry the entire label? Still, the idea of women being cut from the roster is pretty much a sad, sorry concept that amounts to collateral damage and dare I say, misogyny. Yet the original formula had worked from The Supremes to TLC! So why now and where does a sister fit in if she doesn’t want to perform in her panties? How many have faced sexual harassment; the prospect of sexual extortion or blackmail or any other type of Illicit exchange of sexual activity for career advancement? How many have been blackballed and rejected for not playing the game and for trying to move their careers forward with substance and a clean cut image instead of being over sexualized? This writer can speak to dozens of personal accounts and indecent proposals. The struggle is real! That’s not to say that a woman owning or promoting her sexuality is morally wrong but it should be a choice and not a foregoing conclusion. In spite of it all there are female artists right in our region defying the odds and making incredible strides in the music industry.

Soul Singer, Nadjah Nicole
cuts against the grain. Nadjah Nicole has headlined some of the East Coast’s most prestigious festivals, including the legendary Clifford Brown Jazz Festival in her home state of Delaware. At the age of 23, Nadjah dazzled millions on the Emmy award winning show The Voice, Season 9 where she was a finalist and competed for several weeks on Team Blake. Her performances can be viewed on Youtube as well as a commercial she had the honor of participating in for Sennheiser promoting the U47 microphone. Nadjah Nicole’s classy image is reminiscent of Anita Baker yet she still gets approached in this manner. “Even as a married woman and even when I was engaged, I’ve had people reach out to me in a sexual manner and then somehow tie that into my career and how I can further myself. It’s disgusting!”

Rapper, Zookie
is a high energy and animated performer who some have compared to Missy Elliot but she is definitely in her own lane. She is signed to super producer Sap (Pioneer Crew) and is poised for a bright career path. Zookie does not play the game and does things her way. It is a male dominant industry and with being a female artist, sometimes they put certain expectations on you as to how you should look and carry yourself but I just rock out!“

Hip Hop Artist, Kitty Monroee
is a survivor in many ways. As a youth, she endured sexual abuse and a series of illnesses, including one that literally cost her voice. Thankfully, she eventually regained her voice and she had much to say! Kitty charted a single “Blue 42” on the Billboard Mediabase chart, pretty impressive for an indie artist, and appeared on RHYTHM & FLOW on Netflix this past Oct. 2019. Kitty is not one who is shy about her sexuality and exploring adult themes but also feels an artist should be balanced with more serious and relevant topics.

“A con of being a female artist is sometimes it takes more for us to be taken seriously. We are held at a different standard than just our talent. “Is she cute? Is she skinny enough? Is she thick enough?” What we have to offer talent wise and musically is usually the last thing that gets looked at. It also sometimes seems like the industry would rather hear certain things from us. So sometimes we gotta give you the nasty just to get our foot in the door, and then once we’re in, that’s when we can give you the real real.”

Here is another dynamic to consider; think about pregnancy and or motherhood, especially single-motherhood. When you think of all these challenges and obstacles, it’s amazing that any woman pursuing a music career can sustain. “Balancing motherhood and artistry is a challenge indeed! I try to remember that I am a mother first. I have to make sure my children are healthy, fed and clean. Then I weigh my options, ‘Do I have a babysitter?’ ‘ Is this gig paying enough?’ ‘ Is this person worth losing time with my children?’ I always make sure that if I am to participate in something, if it takes away from the time I spend with my kids, it better be good. I know many artists would say I’m cheating myself, but I told myself with my first baby that nothing was more important than her. Period. They have to be good first before I make a move,” says Nadjah Nicole. As for Zookie’s parenting approach; “I have a princess and it does get challenging at times. But I have a great support system and I think one thing that has really helped me is involving her in as much as I can.”

One has to wonder; can we ever return to industry to a point where there are a variety of successful female artists in the urban genre, Hip Hop and R&B or Black Pop artists that are not only diverse in their musical stylings, but allowed to present themselves in a way that is anything other than hypersexual or will those who resist be blocked out? The industry has done a 360 and attempted to recast that glass ceiling. But these ladies are blazing a trail, finding the silver lining, breaking the glass ceiling all over again! Zookie feels; “There are more lanes for females because it is so male dominant and I believe because a lot of females aren’t afraid to be open and vulnerable it helps create a more intimate fanbase.”

Although Nadjah Nicole “hates being objectified and sometimes placed in a sexualized bubble because of certain features” she is still optimistic; “Everyone loves women and our undeniable characteristics, our strength, our intellect, our beauty and our attention to detail. I am all of those things and more. We are sought after for all kinds of projects and can touch literally anything. We’re magical!”

Nadjah Nicole
nadjahnicole.com
https://en-de.neumann.com/


“IFLS” on all platforms and a video on youtube.

Kitty Monroee
EP “9 Lives” available on all digital platforms.
Singles “Pon Mi” and “One Nite Stand” available on all digital platforms
IG (@kittymonroee), Facebook (Kitty Monroee)

Zookie
Upcoming Album- “Zookergy” Entirely Produced By Sap
Singles With Visuals titled “Take Me Under” (https://youtu.be/KiOyTTQyGvU )
“Indictment Ft CashAveKeyz”. https://youtu.be/g9Q1AV4nRN0
Available on all digital platforms.
My IG: @ImZoookieBaby
Website: http://pioneercrew.com/shop/


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