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Closing The Gap: How Latina Artists Are Combating Gender Inequality In Urban Music

Karol G

Photo: Gio Alma Miami August

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Closing The Gap: How Latina Artists Are Combating Gender Inequality In Urban Music

Karol G, Natti Natasha and other female urban artists are winning awards and topping streaming lists, but that wasn't always the case

GRAMMYs/Apr 3, 2019 - 06:19 pm

Karol G is "200 percent" sure that women are gaining visibility in reggaeton.

An urban Latin artist, the 28-year-old is undeniably one of the brightest stars in her genre, with more than 15 million followers on Instagram, four million followers on Spotify, 600k-plus followers (and 183 million lifetime streams) on Pandora, and placement on Apple Music's Dale Play! Latin urban playlist for International Women's Day. And that’s not counting her three No.1 hits on the Latin Airplay Chart and a Best New Artist award at the 19th Annual Latin GRAMMYs in 2018.

There’s little doubt that Karol G is thriving. Her take on reggaeton, a genre that generally borrows from dancehall, reggae and hip-hop, features a pop fusion and empowering lyrics directed toward a female audience. But her success didn’t happen overnight; it’s been years in the making.

"A lot of people may know me for my music now," Karol G says during a stop in Mexico for the tour she's doing with fellow urban artist and boyfriend, Anuel AA. "It took me almost 14 years to get where I am, and it was really hard."

REGGAETON’S HISTORY OF GENDER IMBALANCE

Research supports that female artists in Latin music are scarce. According to Dr. Stacy Smith and USC's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, who analyzed the top 150 songs from the Billboard Hot Latin Songs Chart between 2015–2917, the ratio for every 10 male artists was one female artist. In 2015, six percent of artists were women in the top 150 songs of the chart, while 2017 saw a rise to 13 percent. In terms of songwriting, women represented 3.8 percent during the three years analyzed.  

"Female artists are few and far in between… I think that is a problem in Latin [that's] always been there," says Head of Latin Music at Pandora Marcos Juárez.

WOMEN DON’T SELL(?)

According to female reggaeton artists, the roadblocks they face have everything to do with gender.

“From the moment I decided to go by ‘Karol G,’ I began doing reggaeton or urban Latin music, and because there were no women, they would say [that] women couldn't do it or because ‘You're a woman,’ this or that,” says Karol. “Because you're a woman they think your values and your dignity, become interchangeable, and they offer you things at the cost of other things.”

Reggaeton has been a male-dominated genre for years. And Latin trap, the Spanish-language version of the South's trap music and another rising sub-genre of urban Latin music, is not much different.

In Puerto Rico, reggaeton began as an underground scene (many attribute the birth of reggaeton to Panama and artists like El General) in the early and mid-2000s. Eventually, what is now known as “classic reggaeton,” expanded outside of the island to other parts of Latin America and parts of the mainland U.S., where there were more young Latino-Americans.

But a recent resurgence of the genre, led by artists like J Balvin and Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's 2017 Latin-pop smash "Despacito," which reached No. 1 on the Billboard 100 with a version featuring Justin Bieber, has taken the genre to a new global level. And thanks to the viral nature of the internet, people in many more parts of the U.S. and world, English speaking or not, are listening to reggaeton's more "marketable" version of itself.

How powerful has the genre become? In 2018, only two of YouTube's top 10 most-watched videos were in English. The rest were in Spanish, and each had at least one urban music artist attached to it. With over 1.5 billion users, the platform is the most popular to stream music, according to Forbes. Only one of those eight songs featured women, "Sin Pijama" by Natti Natasha and Becky G.

As Remezcla points out, women have been instrumental in the Latin Urban genre, one of those artists being Puerto Rico's Ivy Queen who has been a trailblazer for women empowerment with anthems like "Quiero Bailar," which tackles women's rights and objectification. So why has it been so tricky for women to gain visibility in the market?

Natti Natasha, a Latin urban singer/songwriter who had her first hit alongside reggaeton icon Don Omar in 2012 with "Dutty Love," was initially told by label executives that women simply don’t sell in her genre.

"Any [female] artist that is trying to make it out there is probably struggling right now,” she says. “And then being a woman is like, I had to go places and show what I had and they were like, 'We like it. It's good music, but women don't sell. They're not going to listen to you. So us investing our time and investing all we have in you, it's probably not gonna come back.’”

While "Dutty Love" peaked at No. 1 on Billboard's Latin Pop Songs Chart, the success was short-lived for Natasha. But things turned around years later; Natti Natasha is YouTube's most watched female artist and overall one of the top ten most-watched acts on the platform of 2018.

BREAKING THE GLASS CEILING BY BANDING TOGETHER

With a growing interest in Latin urban music, labels are closing in on the imbalance. Universal, home to Karol G, and Sony, who distributes Natti Natasha and where Becky G and Jennifer Lopez are signed, recently told Billboard that things are beginning to look different for women in urban Latin.

“There was definitely an opening for women [in 2018], ”Executive Vice President Latin America/Iberian Peninsula for Universal Music Angel Kaminsky said. "There has been a surge like we’ve never seen before of female acts from many different countries with lots of attitude and potential. These girls are writing at a younger age, and the material reflects their stories and their lives, leading to bigger engagement.”

