My Mic Sounds Nice, a panel organized by the BEAT (Viacom’s employee resource group devoted to the African American experience) gave a shout out to the women fundamental to hip-hop’s success. Trell Thomas, VH1 Save the Music Foundation’s director of communication and talent relations, moderated the event at Viacom’s Times Square Headquarters.
The panel featured women who contribute to hip-hop in major ways: Jana Fleishman, EVP of Communication at Roc Nation; LaTrice Burnette, SVP of Marketing at Epic Records; Nadeska Alexis, Senior Editorial Producer at Complex; and hip-hop artist Roxanne Shante.
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For Fleishman, industry contribution means working as Jay Z’s publicist at Roc Nation. Growing up, the Bronx native wanted to work in the fashion industry, start her own fashion magazine, and become a heart surgeon. Fleishman ended up taking a publicity internship while studying at Hunter College, and discovered an unforeseen career path.
Today Fleishman runs marketing, branding, and social media for artists including Rita Ora, Willow Smith, and others. In an interview with Refinery 29, she shared her experience as a female in the music industry.
“There’s a stereotype that women are still fighting against,” said Fleishman, “And people are sometimes still surprised when they meet me or when I call bull on somebody. Clearly, people don’t know that I’m about my business. That comes first.”
Burnette’s father, a deejay, sparked her interest in hip-hop. As a teen she got her first job in the industry—working as an intern at Roc-A-Fella Records, Jay Z’s record label. She worked as a street team promoter, passing out demos and merchandise to local record stores and club deejays.
Upon graduating high school, Burnette became a full-time employee at the label, working on digital promotion for some of the hottest albums of the early 2000s, including Jay Z’s The Blueprint and Cam’ron’s Death of a Dynasty.
Alexis’s exposure to rap and hip-hop came from watching BET with her cousins as a child. “I always wanted to be a writer,” Alexis told the audience. “I put two of my interests [writing and hip-hop] together.”
First she worked at as a writer, interviewing stars such as Lil’ Wayne and Pusha T. In her current role at Complex, she hosts Complex Live, a weekly web series which covers entertainment news and politics.
Shante started rapping when she was just 13 and living in a Queens housing project.
Shante recalls paying $50 to enter her first hip-hop battle, and losing. She believes her loss was due to gender discrimination.
“The judge told me hip-hop was just beginning to become serious,” said Shante, “And it was not ready for a girl.”
Shante’s career has suggested otherwise.
The young teen collaborated with Queens-based hip-hop collective, the Juice Crew, to produce the hit track Roxanne’s Revenge. By the time Shante turned 14, she was a touring musician—and one of the first female emcees to reach mainstream success. Now she’s got her own biopic—Roxanne Roxanne premiered at Sundance in March 2017.
“I was never out to make a record,” said Shante, “I was just enjoying my passion.”
This panel was one of many events BEAT hosted for Black History Month, including Viacom’s panel discussion with the cast of August Wilson’s Jitney.
All photos by Bart Stadnicki.