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Women and hip-hop: A discussion in downtown Oakland

on March 26, 2013

On Friday, the Betti Ono art gallery in downtown Oakland hosted a panel discussion about women and Hip-Hop. The “My Art, My Culture: Women, Media, and Hip-Hop” three-part discussion was the product of the combined efforts of a number of Bay Area arts organizations including Beats, Rhymes, and Life, which uses hip-hop to empower young people, and the Daughters of Dilla Project, which offers media arts programs for girls.

The walls of the gallery were covered in colorful art, anchored by a giant mural of a Native American woman’s face, which served as the backdrop to the panelists’ conversation. More than 40 people of different ages, races and sexes attended the dialogue about the hardships of breaking into the music industry, as well as the occupational inequalities for women in the music business and in America as a whole.

About a dozen artists, educators and writers took the stage on Friday night; the list included MC and poet Dom Jones, writer Erin Duncan, and San Francisco State professor of Africana Studies Dawn-Elissa Fischer.

“When women are doing their thing, we’re seen as being controlling or too bossy,” said artist Jessica Sabogal. A collection of Sabogal’s art pieces, titled “Better Than Perfect,” adorned the gallery’s walls, including a colorful image of a nude pregnant woman, next to the word “CREATOR” in all capitals.

In response to a question about breaking into the mainstream music industry, Dom Jones said, “I feel compelled to be myself, because there’s no one else like me. That keeps me from being interested and necessarily feeling that I have to study the mainstream—and then assimilate.”

An MC who goes by the name Queens D. Light said that being a strong woman can make you stand out in the Hip Hop industry.“I think of it in a business term: it’s a niche,” she said. “It’s a niche to have a woman who’s unapologetic about being strong in her resiliency and her femininity.”

D. Light, who would later put her MC skills on display and perform for the audience, concluded by saying, “We’re in a new era we don’t have to apologize for that—we just have to do it and execute the projects.”

Erricka Lewis-X, arts & culture coordinator at Beats, Rhymes, and Life, says that she plans to organize more events like this one. “This is the beginning of a conversation that over the next couple of months, over the next year,” she said. “We’re hoping to grow.”

The Betti Ono gallery is located at 1427 Broadway in Oakland.
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