The most obvious way [I’ve experienced racism in the music scene], and one that trickles down in every aspect, whether it’s being female, being a Jamaican woman of African descent and all that good stuff, has been financial: not getting paid, not getting opportunities.
Especially me being here in Toronto and being one of the first or whatever, no one wants to hear what this rapper girl has to say. They want to know, “Okay, who is the black guy in charge of her and then who is the white guy in charge of him?” Even though I’m the one creating things.
[Because I started in the late 80s] I’ve been in situations where I’m usually the first to do this event or be a part of that event, and if I had a peer in the same genre, same anything, my peer would probably get paid more than me. I’d think, “Oh my god, is it because I’m a black girl?”
Black woman in hip-hop? No one’s a CEO, no one’s growing up and earning the equivalent of their peers. [That discrimination] would be reflected at events I performed at. The whole thing, you want to name it: the room, the stage, the order [of who played when]. I would feel it. It trickled down in so many ways. I’d be first on the bill and all that, until I got so numb to it. That’s where I’d feel the racial thing. I’m sorry [for saying that] – that’s just the Canadian in me – but I’m not sorry.
It hasn’t stopped my focus or where I want to go. It’s made me go harder to get more creative and get better paid and get respected more and get higher on the bill. I stopped beating myself up and took the restrictions off having to prove myself. I remained firmer in who I was. I knew I was different and I knew how I got here, so I just stuck to that. Let everyone else follow. That’s all I could bank on. I couldn’t worry about the other stuff because it took so much out of me.
When you submitted music for a project you weren’t in charge of, you almost couldn’t be a black girl to the extent that you wanted to be. Like, what do you mean I can’t tell these stories? And I always felt I was telling black girl stories. One song of mine that did get played was Slave. Don’t Wanna Be Your Slave.
In the late 80s and early 90s, we were still making a hip-hop scene in Toronto, and we were more on the rock scene route, and it felt so good. I ended up working with Raggadeath, who are my band up till now. We were called “the alternative rap band.” Now we’re ghetto metal. We’re just going to accept it. We’re ghetto metal. It’s such a great outlet, especially because it’s getting scarier out there. You see the financial pinch in the independent scene, but imagine in the real world. You can’t even buy your freedom out here. A lot of these kids, Legal Aid is what’s left for them. For us. The annual income of a black family, I haven’t seen a lot of success there. And that hurts. That hurts.
A lot of artist friends of mine had to leave to become successful. We don’t get the same opportunities as R&B, hip-hop or rock and roll independent artists in the U.S. They’re making a much better living. I’m just like, “Come on, Canada.”
At She Got Next: Women In Hip-Hop showcase as part of Kuumba Festival on February 7 at Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West).
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