Why black women are still a minority in the grime scene

By Duchess Magazine

It’s not news that black British female MCs struggle for parity with their male counterparts. Look at this year’s Wireless bill: so far, Mabel and Lisa Mercedez are the only British women; New Yorker Cardi B is the only other female act altogether. But the problem persists behind the scenes: black women as photographers, producers, DJs, journalists, managers and tastemakers within British grime and rap remain invisible.

Most “women to watch” lists hailing top female talent in the genre are dominated by white women – in i-D magazine’s 2017 rundown of women in grime, of 10 game-changers listed, only three were black. If lists detailing grime’s male talent saw a dearth of black men, there would be widespread outrage. But when black women are absent, the issue barely registers.

It’s worth mentioning that grime wouldn’t be where it is today without many of the women who do get credited. White female journalists including Hattie Collins, Laura “HyperFrank” Brosnan and Chantelle Fiddy are celebrated veterans of the scene. Cat Park, the former station manager of grime TV channel Channel AKA (formerly Channel U), Rinse FM’s Sarah “Soulja” Lockhart and Rachel Campbell, the founder of Wired PR who boosted Stormzy’s rise have all made major contributions.

At one time, both Caroline Simionescu-Marin and Lauren Pavan were respectively editor and COO of influential online grime video channel GRM Daily, signalling what looked like the end of an era of male dominance. And producers Flava D and Alia Loren, DJ and label boss Barely Legal, radio presenter Rebecca Judd, label head Madam X, photographers Olivia Rose and Vicky Grout, and video producer Amelia Dimoldenberg have made a name for themselves in a scene notoriously difficult for women to penetrate.However, this racial imbalance is as crucial as gender disparity in the industry. Black women have a presence in the scene – often appearing as adjuncts in music videos – but misogynoir (misogyny directed at black women) remains an issue. With its roots in the black working class, grime frequently reinforces damaging, colourist stereotypes and notorious anti-woman anthems such as P Money’s Jezebel and Dizzee Rascal’s I Luv You? are implicitly aimed at the women in these communities. While lists such as i-D’s frequently acknowledge high-profile figures such as Beats 1’s Julie Adenuga and BBC Radio 1Xtra’s Sian Anderson, they remain a visible minority within a minority.

Digital artist Abigail Adeoti discovered this while compiling interviews for her upcoming documentary Gash, a profile of women working in the urban music industry. “Black women, especially dark-skinned black women, are underrepresented even in the spaces that are created from their own culture,” she laments. “I’ve actively sought out black women to interview and it’s been incredibly difficult – there are so few of them. The colourism and intercommunal racism within urban media is a serious issue that nobody dares to speak on.”

One black male journalist who asked to remain anonymous claimed that male MCs have exacerbated the issue by giving preferential access to white female journalists and presenters. “Grime is built more like an aristocracy than a nation. That’s why they cut out black women.”

Georgia L was a presenter on grassroots music video channels SBTV in its early days. She says that as a white woman, she was surprised to be hired, and ultimately struck by the lack of female presence altogether. “I didn’t necessarily think, ‘Oh my gosh, all the girls I’m working with are white’,” she admits. “But as a white woman, maybe I’m not as sensitive to that.”

But some black women aren’t sensitive to it either. Wardah Sempa, editor at urban broadcaster Link Up TV, is unphased by her anomaly status. “We can all see that a lot of the female managers are white, a lot of the editors are white,” she says. “You rarely see a black woman managing an artist in the UK in the urban industry – but when you do, it’s amazing. I feel like, this year, women are killing things, especially women of colour. It’s going the right way. Nothing is going to happen overnight”

Perhaps things are changing – Skepta’s manager Grace Ladoja was recently awarded an MBE for services to music, and rising photographer Rianna Tamara and AG The DJ are fast finding wider recognition. But for true progress,more within the industry need to recognise black women’s worth beyond video cameos and cheap punchlines.



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