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Hey everybody, my name is Asha Mullings. You may remember me from some articles I’ve written for this fantastic site. What some of you may not know is that I’m also an aspiring female rapper who knows by the name Ekelle. I know that it’s not an easy industry to crack into, but I feel like I have as decent a shot as anybody else. The following is what I have experienced and learned thus far since my small beginnings on this journey. Although I’ve only started to seriously pursue my musical goals this past January, I’ve learned a lot in that short time. Hopefully this short list of advice will help you or anyone else you know who is also on a journey to pursue fame and fortune.
1. Get Your Money Up
You’re going to hear me mention this a lot, but that’s because money is so important. Of course the game is about who you know more than what you know but money always talks real loud! I’m not sure where some of y’all are in your journey but you should start saving towards your next project and then some because you never know when unexpected expenses might come up. So if that means you need to work those night shifts at McDonald's to record your mixtape, just do it with no shame because you know where you really belong.
2. Network, Network, Network!
I’ve always had creative ambitions, but like most I was never really encouraged to pursue them so I went to school first. Yes, I have a full 4-year program degree and the student debt to prove it. At school they would always preach the power of networking for your career, but I was never that interested. In regards to music though, I’m always excited to meet new people and shake hands. Midsummer I performed at an open mic at a popular restaurant in my city’s downtown. A month later I had an artist from Chicago message me on Facebook to tell me that he and his crew were coming up to do a showcase and wanted me to perform in it. Fast forward, I did end up performing, met with another entertainer from my city and so much more. The entertainer was someone I saw at a different open mic and she gave me all sorts of information on opportunities I could get my hands on next summer. I ended up also getting an interview for an up and coming Hip Hop magazine called Urban Color and when I went after-partying with the Chicagoans, I ended up meeting Tasha the Amazon! You all may not be totally familiar with her yet, but I tell you she’s the next big thing out of Toronto.
3. Stay Open
Stay open to all the possibilities that you can. We all want that fame and fortune but at the beginning of your musical journey you’re gonna have to work for free for a little bit. I’m not sure how long, but that is just the reality until you start to generate some buzz for yourself. With that being said, be open to anything that can give you good exposure. Since the industry is more about just music these days, see if you can start modeling, try out for some TV shows and music videos, or be in the audience of a talk show. Basically you need to start getting into the practice of doing things you’ll be doing when you get on top such as talk show interviews, photo shoots, music videos, magazine interviews, etc. You need to start preparing yourself for the life you wanna live!
4. Market Yourself!
The good thing about being at the beginning stages of your career is that you’re the boss. No one can make you do anything you don’t wanna do. If you don’t see the value in certain things or people then you can just walk away. With that being said though, I think the biggest mistake a lot of new artists make is their marketing approach. You can put all the songs you want on Soundcloud, but if no one’s clicking on it then it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying that you should spend an obscene amount of money on marketing but maybe something like $100 dollars towards promotion of a new project is decent. Keep in mind that having Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, Bandcamp, Facebook, etc are free methods of support but there are millions of people on them so you need to stand out. Don’t be afraid to make your friends and family promote your stuff because that’s what they should be doing in the first place if they want to see you be successful. Try and get yourself in as many online publications as possible and any local public access TV shows too because someone is always watching.
5. Stay Busy!
I do think that there are a lot of good opportunities out there when you go looking for them, so don’t stop looking! No one is going to hand you anything at first so keep finding work for yourself to do. Try not to have a huge gap between productions and videos by keeping yourself busy with the shoots, open mics and other things you’re doing. When you’re meeting new people and making your connections just be aware of who these people are and what their intentions with their careers are too. For example if you meet someone who proudly says they’ve been in the game for 13 years but they’re still at street level, really consider whether you need to have them in your posse. The other day through my adventures with my Chicago peeps I met another female artist who has some of her material on The Source which is pretty cool. We exchanged info and hopefully something great will come out of that connection. I’m not saying you should go around like a snob and only talk to some people but just be mindful of how their presence will affect you. Surround yourself with other likeminded individuals but don’t be afraid to cut people off who aren’t supporting the hustle. If you’ve asked certain people 10 times to share your link or come to your show then you need to cut them off! All you need is to keep believing in yourself, find yourself a go to team for production, photos, videos and even duets and you’re good to go.
