James Brown said it best: “This is a man’s world.”
A pitbull in a skirt, a bombshell in the boardroom, a scantily-clad video vixen – women have played lots of roles in rap over the years. There are both good and bad images of girl power in Hip-Hop, but if longtime industry vet Shanti Das has anything to do with it, young women who aspire to jump into this crazy, changeable world will be equipped to keep their pockets and their reps in check.
Even in 2011, women find themselves trying to break through that invisible glass ceiling that says they can only go but so far. In the music industry, and Hip-Hop in particular, women are few and far among the top leaders as artists and industry leaders.
Das, with her new book and priceless years of wisdom gained from boosting the careers of legends like TLC, Outkast, and Goodie Mob, is set to help others bust through that same ceiling – the same one that didn’t hold her back. AllHipHop.com checked in with Das to learn more about her “ladies first” motivational message and the “Queen” who helped inspire her:
AllHipHop.com: Hi, how are you, Shanti?
Shanti: Good! How are you?
AllHipHop.com: The first thing, Shanti, as I look through the book, it is clear that you’ve been a mover and a shaker in the industry for some time, but for our audience that isn’t familiar with you, can you tell them why your name is so well known in the music industry?
Shanti: Sure. I am a 20-year music industry veteran. I got my start back in 1991 with Capitol Records while I was still in college at Syracuse University. I had the good fortune of working with a lot of really great artists over the years that I mention in the book, i.e. Outkast, Goodie Mob, Busta Rhymes, Akon, Run DMC, and well into the R&B arena, such as TLC, Toni Braxton, Erykah Badu, Prince, and so on.
AllHipHop.com: Okay, so a lot of those people you named have, you know, like 20+ year careers. Would you say that has anything to do with their affiliation with you over the years?
Shanti: I would like to think so. I’m not really one for tooting my own horn. But I have been told, you know, by the artists themselves and many others in the industry, that I’ve definitely made a contribution to, I think, the longevity of a lot of these artists in the industry today.
AllHipHop.com: Okay, cool, so the book is geared towards women. It’s called The Hip-Hop Professional: A Woman’s Guide to Climbing the Ladder of Success in the Entertainment Business. So, why was it important for you to gear this specifically for women?
Shanti: It was important for me to gear the book to Hip-Hop professionals, towards women, because I feel like women sometimes don’t support each other enough – although I’ve seen a lot more of it over the last few years with organizations such as W.E.E.N., the Boss Network, N.A.B.F.E.M.E., and Diva Lounge. I am very happy that a lot of women are supporting one another, but when I was coming up there weren’t a lot of female organizations out there to help mentor other young women on the come up. I also saw a lot of women, and I even had experiences, you know where women were hating on one another and just really not try to help each other move forward and succeed in the business.
AllHipHop.com: Okay, well, as I was looking through it, it seems geared towards younger women, like maybe college age, women who are starting their careers. So was that your goal to target it towards, sort of, that up and coming young woman?
Shanti: It was. As you mentioned, my primary demographic is college students. I do a lot of speaking and lectures at colleges. I feel like it is so tough to get into the music industry as it now, because there are so fewer labels, but I find that there are still so many young women that want to work in the music business and in the entertainment industry. So, I felt like it’s my guide to hopefully offer a lot of insight into what goes on in the music business, and how to get your foot in the door.
AllHipHop.com: Right, okay. Well, you call it a guide but to me, it read more like a personal story, or like an autobiography of your time.
Shanti: Well, yeah, like my memoir.
AllHipHop.com: Right, like a memoir, exactly. So, can you tell me, like what were some of the best of times and some of the worst of times for you as a woman in the Hip-Hop industry?
Shanti: I think some of the best of times, well one, being able to see your get work manifested to greatness. I spent a lot of hours working on the Outkast project and the Goodie Mob project. With Outkast being rappers from the South, you know, back in the day it was all about East Coast and West Coast. Whether it was Biggie or Pac or even with all the groups like Naughty by Nature and Ice Cube, and all those guys breaking on those coasts. But you know, as we used to call it, the South Coast if you will, you know, it wasn’t as easy for us breaking into the mainstream arena.
