The music industry is male-dominated but that doesn’t mean women aren’t flourishing. Meet six Black female producers pushing creative boundaries.
Painting a portrait of the music industry, women are thriving across the board. From rap and R&B and every subgenre in between, female artists have created innovative sounds and musical styles to usher in a new era of femme forward collectiveness… until the topic is production.
And, that is not to say the talent pool of female producers is not overflowing. However, the erasure is. Looking at the professional landscape, female producers are often not given the same space and opportunity as their male counterparts. Even as female rap continues to grow in power and the rap girls build together, they are not often teaming up with female producers.
According to a study conducted by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which examined a sub-sample of 500 songs on the Hot 100 Year-End Billboard Charts from 2012, 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2019, the difference between male and female production credits was staggering.
Only 2.6% of all producers represented were women. This translates to a gender ratio of 36.7 males to every female producer. For women of color, the number is even smaller. The report found of the 29 credits claimed by women, only eight were attributed to BIPOC across the five years. The ratio for male to female producers from marginalized groups is 122 to one.
So how can this change? The long answer is to continue to work as a society to undo centuries of patriarchy, misogyny, and racism. The simple answer is to support female producers and aritsts already doing the work and empowering them as they hold the doors open.
Despite hip-hop and R&B being a male-dominated fields, there are multiple women working as producers whether collectively or through solo endeavors. Often wearing multiple hats, women acts such as Missy Elliott, Yung Baby Tate, Chloe Bailey, Syd of The Internet, and others famously produce and perform.
They are not alone in their multi-talented contributions to the music world. Behind the scenes and center stage, women are behind top hits and underground bangers. Meet six Black women who work as producers who all shared with Okayplayer, via individual phone conversations, the ins-and-outs of their experience of being an artist in the music industry.
As an R&B singer, KeiyaA delivers a warm, alluring sound that fills listeners with a sense of love and freedom. As a producer, she takes the same, purposeful creative approach. In 2020, KeiyaA released her stunning debut album, Forever, Ya Girl, which is already considered to be a neo-soul classic.
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How would you describe your own music-producing style?
KeiyaA: I like to draw from music that I grew up listening to and playing. It’s a lot of soul and hip-hop and jazz and experimental electronic influence in my style. It’s definitely like a hodgepodge. My creative approach is definitely one that is a hodgepodge. I’m a millennial. We’re the generation that’s the bridge between this new forward, internet generation, and the older ones. A lot of newer producers make stuff that’s just in the box or like just on the dock on their computer. I like to use actual physical samplers to sample audio, and I like to use actual analog instruments and my voice.
Are there specific artists or producers that you kind of look to as inspirations for your sound
I definitely don’t sit and make music and think I’m trying to channel so-and-so, but I will say when I first started making beats I was really inspired by Timberland’s production. And Neptunes. I thought they were the most brilliant composers. [Also,] Missy Elliott found a way to make women-forward soul music but it still was gritty. I think a lot of people expect women producers to be really light on the beat in a way that doesn’t hold weight. I feel like Missy is somebody that is the opposite of that. And Georgia Anne [Muldrow]. Georgia Anne is such a crazy producer and finds such a crazy pocket.
How can we hold men in the industry accountable for making sure that there are more opportunities for female producers?
It’s kind of a thing where nobody really has a choice right. We’ve always been here. it was less to me about us not existing it was more about people having faults in their systems to not be able to see us. We figured out ways to be visible, despite having to wait for others to see us. So it’s kind of like, you just don’t really have a choice. We are just here. We’re coming out and I think that self-serving energy that we’re doing is allowing the space for us. If people don’t catch up and start working with more women that’s kinda on them. We already work with ourselves and work with each other and that’s enough for us to be visible.
Stas THEE Boss
Stas THEE Boss, who came up as part of the duo THEESatisfaction, is both a producer and a rapper. Her last album, 2020’s Sang Stasia!, displays how she fuses jazz and hip-hop styles to create her own modern sound.
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What came first, producing or rapping?
I would say producing came first just because I didn’t want to bother anybody about making beats for me. Also, I didn’t want to pay for them (laughs). And the kind of music that I was making was not hearing from anyone else. So I just wanted to go at it myself. I started out on GarageBand and then just basically finding samples of songs that I loved growing up, and then just figuring out how to chop them. From there I started using this program called Reason [Studios] and that just got me going.
How would describe your production style?
I am a sample chopper that loves 808s. I really clung to Madlib and J Dilla, and those chopped up soul and jazz beats and boom-bap beats, and stuff like that. I just love chopping samples more than anything.
What do you think men in the industry can do to make sure that there’s space for female producers?
They just got to open their mouth. A lot of people are hush-hush, they don’t be putting on for the sisters. They might low key, say what’s up and dap us up, but they don’t broadcast online. Put us in the forefront. Put it us in the rooms. I feel like that would really open more doors for us. And not necessarily a showcase or something, but they [should] kind of step aside. You don’t have to be the front face, and there are other people that do your job — sometimes way better.