I hope that was helpful! - Asha Mullings
We’re living in an interesting age; there is more acceptance towards different types of looks in the entertainment industry, i.e. Fetty Wap’s eye and the beautiful Chantelle Winnie with her vitiligo. There was mainly a welcoming acceptance of Laverne Cox and now Caitlyn Jenner and the United States of America finally legalized marriage for everyone. These things are amazing considering the fact that only about 50 years ago there was some serious open hate in the world. Although things are going well for certain groups, police brutality affects black and brown people at a disproportionate rate.
I think that after witnessing the horrors of Ferguson, MO where Michael Brown was murdered by a police officer who got to walk off scot free, remembering the ridiculous media frenzy created with the Trayvon Martin story, Aiyana Stanley-Jones who was shot dead in a police raid at just the age of 7 and many more; people are just getting fed up. There are tons of viral videos taken by bystanders who witness these things and offer proof; did you see the one where the officer beats up a pregnant woman? These things are not coincidental and show that there is definitely more work and training to be done with officers across North America. Slowly, but surely things are happening so I just wanted to give a big salute to rappers who are using their fame for good and speaking up for Black communities affected by racism.
First we have Big KRIT. I was so excited when I saw this good-looking dude proudly rocking a black t-shirt that read, “Across cultures, darker people suffer most. Why?” on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon as the musical guest. That was a great way to show sensitivity to what is going on in the world today and to show some support towards the movement. He really did some thinking there!
Next on the list we have one of the realest rappers today, J. Cole! Who doesn’t love the Colester? Not only does he spit some relatable stuff on his tracks, but also he’s not afraid to show people what’s going on through video. In J. Cole’s video for “Crooked Smile” feat. TLC we see him going about his daily activities at home with his family. We see him brushing his teeth, doing chores and preparing for a family barbecue. At the same time we follow a man who we learn is a SWAT team officer going through his day with his daughter before he and his team raid J. Cole’s house and shoot his little girl in the cross fire. This video is based on the very true story of the Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Once again the bad guy got away with murder, but because of J. Cole’s video and great song, we won’t forget what happened.
Third we have a very smooth secret from hip hop’s Bonnie and Clyde -- Bey and Jay! Rumour has it that the star-studded couple gave tens of thousands to help bail out protestors who were arrested in the Ferguson and Baltimore as part of the “Black Lives Matter” movement currently underway. This could be true as the sources were a few tweets from activist/director Dream Hampton who worked with Jay-Z on his 2010 biography, Decoded. In an attempt to stop the uprising, some protesters’ bail was set as high as $500,000 (The Guardian, 2015). Hampton’s tweets were later deleted. I don’t know about y’all but I think the rumours are true. I choose to believe that Jay-Z and Beyoncé want to help uplift Black communities.
Next on the list is another music video; this one is from Run The Jewels feat. Zack de la Rocha. “Close Your Eyes (And Count To F**k)” depicts an unarmed Black man being chased by a White gun-totting police officer. It’s clear that these men have been fighting for days and are at the point of exhaustion. The fight clumsily carries on through the streets and eventually the Black man’s house. Sadly at the end of the video the Black man has nowhere else to run and he and the officer wind up exhausted in his room sitting back to back on his bed. The video really makes you think and will probably cause those who are not affected to see the damage that is really being done. The video is definitely watch worthy and the track is amazing; the director really managed to capture the “futility of violence” (Rojas, 2015).
Lastly, I want to give a shout out to Canadian rapper John River. Although he is still new to the industry, he was not afraid to take a stance on the racial violence that is so prevalent today. River wore a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt this past June at the Much Music Video Awards and was happily photographed in it on the red carpet before the national airing show.
