We Need More Female Producers, But a Select Few Are Currently Making Noise
When Beyoncé released Lemonade in April, it arrived amidst feverish fanfare and fervent feminism thanks to lyrics and themes built around strength and solidarity. Despite vocal contributions from heavy-hitters such as The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar, the Platinum-certified Lemonade arrived with a glaring lack of female artistic representation - from vocalists to songwriters to producers.
Gender certainly doesn’t matter in the outcome of art, but it is nevertheless a curiosity: where are all the female producers?
To date, the only female vocalist to be credited on a Beyoncé solo album (save for Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's spoken word contribution on Beyoncé's "Flawless") is Missy Elliott on Dangerously In Love - Knowles’ 2003 debut - on “Signs,” co-produced by Elliott.
A five-time GRAMMY winner (out of twenty nominations), Elliott has always stood out in an industry crowded with male producers crafting male-dominated songs, and her production resume reveals a cast of top female artists opting for her creations.
Other examples are rare, but do exist.
- In August 1998, Lauryn Hill left the production hub of Jerry “Wonda” Duplessis and Wyclef Jean to release The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill - a body of work almost entirely produced by Hill herself and one of the single greatest albums of all-time.
- Alicia Keys produced the majority of her 2001 solo debut - Songs In A Minor - as well as her second album in 2003 - The Diary of Alicia Keys - and in doing so, nearly single-handedly crafted two of the very best records of her esteemed and award-winning career.
Beyond the legends, though, there’s a small but promising group of young bucks contributing major fire to the game.
The 25-year-old Harlem, NY-based artist co-produced “Lord,” the Bone Thugs-n-Harmony-assisted track off A$AP Ferg’s 2013 solo studio debut Trap Lord. Caines’ also produced Ferg's 2012 record “A Hundred Million Roses," as well as several tracks for Ferg’s Ferg Forever mixtape from 2014.
“I just think we have it harder as women. Even down to producing, I asked a lot of my producing friends to help me out and they were kinda giving me the cold shoulder and was laughing… until a year later. I got my first album placement and they were like, ‘Congrats.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, whatever’ and all that happened in a year. It’s just like practice and practice, and a lot of people don’t see it as me working hard because I work with a lot of other producers, who co-produce. But when I work with other producers who co-produce, they add minor things. I made the beat. Me being a female, they think I did the minor things. I created this rhythm. I did this.” - Crystal Caines
At 19-years-old, Ebony “WondaGurl” Oshunrinde has already contributed her production muscle to some of the biggest projects and artists in music today: “Crown” off Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail, “Used To” off Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, “Freaky” off Young Thug’s Slime Season and “Scott and Ramona” off Lil Uzi’s Lil Uzi Vert Vs. The World mixtape.
A protégé of well-known producer and Def Jam executive No I.D., Shakari “TRAKGIRL” Boles is a longtime Booth favorite who has worked with Omarion, Luke James, Timbaland and more.
Syd Tha Kyd
Sydney “Syd Tha Kyd” Bennett - the only female member of The Internet in addition to being the only former female member of Odd Future - has contributed widespread production to critically acclaimed projects such as Mac Miller’s Live From Space, Kaytranada’s 99.9% and, of course, The Internet’s Ego Death, which earned the group a GRAMMY nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album at this year’s awards ceremony.
- M.I.A. has contributed major production to all five of her own solo albums, most of which became critically acclaimed - including three GRAMMY nominations and a 2005 Mercury Prize nomination.
- Marsha Ambrosius contributed to the majority of production on her GRAMMY-nominated eponymous group album Floetry and her own March 2011, solo debut Late Nights & Early Mornings, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.
- Imogen Heap stands as one of the single most talented and interesting active musicians, who often goes overlooked despite producing her four solo albums and winning two GRAMMY awards.
- Esthero - often referring to artist Jenny-Bea Englishman as well as the production duo of Englishman and Martin “Doc” McKinney - has co-produced the majority of her three solo records.
- Claire “Grimes” Boucher is one of the most exciting and artistic creators in music today. She produced her first three albums and won the 2013 Juno Award for Electronic Album of the Year for her third album Visions.
Founded in 2003, Women’s Audio Mission is a premier non-profit organization created “... in direct response to the economic and social inequity that women face in music production and the recording arts.” In a May interview on TheCultureTrip, WAM Program Coordinator Kelly Coyne perfectly surmised the absence of female presence as well as the desired outcome for artistic endeavors in general:
“You don’t have to be the performing artist to be in the music industry. There’s a lot of creativity in the technical fields of audio. If more creativity is getting out there, it will be more interesting.”
While females are well-represented at the highest level in the four core elements of hip-hop - from Nicki Minaj to DJ Cocoa Chanelle to Karima to KASHINK - a strong female presence is curiously lacking behind the boards.
With credits including production on Walk Witt Me - the 2003 solo debut from Sheek Louch (“OK”) - and After Taxes - his 2005 solo follow-up (“Pressure”) - as well as being the first-ever DJ employed by BET, DJ Cocoa Chanelle is encouraged by the advancement of gender equality as time marches forward.
“I think it’’s evolved from where it used to be… Now you hear about female DJs, and now hopefully a couple of female producers, female rappers; you’re hearing about women in hip-hop a lot more than back in the days. Women are getting a lot more attention.” - DJ Cocoa Chanelle
As gender continues to fade behind equality and the burgeoning notion of identity, female producers will hopefully gain encouragement from veterans such as Hill and Keys or new jacks such as Caines and Bennett. Women are shining in all industries across the globe; it’s about time hip-hop offered a legitimate platform to showcase their skills.
By Matteo Urella, a Boston-based writer. Read more of his work at Medium.