New Jersey-bred creative JWords turned her love and passion for music into a career as a producer where she is able to blend hip-hop and electronic styles while drawing inspiration from her Dominican heritage. As half of the duo H3IR, she and rapper Maassai released one of the only rapper-producer collaboration albums with two women.
Last month, she teamed up with Oakland rapper Nappy Nina for the phenomenal album Double Down which features additional production from KeiyaA and guest verses from Stas Thee Boss.
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How would you describe your producing style?
JWords: My style is kind of everywhere. I like to mix different genres together. My favorite type of music is hip-hop. I love electronic music, drum and bass, footwork and dance — you know — house music. I always want to fuse those together.
Is there a big creative difference in knowing that you’re producing something for someone else versus just creating freely?
I work with artists that know my sound and want to get on the sound that I’m creating. I haven’t produced something that somebody has told me, “I want this,” you know what I mean. I usually send out the beat that I have to my friends or Maassai or anybody else and they just get on it. It just flows very well, honestly.
What is the hardest part you find about being a producer, and your favorite?
I feel like, as a woman, I have to work like 10 times harder to just be seen or heard, when I see my male friend producers elevating pretty fast. That’s kind of rough to see sometimes, [but] I keep working and keep elevating. My favorite part is literally creating the music. Sitting in front of my gear and having all this stuff that I can create. My inner-me is so happy — the childhood me.
Do you think the recent success of women rappers can translate to female producers?
Imagine, Cardi B drops a song and it’s number one on the charts and it is produced by a woman? I have never seen that. It’s so great to see a woman no. 1 on the charts, but it also would be great to see that a woman produced that song for them.
SassyBlack, who was once the other half of THEESatisfaction, is a Seattle-based musician who not only produces and performs her own art, she empowers others through song-writing classes. Her afrofuturistic approach creates a unique sound. She has more than a dozen solo projects you can listen to on her Bandcamp.
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Can you describe your producing style?
SassyBlack: I call it hologram funk and psychedelic soul. That’s what I call my music in general because it’ll be somewhere on that spectrum and that always and forever. I’ve been producing for… a little over ten years but it took me a while to get confident.
What are some of the things that you did to build that confidence?
My younger brother is a producer, and I was inspired by him and his music. I felt like if we were related maybe I could produce something (laughs). I went to college for music and my family were all really supportive of me following my desire to study jazz vocals. In terms of production, they were open to that too. I don’t think a lot of people knew what that meant necessarily, and I didn’t always know what it meant, but I had to do it. I was watching some tutorials and luckily I made some friends that are still super supportive of me to this day. I can text and [say], “I forgot how to do this can you remind me?” I was able to find community. It wasn’t easy at first, but I was able to find people I was comfortable with.
What can men in the music industry do to ensure that going forward, there’s more of a gender balance and more opportunities for female producers?
I feel like I shouldn’t have to tell you what to do. Like, what the hell! I have to work to make these beats. I gotta do the regular struggle of just trying to be good at making the music in my head come out right. I gotta be good at that. But I also got to be good at telling you how to be nice, [and] be civil? That’s crazy. That’s too much work. Y’all don’t pay me for that.
I think we need to respect ourselves. I think everybody needs to respect themselves and rest more and take care of themselves so that we can really step in a positive way for each other. There’s so much negativity and people are so cynical on social media. I just think we got to slow down and sometimes you got to take responsibility. I wish I had some cool, clever response. I really don’t because it irritates me. Why I gotta teach you? It is so unkind and unfair. I salute the people who can deal with that stuff. I’m like, “I’m gonna create my whole different universe and live in a peaceful state, create peaceful music.”
What advice would you give to anybody, of any age looking to start a career in producing?
Be kind to yourself and be patient and just enjoy it. Enjoy the weird sounds you make. I tell my students this: “We didn’t hop out the womb, walking and talking… We didn’t just pop out the belly with like knowledge. It takes time like anything else.” All of it is a language and you’re really learning your language. Take time to understand it’s going to take some time for you to learn your own language.
Crystal Caines is a rapper, producer, and engineer whose Harlem swagger shines every time she creates. Her hard-hitting hip-hop and R&B beats have put Caines in her own lane. Crystal Caines has already gotten credits for A$AP Ferg, Dave East, BBYMUTHA, and more.
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How did you get into producing and the music industry?
Crystal Caines: I got into producing because I started as an artist first. When I started as an artist first I wasn’t sure of my identity and what I wanted to sound like. I just saw Eve, and when I saw Eve I was like, “Oh shoot, I can do this too. She’s bossy, she has a crew behind her. She was dominating as a woman in a male environment.” I really wanted to be a singer first but when I saw Eve I was like, “nah I’m rapping.” From there I started to make music I wasn’t really comfortable with my voice at the time so I was really trying to sound cute, instead of feeling the music.