I do understand the fact that some artists don’t want any backlash from their participation, but shouldn’t they be concerned as the Hip-Hop genre was born in Black communities and still mostly serves them today. Some artists probably don’t want to be seen as troublemakers or lose sales and some probably just don’t even feel affected anymore because they’re rich and famous. All in all it is their decision to make, depending on how they choose to get involved, there doesn’t have to be any negativity. Let’s be honest and say that most people get into the entertainment industry to make money and we know they sacrificed a lot to get there, but that doesn’t mean that they have to forget where they came from. Big Ups to the artists out there who care! - Asha Mullings
Hey you! Yeah, you! Do you want to be a world famous music video personality? Well don’t we all? Slow your role and I’ll tell you how to survive on set. A lot of our favorite artists like to put out behind the scenes or BTS videos about what’s happening behind the camera at their music video shoot. Yes, you do see some fun things going on like the star pranking their team members, maybe some celebrity appearances and some old friends that the star grew up with. Other than that the only thing really going on is a bunch of waiting. The point of the behind the BTS video is to make an ordinary day look super exciting; think about it: The BTS has a director so you already know that the material is not organic, then there’s always some person you’ve never heard of with a featured twitter handle talking about absolute nonsense. It’s basically a short commercial designed to make your favourite artist look human but still super cool. Did you see the BTS for BBHMM? All Rihanna did was semi-sing the song and just groove to how good she thought it was with some random people we don’t know. The only person really having that much of a great time is the artist and probably their manager. I’m not saying that being on set isn’t fun because it is; you get to meet cool new people, free snacks, the artist will usually come and meet/greet the extras and you’ll actually get to see yourself on TV when it’s all done. It’s definitely not a picnic though, being an extra isn’t for everyone, but it is a necessary step to take if you want to move up in the music video business.
You’ll arrive to set about 2 hours early just so they can collect all of you. The stylist on the set will want to see if the outfits you brought work for the video so that time also goes to changing/dressing and make up. There will be a makeup artist on set, but trust me it’s not for you. If the artist is a decent person they’ll spring for some actual food for all of you hungry youngsters, if not then expect to be munching on chips, apples and drinking bottled water. As an extra you are a part of the background so no one really feels that they have to tell you the plan for the day. If you are the main chick/guy however you get to be tended to by a makeup artist, some decent pay and you most likely get to go home first which is actually a great thing. There are some music videos that will pay you as an extra/background talent, but most are non-paying (especially if you are first starting out). So here are the basic things you need to know about your survival as a video hopeful.
1. It’s not a party: Everybody getting drunk is just “doing it for the vine” AKA they’re pretending. In all actuality a music video costs lots of money to make so they don’t want a bunch of drunkies wobbling around, arguing and breaking expensive equipment. So when you see music videos on TV where everyone is getting “turnt up” just know that it’s not actually happening. I was once on set for a video where people were being sent home for bringing alcohol.
2. Expect to be there all day: Most video shoots will start after that 2 hour wait/prep time, but sometimes production still runs late. The director also has to figure out the blocking (where they want you to stand) for each scene which can take a long time. Then with each scene they’ll want to film it again and again and again from different angles. They might redo the scene too if the artist makes a mistake or if the extras don’t look like they’re having a good time.
3. Bring an activity that isn’t your phone: Most likely the location will be remote and there will be no free charging outlets because of all the equipment. In these situations you’re better off making friends or bringing a book because they don’t tell you how long the shoot will last and you may have to call a ride. ***Also you’re not allowed to take any pictures of the set, you’re sworn to secrecy until the video drops. ***
4. You won’t know the song: Most times they won’t tell you what song it is due to a whole marketing plan they already have drawn up. This is why you can’t take any pictures or snapchats of the set that let people know what video you’re at and what artist it’s for. They’ve worked hard so they don’t want any social media leaks. Also it’s awkward at first to dance when you haven’t heard the song, but by the end of the day it’ll be stuck in your head.
5. Bring supplies: Unless you have an agent you have to fend for yourself so bring anything you think you might need: Flashlights, sweaters, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, extra juice, lotion, etc. You’d really be surprised at the things they won’t provide for you even though you’re probably working for free.
6. Networking isn’t that easy: Sets are great places to meet other video/acting hopefuls, artists and even friends; just don’t go thinking that you’re gonna wiggle your way into the artist's entourage. I’ve been on a few sets where people were acting all extra because they were trying to show everyone else how cool they were and talk about all the other videos they’ve been in… those people annoy me. Don’t be that person. At the end of the day you’re all still at the same place: You’re not famous (yet). Networking is still possible, as corny as it sounds though just be yourself and the right people will find you.
