Hey Rap Chicks, Jail Ain’t Sexy.

By Thembisa S. Mshaka

You may know my byline as a journalist for the original Honey, essence.com, and as editors for GAVIN, BLAZE, and TheHotness.com. If not, hopefully you will get to know me as the author of Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business–a comprehensive guide to entertainment careers from women’s points of view.

As a journalist-turned-author who was reluctant to blog, I had every intention of doing a nice blog intro. That was until I saw the story that broke the camel’s back on female rappers going to jail. I’m new at the image uploading and all that so bear with the layout…

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Not So Bella Mafia

First Lil Kim is awarded the ‘hood’s Badge Of Honor’ for not “snitching” and doing a year and a day.
Gavin '95

Me & Kim: Gavin

Then, Foxy Brown goes to Rikers over an allegedly bad attitude mixing with
nail polish in the beauty supply store and a cell phone on the block, both resulting in attacks.
Foxy Brown
 
Not to be outdone, Remy Ma either by accident or on purpose, allegedly ends up putting two bullets in the stomach of a friend at (friend’s) birthday party over missing cash from her (Ma’s) handbag. Remy was looking at up to 25 years and after an emotional and far-from gangsta plea in court, winds up facing eight.
Packin' heat at the party

Packin

Just when my head slowed from spinning over all these tragic run-ins with the law resulting in substantial convictions (oh, yeah I forgot Eve’s DUI arrest because she served no hard time) Da Brat,

Lucky by comparison.

Lucky by comparison.

a/k/a Shawntee Harris, the first woman to score a platinum-selling album, catches a case for hitting a cheerleader over the head with a bottle of rum after what amounts to bumping into her at a club, permanently injuring her. With the Brat-ta-tat-tat of the gavel, she’s outta here for three long years.

What are these women DOING?!m

Black & white case?

Black & white case?

When women rappers end up in handcuffs, it strangles the livelihoods of their entourages and play with the bottom line of their record labels. It reinforces the idea that a woman rapper’s success is temporary instead of sustainable. It may even make it harder for the Missy Elliotts, Bahamadias, and Jean Graes of the world to get the resources they need to win in the marketplace. Meanwhile, it becomes easier for their R&B singing counterparts to hi-jack their producers and flavor to great effect. Where Foxy and Kim used to rhyme with Jay-Z, Rihanna and Beyonce’ now fill those slots. They love working with their producers too; and I don’t blame Swizz one bit, probably pays better.

Should all the blame be laid at the feet of these ladies or are the labels and/or management partly responsible? Could it have been the decline of artist development, etiquette and media training at the labels? To what degree were these women left to work it out on their own? Was guidance offered or just not heeded? Are female rap artists really that disposable? How long are we collectively going to let this continue to happen? Are we waiting for the other shoes of drug addiction and surviving multiple bullet wounds to drop as they have for their male counterparts? How very unsexy.

I also wonder, ‘where was the mentorship’? I conducted a Handle Your [music] Business Survey, to which close to 80% of repsondents stated mentorship as a huge missing in their careers. Are female rappers too grown to listen to those older and wiser? Or could the mentors no longer get through to them once they achieved fame and fortune? Would these ladies be where they are now had mentorship been a constant in their careers? I personally have leaned on more than one mentor for counsel on my career moves. And I’ve been better off for leaning on their shoulder, sopping up some game from them, be they female or male.

I feel a connection to these women because hip-hop grew us all up. I’m clear that I would not have a significant part of my career without them. I’d MUCH rather be reviewing their rap albums than their rap sheets. Where and how did things take a turn for the worst? Our footing slides and our industry’s women are all negatively impacted when rap chicks break the law. As a hip-hop journalist and someone with a stake in their futures (unlike most of mainstream media), I would love to offer any one of these women this forum to talk about their childhoods, possible abuses, abandonment, family, challenges, triumphs and why they chose music as their platform for personal expression.

Maybe they thought their actions would make sales jump or give them more street cred. Maybe they thought their lawyers and feminine wiles would get them off. Maybe they wanted even more attention than they were already getting? What, magazine covers, cosmetic campaigns, tours and videos not enough? Perhaps a search for self-esteem and self-respect is critical to this journey. Kim’s friend and fellow artist Mary J. Blige got to the heart of her issues through her music in front of and alongside her fans. In contrasting where these two women stand in their careers today, it occurs to me that unlike female singers like Mary, Lil’ Mo’, and Keyshia Cole, who can be tatted up while they wail their hearts out in song, women rappers might be afraid of–or be steered away from being vulnerable on record, given the cues they receive to be ‘hard’ as emcees. Ironically, as women, they have the market cornered on the ability to be vulnerable because they are female.

I write this with a mix of anger and sadness. I watched these women rise to the top of the charts and to prominence in the rap game. I contributed to the success of Kim and Foxy while at Gavin, and wrote the ad campaign for Brat’s Unrestricted CD in 2000. I was lovin’ Remy Ma for coming as hard as she did on MOP’s “Ante Up (Remix)” and The Terror Squad’s “Lean Back”. But are the lyrics about toting heat, riding Upstate, and being, as Eve once proclaimed–“a pitbull in a skirt” going to the heads of these talented emcees? Maybe they saw how being criminals worked for their male counterparts and decided to step into the dressing room-er-holding cell-and try it on.

