July 31, 2000
In the minds of most, New York is considered the birthplace of Hip Hop. It is only appropriate that it should have at least one mainstream radio station dedicated to Hip Hop-Hot 97 is that station. Among its barrage of entertainment-driven programs, one is most indicative of the changing times, especially the surge of women's presence in Hip Hop. On Friday nights from 8-10PM Angie Martinez, Jazzy Joyce and Coco Chanel make Ladies Night happen.
Ladies Night is one of the few all-women radio programs in the country, and for the past four years, these DJs have continuously given the people (male, female and otherwise) what they want. According to Kevin Cox, Hot's publicity director, Ladies Night receives the same ratings as their other programs (50% male and 50% female listeners, ages 18-34), but the studio is inclusive of only females. Their playlist is the same, complete with DJs Jazzy Joyce and CoCo Chanel alternating weekly on the 1s and 2s, as well as weekly guest appearances. Ladies Night does what Hip Hop had not been doing-giving sistahs a stronger, more prominent voice and presence.
The dedication of these women goes back to when they were coming up. They've been forging the way for years and continue to hold steady in a male-dominated industry, which ain't easy. Some might say it's just a radio program with a niche, but the combination of CoCo, Jazzy Joyce and Angie Martinez makes a potent brew that, for now, breathes something real and relatable.
All three are originally from New York. While Joyce has been here all her life, Angie and Coco were transplanted from Miami and West Virginia, respectively. Wherever they were, Hip Hop was right by their side, playing an influential role throughout their lives.
Angie came up dreaming of being a programming director (like mom dukes, who advised that good PDs have air experience), seeing visions of an all Hip Hop radio program, and aspiring to own a station. "When I first started, I had already learned how to run the boards and at night, I ran Flex's boards and he would talk with me on the air. So I'd make mixtapes and give it to him. It just flew from there."
CoCo was in the cut, wheelin the steels for her brother Andre, who taught her everything. Although West Virginia seems far from the epicenter of Hip Hop, Coco was D from jump. "We were still way up on Hip Hop, because I guess when you don't have it, you're craving it because it's not there. The scene was different but we were still into it."
Joyce, being a Bronx native, saw shit first-hand during classic park sessions, gaining DJ skills from her cousin, Chovie Chov, at the mere age of 11. "Without this I do not know how I would have expressed myself artistically, I would have been living or dying in the hood."
The term "Ladies Night" originated from back in the day when Angie and Spinderella used to do their thing on the air. "We used to kid around and call it Ladies Night," Angie explains. "Not like it was the official name of the show. We did not promote it as that. We did not really have any guests or anything. It's just that she was mixing."
Although it's a new millennium, music is still plagued by double standards. Women artists only represent ten percent of the industry. Historically, women were rarely at the forefront, and props were hard to come by. There are major stereotypes in the music biz, especially in testosterone-driven Hip Hop. Ladies Night continues to blaze new trails and despite obstacles, remains true to it all.
Being in the game from the beginning and laying the foundation for women, Jazzy Joyce has witnessed and experienced all angles on the situation. Joyce has chosen to remain relatively independent from a male presence/dependency in most of her work. "There's always this element of 'I wanna fuck you.' And ultimately that's why they are helping you."
Coco resounds the dilemmas, "At first [it was hard] but now it's a lil easier. You know, we had sistahs like Joyce that were here for a long time. It's harder for females, [but] it's a lot easier for me now that I'm on the radio. I think that a lot of guys that have never heard me before think, 'Oh you a lil DJ, that's cute,' like it's a cute thing and not really be taken seriously. But usually when they hear me, I get my respect. Off the top, it's a lil harder for guys to take you seriously because it's a male-dominated field."
Angie even notes that handling business between females and males is different. "I mean, sometimes it's easier in some ways, it's harder in [other] ways. It's that whole boys' club thing that goes down. It's a lot of men in executive positions that you have to deal with regularly, and they deal with each other one way and then they deal with you in another. It's natural because I am a woman, but it makes business dealings a lil different as well." Commenting on times in the studio, she proclaims, "You really don't wanna be callin niggaz at 1:30 in the mornin [on some studio/collabo shit] because you don't want to give the wrong impression. You gotta hold yourself down. But I haven't had any problems because people give me respect. But there's that whole shit (it's a woman thang), but you can't give into it. I'm not mad-it's just the reality of it. We function differently."
Sure, we can rattle off various female Hip Hop artists, but most women's success is predicated on a male counterpart. I mean, think back: Blondie/Buffalo Girls (Fab Five Freddy), Roxanne Shante (UTFO), Salt N' Pepa (Dougie Fresh/Slick Rick/Herbie Luv Bugg), MC Lyte (Audio Two), Isis (X-Clan), Miss Melody (KRS-1), Yo-Yo (Ice Cube), and the list goes on.
Back in the day, women were not behind the scenes in droves like they are today. Today, women are deep as hell. Walk through any Black label or Black/urban music department and you will see the floors saturated with women. One cannot overlook the implication because it indeed reflects that women can hold it down. Women are getting artists recognized, planning marketing strategies and selling records. But nonetheless, they are still lower in the hierarchy, and rarely the final decision-maker at the record company.
The image of the woman in Hip Hop has transformed. It is encouraging and inspiring to see a woman who can hang with a bunch of niggaz in the game lyrically, mentally, talkin shit, the whole nine. Or she could be doing her own thing altogether. Nevertheless, women's images are still largely created by a male counterpart. For example, Eve is down with Double R. The bottom line is that women will sell records (with proper marketing). And if it's making dollars then it sure as hell makes sense. The audience is left to scrutinize the voice of a woman, to decide whether she is speaking for herself, or a vehicle for perpetuating patriarchal notions.