7. Take it for what it is: It’s an easy opportunity for exposure so just try to make the most of it and have a good time. - Asha Mullings
When I was doing my research for this article, a lot of it was very negative. Authors described these beautiful women as “a female model who appears in hip hop-oriented music videos. Her only purpose is to show off her body, which is seen as her worth, inevitably becomes a commodity or prop to be used for the viewer’s viewing pleasure” (Ride or Die Chicks, 2015) Sometimes people call these women “video hoes” which I think is wrong. Just because a woman agrees to be in a Hip-Hop video and show her skin does not make her a ho; we don’t know what she does in her personal life and that is none of our business. Some people have issues with video models, as they should be called, because they believe it takes us back to the Hottentot Venus or Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman as she was actually named. Venus was a woman from the Khoisan people who were the original inhabitants of South Africa. To sum it all up, a white scientist was amazed (not in a good way) by her obscure body consisting or large buttocks, hips and hanging labia. The scientist decided to buy her and send her off to be exhibited to multiple freak shows across Europe in the 1800s. She was of course treated as less than a person as patrons came to ogle her and would even pay extra to poke her with sticks. She was original comparison of the wild, savage black woman compared to the docile and normal white woman. Venus was exhibited until her death in 1815, her genitalia, brain and bones put on display in the Paris Museum of Man until feminist groups complained about the degrading display in the 1970s.
As we can see here, it’s not a nice story; we have a normal black woman who was considered to abnormal by a white scientist and put display to be seen in a negative light. I understand people’s concern, but I don’t think of video vixens/models in that way. Venus was essentially stolen, lied to and mistreated; women in music videos consciously choose to be there and are happy to display the body and the image that they have worked hard to create. In the early days when models like Karrine “Superhead” Steffans started out, maybe sexual activity between sets was expected. The way I see it, these days, there’s a choice; you can go to all these shoots and mess around with whomever or you can establish yourself another way. I would say that models should go to shoots where the artist has a good reputation or make their start with female artists first so that these scenarios are less likely. Once established, models can start going to more shoots with any artist they want, difference being that the desperation/thirst to be seen won’t be there. If rapper X tells you to do something you don’t want to do for more camera time, you can do it, but you can also leave with your integrity intact and know that you’re not starving for money because you spent the time building yourself up.
I see video vixens as an alternative to what video models were before. Pre Hip-Hop movement, it was Rock, Pop, Blues and Soul on the TVs. There were video models of course, but there was the tall and thin and mostly white standard to live up to. Hip-Hop really opened the door so that all women of every shape, colour and size could be appreciated and have a chance to show off. Video models are the ultimate “suck it” to mainstream media expectations and beauty standers because anyone can be a star; we got bald head and tatted up Amber Rose and girl next door Lauren London. Some have braces, some have glasses; some are thick, some are thin. There is still the issue of women dancing to lyrics that can be misogynistic, but at the end of the day it’s just a job and I think it’s empowering to take those jerks’ money anyway and give them no play! Most video models are smart enough to make a better career out of it anyway; Melyssa Ford went into real estate, Blac Chyna has an online boutique and a beauty bar, and Keyshia Dior has a cosmetics line. My only issue with music video models these days is the trend that less black women are being used than before. The original Hip-Hop movement was all about uplifting the minority population and getting the message out there so minority women are in the videos. However, due to the recent “Kardashian-ing” of the world, we’re seeing more and more white women being idolized for their “exotic features” and praised in rap lyrics. I believe this is due to the many unfortunate stereotypes that exist against black women today. Sure, its okay by everyone if white and Hispanic women wanna give their man problems, but when it’s a black woman who has a bone to pick, it somehow becomes a big headache… I blame reality TV, I blame world star and I blame everyone who wants to “do it for the gram/vine”. I’m not telling any woman to go pick up a pencil skirt and become a “positive influence” but I am saying to be mindful of stereotypes out there and try not to get engulfed by them. Professionalism and positivity are always appreciated on set and it’ll get you somewhere; perhaps a J.Cole video, he appreciates all shades! - Asha Mullings
