As the hip-hop sub-culture continues to fade in Sydney, it’s the female rappers and singers that suffer the consequences.
“The only reason she gets played on Triple J is because she fucked for plays.”
“She must have sucked off the judge. Atrocity.”
These are comments Sarah Connor received within 48 hours of winning the Golden Era King of the Town competition. After a promising 2015 for the upcoming hip-hop artist, which also included her earning the opportunity to open the Come Together Festival from Triple J Unearthed, Connor was subjected to a barrage of online harassment with disgusting comments that questioned her integrity.
Sarah Connor says this phenomenon of online bullying has been the biggest obstacle she has faced in her career. She has been sent sexually harassing videos, comments of a graphic sexual nature and threats to quit the rap industry. This lead to her closing all her social media profiles and disabling comments on her YouTube channel.
“The perpetrators are white males… it’s a male space,” says Connor.
“It’s alarming; it’s distressing. It was getting to a point where I could not lead a normal life.”
Hip-hop, a popular music genre that originated from America in the 1970s, continues to be a male-dominated industry with little or no opportunity for female talent, especially in Australia. Sydney-based rapper Alphamama acknowledges the underlying sexism that exists in her home country.
“When I was in America, I felt so supported and so celebrated for my talents. I don’t feel that in Australia,” says Alphamama.
“I feel discouraged often, I feel unsupported, I feel uncelebrated… There’s a lot of men, and traditionally hip-hop can be quite aggressive and derogatory in its language toward women; it can create a feeling of unsafety, a feeling of not being welcome.
“It’s a boy’s club… A lot of men in the music industry can’t even see past their own biases and their own filters because it’s so deeply ingrained in them. It’s a real shame.”
The Jumanji Festival is an annual hip-hop event that is staged in Melbourne and Sydney. Despite boasting some big names in rap and hip-hop, including Lil Wayne and Metro Boomin, the festival promoters copped a large amount of criticism from the general public, as of the thirteen international and domestic artists, no women were featured in the 2018 line-up.
An official statement from the Jumanji Festival organisers read that they would “like to acknowledge and apologise for the lack of female artists on the festival this year”; however, they also “opted to secure the best possible artists irrespective of gender”.
Alphamama was not convinced.
“I think they’re full of shit. If all they consume is male hip-hop music, that’s all they know,” says Alphamama. “It’s laziness and I think it’s perpetuating this culture that it’s ok to do that and it’s not taking responsibility for the industry.”
MLBRN is a Melbourne-based rapper who performed at the 2018 Jumanji Festival. He says the lack of female representation at the festival did not concern him, and that the criticism the organisers received was unjustified.
“Festivals aren’t obligated to make sure there are female and male artists supporting the line-ups,” says MLBRN. “I believe that it comes down to the artists, no matter what age, colour or sex.”
Another Jumanji Festival performer, Melbourne-based rapper Midas Gold, had a different perspective on the line-up.
“I was disappointed,” said Midas Gold, “I didn’t think that it represented hip-hop and rap music; I didn’t think it truly reflected what was going on.”
Midas Gold suggested that scheduling complications denied organisers the chance to add popular international hip-hop artist Cardi B to the line-up but regardless should have contacted some local mid-range female talent.
“They’re trying to make a concerted effort to do better next year. It’s nice for words, but obviously people want to see action,” said Midas Gold. “I really hope that next year, if they come back, that they do the right thing.”
Krystel Diola, a Hip-hop DJ, FBI radio presenter and contributor to Behind the Front, says there is undoubtedly less opportunity for women in the hip-hop industry. She believes in the importance of creating a dialogue by producing content that expresses the lack of diversity in the industry.
“There needs to be a visual representation of diversity in our media spectrum,” says Diola. “There are so many [female] hip-hop artists out there working hard every day and night. There are so many women out there driving their butts off to make a career in a system that perpetually oppresses their efforts.”
Diola says women in the hip-hop industry are typically sexualised to entice people to purchase tickets to events and festivals. She hopes a social renaissance will see a greater number of women chosen for their talent, rather than their bodies.
Iconic indie-music venue The Basement closed down earlier this year, many citing the closure as a blow for the Sydney music scene. Diola says that Sydney is not the ideal city for women in the hip-hop community due to the lack of venue options for upcoming performers; some artists are leaving New South Wales, even travelling overseas, in an attempt to kick-start their careers.
“This is a problem here in Sydney, a huge problem,” says Diola. “It’s dead; it’s dry. So many venues have been closing down, iconic venues as well.”
Mirrah is an Indonesian, African-American hip-hop artist, who was adopted by Caucasian parents at four months old and now resides in Australia. She has been creating music for over twenty years, performing as a dancer, rapper, singer and poet.
“There are not enough females being recognised,” says Mirrah. “There are so many females that are artists, rappers and producers in Australia. There needs to be more recognition about that.”
Mirrah says most of the discrimination she has experienced comes from racial stereotyping; she has regularly been told she does not look ‘Australian’ enough to appeal to the Australian audience.
“Being a person of colour and a person of ethnicity; that’s been a huge battle as a female,” says Mirrah. “I luckily haven’t received sexism as much from Australia, I’ve been very much respected, but other women have definitely been victims of that… [they] still to this day get it.
“As a female, we all have our own trials and tribulations of survival in the game.”
Sarah Connor says a cultural shift, along with support from men in the hip-hop industry, will start the process of eradicating the ever-present sense of toxic masculinity.
“It’s time that male artists hold their fan bases to account. They can speak about these issues; they can address these issues,” says Connor. “They can support others artists; they can make it known that they’re not going to tolerate this behaviour.”