An inside look: working behind the scenes of Belgian hip-hop as a woman
In Belgium, hip-hop made its official appearance through the release of the album BRC 'Brussels Rap Convention' in 1990. In 2014, hip-hop in Belgium found a new breeze, with artists like Roméo Elvis, Caballero & JeanJass, Hamza and Damso making their way to the front. But in all of this, we often solely focus on men in hip-hop; whether it’s music, dance or just creative jobs in general. In fact, female hip-hop artists are making big moves in North-America, but in Belgium, it’s a tough jungle. In an attempt to shine a light on women doing their thing, in their differences and in their challenges, we compiled a list of female creatives working behind the scenes of Belgian hip-hop.
BOOKER & PR CONSULTANT SELENE ALEXA: "WE'VE SOMEHOW MANAGED TO CREATE A SISTERHOOD BASED ON SOLIDARITY"
Selene Alexa, 25, is a Belgian booker and PR consultant specialized in visual identity. She has been working in the cultural and musical field for 5 years. She started out in 2015 as an intern for the first edition of Fire Is Gold festival. Now, she does PR for the Belgian rapper Kobo.
“The biggest challenge we are facing as women working in the hip-hop industry is the assumptions people have of us. It’s really difficult for women to be taken seriously because a lot of machismo is present in this business. There's this stereotype that women get what they want because of their looks. Or that everything is easier for us.”
“What we want as women, is to be seen, heard and respected because of our talent. We want the same opportunities that a man would get. My job is to connect people, help them get opportunities in work and be booked. The mission that I gave myself is to link and support as many young women as possible in this artistic field, whether it's in music, fashion or photography. ”
“Women aspire more inclusivity. We've somehow managed to create a sisterhood based on solidarity, in which we create opportunities for ourselves in order to be valued as we deserve. We choose to work together and elevate each other every day. There's still work to be done, but initiatives are being taken and they deserve to get a platform.”
Selene is trying to put women forward through many projects. The next event taking place in Brussels at VK is 'Curated by Selene Alexa', on the 11th of April 2020. During this event, women in trap music will be put forward with a lineup of French and Belgian female artists.
DJ & PROMOTER RRITA JASHARI: "THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IS VERY COMPETITIVE. WE, AS WOMEN, CAN PROPOSE OTHER WAYS OF WORKING TOGETHER"
“As a promoter, I struggle to find a balance between being gentle, understanding and helpful but also to learn to negotiate deals, be business-minded and strict. Sometimes I have the feeling that I’m not bossy enough for the music industry which is very competitive. I realize music is a super masculine field. We, as women in hip-hop, can propose other ways of working together and other visions.”
“Both as a DJ and a promoter, I’ve learned to accept that I’m in the right place. Exactly where I should be. No, I’m not here because I got lucky or because a miracle happened; as many people say of women working in this industry... I’ve worked hard for it, I know the field I work in and I can be proud of that. I’m taking credit where it’s due. Some people may say that it’s arrogance, but it’s just confidence. Confident men become leaders because people love them, confident women are seen as mean because some people are offended.”
“I believe the biggest thing women have to learn is to acknowledge themselves and build self-confidence. That way, nobody will be able tell us what our place should be, and we just grab what we want and what we deserve!”
“We’re so conditioned by our female and male roles in society, but also by our age, etc. Women need to be more confident, because society constantly teaches us to think we’re less, while we’re the ones who give life. I’m learning to acknowledge my merits and not let other people judge my place in the music field or life in general.”
EVENT ORGANIZER MARTHA VANDERMEULEN: "THE CARING, OPEN FEELING OF THE EVENT WAS MADE POSSIBLE BECAUSE THAT'S THE ENERGY I PUT INTO IT."
Martha Vandermeulen is a 25-year-old woman living in Brussels. She has been organizing events since 2015, with the first edition of 'Freestyle O', a place where everybody is welcome and every hip-hop discipline is included.