The Hip-Hop scene has always been known for the outrageous style choices of rappers, video girls, the entourage and producers. From chains that hang low to dyed green cornrows, if you wanna make it in the Hip-Hop scene, you gotta come correct with your style. Let’s take it back to the late 70’s when the Hip-Hop movement started to get mainstream popularity and explore how fashion and style has evolved. Back in those Brooklyn days cats were looking fly in their bright tracksuits and bomber jackets. Sneakers such as high tops and trainers were also popular due to the aerobics craze of the decade. My least favorite part of the 80’s was the bucket hat, but it was definitely a must have for anyone on the Hip-Hop scene. Working out was THE thing to do so anyone spotted wearing any kind of sporty item looked like a hot ticket. Rappers rocking this style included LL Cool J and Fresh Prince AKA Will Smith. In 1984, the first Air Jordan sneaker came out which would forever change the shoe game, making athletic shoes a premium high priced fashion item. At the same time a man by the name of Dapper Dan was taking high fashion items like Luis V and Chanel and bringing them to the streets. When those bourgie fashion houses wouldn’t sell to him, he would learn their logo and remix it onto items like bomber jackets, jeans and shoes. This was a style that anyone could be a part of from the alpha thug male to the average Joe. Dapper Dan sold his remixed masterpieces out of his own little boutique in Harlem and outfitted big names such as Eric B & Rakim, Mike Tyson, Heavy D and the Fat Boys. A mixture of these trends continued into the mid 80’s until a new trend came into town -- Black Nationalism.
Rap group Public Enemy had began to put out conscious rap that spoke to the plight of the African American community and offered social commentary. Public Enemy and NWA channeled Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five which got people to seriously start thinking again. Many African Americans were feeling the need to get in touch with their roots so African influence began to be the accent to topping off many street styles. African touches were seen on acts such as Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa and others. This brings us to the early 90’s where females were on the rise. Most notable were Aaliyah and TLC who popularized that baggy tom-boy style. These Hip-Hop honeys would wear their ultra baggy pants with tiny sports bra tops and large fitting flannel shirts to show that there were other ways to be sexy; back then it was okay to leave some things to the imagination. R&B began to collaborate with Hip-Hop; thus the grown and sexy look was born. For obvious reasons, the movie Scarface really became popular among the Hip-Hop community; suddenly everyone had to have bowler hats, silk shirts, suits and a snazzy pimp cane. There were still the OGs who preferred their gangsta street style, but for everyone else it was smooth sounds and even smoother clothing. Towards the latter half of the 90’s is when super models started to gain popularity and women in Hip-Hop responded by showing some skin themselves. Femcees like Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown began to sex things up with designer labels, fancy fur coats, short skirts and lots of cleavage. Trends for women and men continued to have a strange mixture from past and present that drifted into the new millennium.
In the early 2000s everybody and their mamma came out with a clothing line! Nelly, Russell and Kimora Simmons, P. Diddy, Eminem, 50 Cent, Jay-Z… the list goes on. This is probably due to the strange relationship that Hip-Hop has had with the major European fashion houses. We see everyday how rappers and the general Hip-Hop community’s style is appropriated to the run way, and then disappears for a season or two. They’ll stick a rapper on the stage for some ratings, but you don’t see Donatella Versace out for lunch with Missy Elliot now do you? I speculate that rappers and other urban entertainers were tired and wanted to do it for themselves, FUBU! With all these new Hip-Hop fashion houses coming out, style took an interesting turn that P. Diddy calls “Ghetto Fabulous”. The millennium saw the reoccurrence of oversized clothing, heavy chains, heavily logoed clothing and for some reason cowboy hats. It’s as if everyone finally got the chance to put something out there, so half of the people were putting a spin on what they knew and some were just reaching out of their imagination. Unfortunately all of these brands did not stand the test of fashion.
These days Hip-Hop has taken on a more contemporary view of fashion. Successful urban brands live in the here and now and produce clothing accordingly. As for the artists? We’re now living in a time where everything goes. We have Nicki Minaj changing her hair color every week, Jay-Z wearing suits, Kanye wearing women’s clothes and rappers in skinny jeans riding skateboards. Overall, the Hip-Hop world has become more eclectic like the music and there’s room for anyone. - Asha Mullings