Fast forward a little bit, I went to college because my mom was like it’s either job or college. I studied business management I graduated and. And during that time I was just focusing on my sound. Fortunately, [A$AP] Ferg lived around the corner from me and he wanted to work on some music. he reached out to me to help him with some of his music. We worked on music prior to him being signed. That’s when we worked on “Work” and “Shabba” and that’s when I produced, my first beat ever.
Is there a huge difference for you when producing beats for other people versus producing beats for yourself?
The thing is my beats are creative, so sometimes I would have to use it first for someone to see where it can go because I created it with myself in mind. I never create with the intention of making my music sound like something else because that’s what collabs are for. When I work with those people that’s when we incorporate their sound into it, if it’s something that they already like. I really don’t try to stray too much away from my sound because that’s what makes me who I am and music is about joy. It’s about meeting each other halfway and putting both of your creative ideas together.
What are some words that you would use to describe your style of producing or creating music?
My style is really eclectic I would say there’s no boundary for me. I could be listening to Sade, and make Sade trap. I like to create genres that don’t even exist and I don’t look to make it, that’s just where my bounce is. Sometimes it’s a little awkward that it’s new. It’s like a mixture of whatever I want to create and I’m really afraid of my mind creatively because once I tap that part of my brain that really opens the portal to all my creativity it is gonna be crazy.
What do you think are some of the hardest and easiest parts about being a female producer working in the industry?
It’s a lot of hard parts, but I don’t like sharing the negative aspect of a lot of things, even though it should be brought to light. The hard part is just basically standing in your power as a woman and standing up for yourself in moments where you feel like you have to accept what’s given to you and it’s not fair. So that’s one of the hard parts is just like, “OK, do I bite the bullet or do I speak up?”
The great part is collaborating with people and they be so surprised like, “oh my God this is coming from a woman.” I like engineering and executive producing too. I can meet artists and we work together and I can outsource to my other producer friends who I know will be perfect for their project. We work together on records, I’m really good at stuff like that. Eventually, later on in life I want to start my own label and have my own artists, but for right now I have to, put myself on my own two feet and give myself a chance.
The GRAMMY Award-winning record producer and songwriting duo of Brittany “Chi” Coney and Denisia “Blu June” Andrews has worked with the likes of Beyoncé, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Saweetie, and more. Together they combine their talents and skills with a passion for creating with intention to produce undeniable hits. Most recently, the duo earned an Adult R&B No. 1 with Jazmine Sullivan as co-writers on “Pick Up Your Feelings.”
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Can you describe how you got into the producing aspect of music?
Chi: I was in band. I started out on a recorder in like second or third grade and then eventually I moved to saxophone, then I did marching band. I heard a guy in high school saying he was a rapper that made his own tracks on Fruity Loops and not really knowing anything about the production space. I found it very interesting. I went home and downloaded it. Starting there [with] Fruity Loops and kind of just stuck with it over the years.
Blu June: I was messing around in GarageBand. That’s how I got started with production because I needed something to help me because I had so many melodies and so many lyrics in my mind. That’s what I linked up with Chi and she started teaching me a lot more about Ableton and Logic and all those things.
How would you describe your producing style?
Chi: I just say that we are very universal. We just do music in our own way. We can do every genre, but it’s just going to have our flair and twist to it. I would just say, melodic… I describe it as a very euphoric type of universal, outer spacey sound, I feel like this core wise of our production but again just being able to do everything, but we just do it our own way.
What are the best parts about being professionals in the music industry?
Blue: The good part is just definitely as simple as just having access to the people that you need to be in order to be successful. We’ve worked really hard and just to cultivate our talents so it’s like now, being in a position to work with the people that we’ve always wanted to work with but also being able to link opportunities to people that you know [are] just as talented as we were when we were coming up.
How do you think that the music industry can kind of hold itself accountable or provide more opportunities for female producers?
Chi: It’s going around looking for those individuals and actively searching and looking because a lot of times we’re not really afforded the opportunities. I do think the industry is partly responsible for going out and finding those people but I also do believe as creative women making sure that we’re always just trying to be the best. Not trying to be the best woman, but being the best in general, and hopefully, those opportunities will just find you when you put in the hard work. But, the [industry should] actively look for women.
Blue: And really putting a spotlight on [them] when you have those women, not just Women’s History Month, but throughout the full calendar year. Putting the spotlight on those women because we felt underrepresented and making their accomplishments just as big as you make a man’s accomplishments when he produces a record. We’ve had No. 1’s and you don’t see people running… We’re not asking for special treatment, but that’s something special.
DeMicia Inman has written for PAPER, MTV News, Hello Giggles, and more. You can follow her work at MiciaGirl.com.