"We made a commitment to bring diversity to the Latin music landscape, and this year we’ve had a record number of hits by female acts,” says Nir Seroussi, President of Sony Music U.S. Latin also told Billboard.

While the industry may be more welcoming women now, there was a time where Natti Natasha says women felt pitted against each other.

"They used to want women to compete,” she says. “Don't know why, but it was just like an automatic thing. Once you understand that is not the way to go, you understand why that happens, why they do it. You do all the opposite, and you get together and you make this happen. You prove to people that it's not a competing thing. It's a collaborating situation.”

RELATED: Latin Pop Performer Natti Natasha Takes Center Stage On 'IlumiNATTI'

Collaboration among Latin urban women is absolutely on the rise, agrees Latin Curator at Pandora Leticia Ramirez, which has helped them gain visibility. "I think there is definitely a sense within the music community with female artists that there needs to be a level of support for one another versus a comparison of one another. I think that is allowing more experiences and opportunities with amongst themselves to do things."

Cross-promotion among Latin artists is already a widely utilized practice. During a tribute to Daddy Yankee at Premios Lo Nuestro this past year, the reggaeton figurehead thanked his male colleagues for supporting each other. According to Juárez, public support, like the sort offered by Yankee, is precisely what helps Puerto Rican performers be successful.

"I think what's really unique about Puerto Rican artists is the way they've all put each other on … Puerto Ricans have set the template for collaborating and co-signing artists, and helping bring people up. You see that over and over and over."

Dr. Stacy Smith found in her research that many Laitn chart-toppers are Puerto Rican.

COMBATING "MACHISMO" IN LATIN CULTURE

But, as Juarez points out, there may be more subtle, industry-wide obstacles that deter women’s success in this arena. He notes that listeners on Pandora, which allows users to thumb up or thumb down artists, are not always receptive to female artists.

"I think part of it is probably culture … machismo is real, and I think that is definitely part of it," he says. "I'll tell you what, on [the] Reggaeton de Hoy [station,] it's really hard to put women in there, because people just don't ... number one, there's not a ton of [female] artists [out there]. It's not to say that there is none, I mean, there definitely are some artists who are killing it. But there's not a ton, and people react adversely to it still."

Ramirez sees the industry's recent push for female artists and believes that it may be listeners who need to become more supportive of female artists.

"They are publicists. They're pushing. They're communicators. They're making st happen. So I don't think it's something that's dictated from the industry. I think it could be cultural, quite frankly," she says. "I think that for some reason the consumer isn't as easily supportive of a female artist as they are a man. There's still that negative comparison to women … With men, a lot of things are excused. You know?  … I do think there is that part of it. I think that that could kind of impact women and how far they can go in the music industry."

RELATED: Ozuna, J Balvin & More Pay Tribute To Daddy Yankee At Premio Lo Nuestro

MORE WOMEN IN THE STREAMING MIX

Juarez says digital streaming platforms, along with labels, could be doing more. Dr. Stacy Smith agrees. At a panel called Women In The Lead, held during Billboard Latin Week 2018, asserted that it’s ultimately up to streaming platforms to create desire for an audience. "It's not about what the audience wants, it’s what these companies are willing to supply to create the desire amongst listeners."

But what does that look like? An all-female playlist or radio station? Juarez says "all-female" content may not be the best solution.

"I think you run the risk of making [women] ‘other,’” he says. “It's much more beneficial to integrate [women] and have it seem natural as part of just a listening experience. I think more and more, we're getting to that," he says. 

“We have a station, an effort called El Pulso on Pandora, which we launched last year, sort of like a franchise Latin effort. The idea there was to really embrace this popular Latin movement that our listeners are showing us that is important and impactful for them. But then we're also trying to be predictive and trying to include up-and-coming artists, and a lot of those artists are females."

One thing streaming platforms can do, Juarez says, is keep women artists in front of audiences in an organic way.

"I think within that branded listening experience, there're opportunities to just keep ... Not force-feeding people, but just keep trying, you know? Keep putting it in front of people," he says. 

While Apple Music, Spotify and Pandora are all establishing ways to organically integrate women into their Latin music playlists and stations, Karol G says another way females need support is through the acceptance of their lyrics.

"The only limit I see at the moment is people accepting our lyrics … We have songs about love, about falling out of love … I want to be able to talk about anything and everything because I am human … I think there needs to be a little more equality in that aspect," say says.

But despite the challenges, Karol G believes this moment for women in reggaeton is more than a trend; it’s a genuine movement that’s showing no signs of slowing down.

"There was a time in which there weren’t feminine faces,” she says. “Now that door is open, and we're coming in. Not one, not two, but many of us. That makes people's curiosity grow. People now want to hear our side of the story. They want to know where we've been and how we did it.”

"On Location: Miami": Lary Over Talks About Latin Trap Origins 

Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

Rosalía 

Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.

 

RELATED: How Rosalia Is Reinventing What It Means To Be A Global Pop Star

"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

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