Going to jail might make some male emcees credible, but for rap chicks, it just ain’t sexy. And now, trials and prison are an even more delicate dance for the guys. T.I. is arrested and charged with gun possession just before the BET Hip-Hop Awards in ’07, only to lose his Chevy contract and plot a hard road for a return to endoresements. Will the gender gap allow The KING to bounce back? Or will the ill-fated risk Chevy took resonante with other corporations? The fans may forget, but the corporate sponsors can’t afford to.

DMX has seen his promising multi-platinum career, that included a hit BET reality show, screech to a halt after repeated arrests. You can’t tell me Snoop wasn’t sweating while Murder Was The Case for him in real life way back in the ’90s. News flash: the days of beating the case upping one’s stock are numbered–if they haven’t gone out all together with the fresh-out multiplatinum success of 2pac’s All Eyez On Me. Time will tell if the law catches up with Lil Wayne; they are watching Cash Money like a vultures hovering over a fresh kill.

In my view, this string of criminal rap chicks has done more to impede the progress of hip-hop than we realize. It took Girl Power off the streets, screens and airwaves, leaving a void of self-definition and a wide open door for misogyny to pimp-walk through. It sends the message to labels that women emcees are riskier than than dudes with rap sheets. If four out of five of recent memory’s most successful chicks in the game wind up behind bars, the return on investment looks shaky at best–and in this climate of sluggish sales, ROI is top of mind. Fulfilling the vicious cycle of a smaller number of new female voices emerging.

Santogold & M.I.A.

Santogold & M.I.A.

Thanks goodness for M.I.A. Lady Sovereign of the UK, and here at home, Lil’ Mama, Kid Sister and multi-format conqueror Santogold. Mystic has a new album coming, which will be a breath of fresh air to be sure. What’s uncertain is how much support they and others like them who put lyrics before looks and message before materialism will receive.

Career Woman

Latifah: Career Woman

The good news is that everyone can clean up their messes and outlive their mistakes. Perhaps time served, anger management, therapy, community service hours and the sweet taste of freedom will make a difference for our embattled lady convicts.

Lyte Still Rocks.

Lyte Still Rocks.

Perhaps the women emcees waiting in the wings will learn from the ones awaiting probation or parole, and be what Latifah, Monie, Shante, Lyte, and Yo-Yo embody: Ladies First. Props to Missy Elliott for keeping her clothes on and keeping out of trouble. She’s proof you can sustain a career and be credible without winding up in an orange jumpsuit. And she preaches self-respect to young girls, which is in short supply in hip-hop these days. We’re long overdue for good music–and good behavior. Now, where my gurls at?!

17-year industry vet and award-winning journalist/advertising executive Thembisa S. Mshaka is the author of Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business, (Grand Central Publishing, April 2009).

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21 Responses to “Hey Rap Chicks, Jail Ain’t Sexy.”

  1. Donnell » Blog Archive » Word to the Female Rappers Says:

    […] the fuck out, ladies. It has to be said, and my colleague Thembisa is just the chick to do it. I’m fascinated by her take on the business end of things. A lot […]

  2. Mykah Says:

    Wow T!!

    Once again, you have hit the nail right on the head.

    I believe strongly that the lack of direction from labels and artist management teams has left artists with the task of inventing themselves without being equipped with the knowledge they need to sustain their business (artistry) for the long hall.

    With no artist development the artist is set up to fail, left to rely on their skill, and in some cases, lack there of, to move their careers forward. This is never a problem for big business because it is common knowledge that artists are considered to be expendable.

    T, as you mentioned, ROI is the only thing that big business cares about. So it is up to the artist to care about themselves. Going to jail for inexcusable behavior, is never appealing whether someone is an artist or not. It is embarrassing, demeaning, and could ruin an artist’s career and reputation.

    I also think that it is easy for many to get caught up in the hype that once they reach a certain level of success in their career, they become above the law, and feel as though people will have their backs no matter what they do. They get the “BIG HEAD”, and once they make the decision to veer off of the right path, they lose their big business endorsements, their friends, and even family members. Unfortunately, in this society, people go where the money is, and it is difficult to make the kind of money necessary for continued success while in jail. So, while they sit in jail, everybody says…NEEEEXXXT!!!

    Ladies, ladies, ladies, please be ladies. We must represent the queens and ancestors from our past, and become stronger, more positive role models for the lost generation of girls who are battling the stigma of being treated as whores and bitches. What a travesty! It is up to us to show ourselves, each other, and the world that we are to be revered and not made a mockery of.

    For all of those young artists out there who are open to receiving guidance and wisdom from those of us who have been in the game a little bit longer, and who are willing to mentor you…bring it on. We can do it together!!!

    Much love and success.

    Your sister in song,

    Mykah
    http://www.myspace.com/mykahmme

  3. Michael Tipton.Jr Says:

    You are right about corporate dollars, Chevy is not going to get back on board while on parole.
    When did you start Blogging??