"I think the media dictates what we want to hear and when we want to hear it," Angie says. "I think it's a combination of things. A phase in music comes around, different media and marketing, and they think they know what sells. You know how Hip Hop is-it phases. I mean Lauryn is not having that problem, Missy is not having that problem. I'm really not mad at it. I believe everybody has his or her place. I believe there is a place for Kim, for Eve, [and for] Lauryn because that's the reality of it. I think people have to be careful about their lyrics and what they say, but at some point, there has to be a place for some kind of reality because that helps people heal just as much."
What is more interesting is that it is rare in Hip Hop to see an all-women's joint, save for the Lil Kim's 1997 joint "Ladies Night", Brandy's "I Wanna Be Down"(remix) and some 30-second Sprite commercials. But compared to the numerous all-star male collaborations, this number is small.
What makes Ladies Night so dynamic is that it works artistically, culturally and socially. Deconstructing patriarchal notions, Ladies Night is a voice, like the beginnings of Hip Hop. It is the simple formula of DJs, MCs and the crowd. The challenge is to keep it real. Good vibes usually have a way of becoming overly commercialized. Ladies Night does run this risk because of the revenue generated from advertisements.
So far, we see all the angles. With all types of guests from Vanessa Del Rio to WNBA stars, Ladies Night represents women from all walks of life that are making it happen in one way or another. Angie breaks it down, "There are so many various kinds of women. So even on Ladies Night [some people ask] 'Why did you have them on, they don't represent women?!' [Because] That's real life! Sometimes people paint pictures and it's not real, and people do not respond to that because it's not real; it's not the truth of it."
As I probed deeper, I discovered more.
Stress: What is your impression of the evolution of the DJ? CoCo:Unlike back in the day, people do not want to hear too much scratchin. I love to scratch. Now in the club, people do not wanna hear too much of that. You just play the right records and get on the mic, that's what gets them open. I personally don't like it. I mean, I'm a DJ and that's what I do. So for me it was hard because I was never a mic person. I want it to go back to when it's more about skills and scratchin and cuttin a record, catchin it back and forth.
Stress: What do you think caused the change? CoCo: It seems like there was a period, more towards the early or mid-nineties where MCs were not giving the DJs too much love. The DJs were almost a forgotten part of Hip Hop. For a period there were a lot of MCs using DAT machines. To me it started comin back when people like Flex and Clue, [were] really making albums and putting the DJ on a whole different level, in a different light.
Stress: Having been around for so long, what are some of your personal survival mechanisms? Joyce: Being at the right place at the right time. So, when you're at that place, you have to be able to have skills to step up to the plate because sometimes doors open for you and it's not your time, so all those things come into play. With anything, survival, you have to be smart, and I guess I have been blessed to be somewhat protective and intellectual enough to look at a situation. Spirituality [too] helps you understand and know who your partner is. The spirituality gives you a sense of when its time to stay and time to move.
Stress: Why do you do it? What keeps you motivated if it's not the money? Joyce: When you're performing, you're giving a part of yourself to get a reaction and a response. That's a motivating thing for me. (Mimics herself in the club) "Aah y'all niggaz like that? Okay! Then I got something else for you!" Its like a give and take thing-it's a feeling, something that is invisible in the air.
Stress: Is it ever catty in the studio with all those women? Angie: I can't generalize like that. I have had good experiences with women and I have had bad ones. Sometimes women are really not comfortable around each other when they don't know each other, especially in this business. Women are mostly around guys all the time so when we're together, some women... I dunno, it's a funny thing I can't explain. But then sometimes it's extra love. Just the extra. I can't generalize because I've had all different types of experiences. We have different guests and when we have ten girls [and] everybody's bonding and giving one another love. It's a good feeling. It's definitely positive, especially with the different guests and people we had. You get a lot of love.
Stress: What about lyrics like Lil Kim's? (referring to first album.) Angie: Me and my girl were like, oh shit, I can't believe I'm singing it ("I used to be scared of the dick") We were never able to say that, nobody ever said that and it was so blunt-it was like, freeing almost for me to sing along with her. It might not be what you want your twelve-year-old singing, but there is a place for that. And there is also a place for Kim to express her opinions. Like Kim represents something that's out there. Kim's life, the struggles that she went through, all that shit. There's girls out there like Kim, [but] without money and without the opportunity that Kim has had. This is what's happening.
Stress: What is the overall vibe with the ladies of Ladies Night? Angie: It took a lil time to fall into our pocket. At first it was three girls that did not know each other together every Friday on the radio, but its nice because we've developed a nice working relationship and friendship-we have a nice relationship together. I just think it really works together to be something nice. Joyce is bananas-she is the sweetest person in the world, but she's bananas. She says whatever she feels like sayin. I'm the reasonable one that pulls her back. CoCo's kinda like in the cut; she's dope with hers. She comes in every week with her hair and nails done, just dipped out. And you know when she does say something she means it. It's just a nice mix. Its important they hold it down, they are two of the best mixers. They each have their own specialty. Like CoCo's ill with the cuts. Joyce gets into the party and knows how to rock it. She knows how to feel a crowd out; she knows what's hot. They work well off of each other, you know.
Just a mere four years ago this would not have happened. Today, males dominate the industry 9 to 1. In such an atmosphere, Ladies Night proves, in a way, that women can not only be a part of the scene, they can run shop with minimal dependence on men. No denying-Ladies Night is Hip Hop.