“Being respected as a young, white, Flemish woman, especially in Brussels's hip-hop scene wasn't easy. Freestyle O was the first time I ever set foot in the event and hip-hop scene. Therefore, it was hard for me to make my ideas and propositions be heard. People saw me as a privileged girl that never had any problems in life. A few years ago, hip-hop was valorized only when it was coming from people with a story, people that had been through hard times.”
“I knew the project was worth it, I believed in it even though no one was taking me seriously. I pushed through and earned respect through the events I created. The truth is that, if I weren’t a woman, Freestyle O would’ve never been what it became. The love, the caring and open feeling of the event was made possible because that's the energy I've put into it. The more people came, the bigger it got, without losing this essence of sharing and caring. We also organized an edition in Costa Rica, which was a great experience.”
After this, Martha needed time to focus on her Master's degree in socio-cultural animation and lifelong education. She didn't want to work halfway on Freestyle O, “we wanted to go out with a bang”! Freestyle O's last edition was a success, with more than 700 people attending the event. “This last edition was a dream come true. Everything was perfect, everyone was enjoying it, so we ended it on a beautiful note.”
Today, Martha is still organizing events such as 'Mama's Open Mic', the opening day of the new season of KVS as well as 'Sound Days Hip-Hop' at VK.
JOURNALIST YAELL MONAS: "I'M RELATIVELY SMALL, SO PEOPLE ALWAYS THINK I'M A GROUPIE WHEN I GO BACKSTAGE. HOWEVER, I SECURED MY SPOT THANKS TO THE KNOWLEDGE I HAVE."
Yaell Monas is a 23-year-old hip-hop journalist and music editor from Ghent. She studied journalism, with a focus on fashion, and was later introduced to music journalism.
“I’m relatively small, so people always think I’m a groupie when I go backstage to interview an artist. They don’t take me seriously and think I only do this work to get close to artists. But when afterward they read my interviews, they see that I know what I’m talking about. I secured my spot thanks to the insights and knowledge I have. I’ve been to so many concerts ever since I was a little child, that I got a lot of knowledge from these live sessions. My name is unisex, people I interview never know who to expect, that's also something I use to be respected as a journalist.”
“I’m young, I know the new hip-hop scene, and I'm passionate. The problem is that not a lot of opportunities are given to young people, especially to women in hip-hop. The older journalists with more experience are the ones getting big articles, talking about what they know, unlike younger creatives that don't get enough chances, trust, and recognition.”
STYLIST PAREL COONE: "I WANT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY AS A PROFESSIONAL STYLIST DESPITE MY YOUNG AGE
Parel Coone is a 21-year-old fashion stylist from Ghent, now living in Brussels. “I studied fashion and started out as a model. But after a while, I realized I wanted to be part of the creative process while staying in the fashion industry. After graduation, I decided to become a stylist. I love to create, that's why I also make my own clothes by upcycling second-hand pieces.”
“I had already done a lot of different shoots, when I started off doing some styling jobs for Gangthelabel, since my step-brother 95kuston was the producer of the collective. The first music video I worked on was Yung Mavu's Chameleon Flow. I got lucky that my first projects were with my family because we had mutual respect for each other. If I had started out with other rappers, it might have been different in the sense that I wouldn't have been as confident to suggest daring outfits, for example.”
“It’s hard to be taken seriously as a young stylist, regardless of your gender. But as a girl, I feel like it’s even harder to be respected and listened to. On the other side, there are also positive aspects of being a female stylist because male rappers and hip-hop artists are usually more comfortable with you. But beyond that, I want to be taken seriously as a professional stylist despite my young age. Communication wise, I have to be more assertive so that men take me seriously and act professionally with me. More often than not, they trick women in hip-hop into thinking they’re interested in their work, when in reality, they just want to get to know them personally .”
We are looking forward to an environment where we can all be respected as equals. How we choose to express ourselves and the work we do is directly related to this. Make sure to keep your eyes open for future female talents claiming their place!
Also: stay tuned for the second part of the article, for which we sat down with rising female artists of the hip-hop industry that are shaking Belgium’s ground!