  4. Lola Says:

    When you blame record labels for not teaching artist management and etiquette, you are making an excuse. Whatever happened to self-responsibility?

    I worked at a major record label for years and will tell you that while I see a need for artist management, the buck stops when I have to sit you down and teach you how to behave like a responsible adult. If you can’t handle that small fete, then you should not have a record deal.

    No one is responsibe for Da Brat, Foxy, Remy and any other raptress in jail except them and their parents or lack of parents – period! These are grown women who know better but think they are invincible. – I’m Foxy, I can do what I want, I’m Remy Ma – you don’t know who I am? That’s the attitude these women walk around with and now they will have an opportunity to eat humble pie and get their attitudes in check.

    I don’t feel sorry for them at all and I don’t place their problem on the shoulders of anyone else. They should stay in jail as long as it takes to learn that life does not revolve around you and that you are not invincible.

    Its good that they are in jail; its the best thing that ever happened to them. Now they will learn some valuable lessons and return to society as productive, not destructive human beings.

  5. Alexa Says:

    Thembisa is right on!

    As a woman who has been working in the entertainment biz for the past 14 years, I have seen first hand the mentorship and special handling of the male counter parts that is sadly lacking for the women. This is true across all areas of the entertainment field but repercussions are particularly damaging for women in rap.

    Straight forward and honest enlightenment like this is definitely the first step forward.

  6. Hakim Says:

    Thembisa continues to provide real leadership in the world of Hip hop Entertainment.. Every woman in the game would do themselves great service to sit at the Thembisa’s tree of knowledge and pray for gravity to take effect.. Keep dropping jewels.. great article T..

  7. anne Says:

    Great insight and perspective Thembisa!! This is a really important issue. And thank you for bigging up Missy. We always joke about doing shock for shock’s sake to get a little more attention but luckily she hasn’t needed it. 🙂

    anne
    http://www.akpr.net

  8. Cousin Cal' Says:

    With the exception of Remy Ma, these jailbird women have no children and I feel it’s good they don’t. But for Remy, who does, what sort of an example is she teaching her child? Also, in addition to all of the lost proceeds from corporations… what about the life lessons these young women will have lost out on due to incarceration? You know… building a successful empire like Latifah. Becoming a master at production like Missy or even a well versed DJ like Yo-Yo or Monie. What about being a Mother watching your child reach milestones in life????

    I grew up in a rough neighborhood like some of these women and at times feeling extremely challenged by the surrounding living conditions, however, every move I make in my daily grind is connected to my duty as a parent. There’s no way I’m knowingly/willingly taking any chances with my freedom and the possibility of missing 8 years of my children’s lives. I find it shameful that a Mother would risk so much over sooooo little. I mean really, Remy… 2 g’s??? Seriously!

    As for the other women who made their rounds to the clink; maybe their need to feel respected by their male counterparts shaped their decisions. What female emcee is the hardest?

    In that respect I think you’re right on when you mention these women maybe wanting to gain some street credibility. Wasn’t it their lack of street cred the tool that got them to where they were prior to jail? Foolish women! I guess every female is equipped to be a Lady.

  9. Marianne Baker Says:

    Great article, and great advice for young aspiring rap chick stars. I agree that Missy deserves all the kudos she gets, and more.

    Lilly Allen is another great example of a super talented rapper/singer/whatever you want to call it, who has not been in trouble with the law, and whose actions have yet to defy her seeming intelligence reflected in her work. Props.

    However I must agree with Lola here, in that we can’t expect record company executives to be responsible for the delinquency of their artists. Ultimately, we are all making our own (stupid) decisions.

    But maybe I’m not seeing this issue clearly. Maybe I’m biased because I didn’t grow up in the kind of ‘hood’ where kids have guns and gangs are a very real threat (again– parenting, anyone?), but I grew up in all kinds of other hoods and experienced all kinds of things that would make the list for a ‘dysfunctional adult’– prostitution, abuse, non-gun-related violence, suicidal parents, bulimia, abandonment, poverty, addictions, etc., etc…. I have been out on my own since 15 and can’t say I’ve had any real ‘mentors’ or ‘artist development’– I got jobs, supported myself, paid my rent on time, played instruments, wrote songs, produced records, travelled the world, wrote and wrote and wrote (still am)— and honestly, I have never felt the need to buy a gun, sell drugs, or commit violent crimes. Seems like a really dumb idea if you ask me. And were I to have the good fortune to score a super lucrative record deal, I don’t know that that would change (all the more reason NOT to, no?). What do I know.

    I like my life. I am very happy to not be a kid anymore, subject to the poor decisions my parents made, and now in a position to make better ones. I am an adult, and capable of behaving as such. The “poor me” attitude that so many rappers project just makes my stomach turn. You’re reinforcing that when you blame their actions on people who have done ENORMOUS favors for them– like getting them OFF the “mean streets” and into much more comfortable circumstances. They should be more gracious.

    Marianne

  10. rushay Says:

    i dont know whats been wrong its like all these hip hop icons minds have become inflated and they forgot when hip hop started it had a cause now its just about partying and bullshit

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