So, I think one of the great highlights in my career was back in 1995 when Outkast won “Best New Artist” at the Source Awards. It was really like, wow, we are finally breaking barriers and, you know, accomplishing something here. I know how hard the group worked, as well as I did and the label, to really put those guys out there and put them on the map. So, that was, you know, a really good time for me.
Some of the worst times were me being hated on by other women, you know, that I know of in the business. I won’t mention any names, because it’s not worth it. But, just knowing that women, for no real apparent reason, just didn’t want to see me go any farther. And don’t get me wrong, I do have some that I am friends with to this day that were huge champions of my efforts and everything that I did in the business, and I absolutely appreciate them.
There were a lot of women that just kept up with the cattiness and just didn’t see that there was power in numbers if we had just kind of worked together. We could have done a lot more together as opposed to just knocking each other down.
AllHipHop.com: I definitely know about that. I know personally for myself being an executive at a Hip-Hop website that women in this industry are often accused of doing special favor‚ getting here, and I haven’t, and I’m proud of that.
Shanti: Good for you.
AllHipHop.com: Thank you. So, what is your most sound piece of advice for, say a college-aged woman who wants to do this, but she is already getting sort of pulled in that direction?
Shanti: I think my best advice I can give to women, is that you have to go out there and demand their respect. And you’re going to be tempted, but temptation is huge in this industry, because it’s a very social industry. So in addition to being in the office, you’re going to find yourself at launches and dinner parties, showcases, having to travel on the road with the artist, and you’re going to feel like you are being compromised at times and objectified. You have to demand the respect and let them know that you’re not there for that.
I’ve had situations where I’ve been hit on, and I’ve had to handle the situation accordingly. And I think the best thing I can tell women is, you have to handle those situations right when they happen, because if you blow it off and laugh them off, and you become a tease to them, they are going to continue doing it. They are going to think, ‘You know what, I haven’t cracked her, but eventually I know I can.’
If you let them know like, ‘Look, I’m cool with you, I love this game, and this is what I want to do, but if I got to get to it this way, then it’s not really going to work for me. You have to get out there and work hard and show them that you’re not there for that. I’ve known women that have gone on to marry guys that they’ve met in the industry, but you gotta do it on your time and always be in control, because if you let them be in control them it’s going to be bad for you.
AllHipHop.com: For sure. I’m thinking of a lot of these reality shows; they sort of send off a message and show women, you know, whether they be connected to a Hip-Hop artist or a basketball player or, you know, those sorts of guys, it’s not all pretty. So what do you think about the way that we are being personified in these shows and things now?
Shanti: Yeah, you know, I watch some of those shows just ‘cause I want to stay in the know and keep up with what’s going on out in our community. Although, I don’t agree with everything that is going on, I think that women have to find their own way in society, and I hope that the friends of the friends will kind of come to them and be honest and help them understand that sometimes there is a better way to do things.
I’m not here to judge anybody, because until you’ve walked in someone’s shoes, you don’t know what their circumstances are. But I do hope that we can see more positivity and see more independent women making a way for themselves, and not deal with a lot of the BS that they have to deal with.
AllHipHop.com: Right, okay. So, I know having the career that you’ve had so far that you’ve been influenced by some people over the years, so the question I want ask you is, who in your opinion is the most influential or powerful woman that has ever existed in Hip-Hop, on the business side or the music side?
Shanti: Well, I don’t know that I can say the most powerful, but in my eyes, the one that I think shows and exudes the most power is Queen Latifah. Again, that’s my opinion, because, you know, I remember, and I like to call her “La” from back in the day. I would see her at shows, and she was always the same nice person, kind. Lyrically, I loved what she was talking about. She was bringing creativity and positivity into the communities, and I’m not just saying it has to be all-positive, because life is about balances, right?
Shanti: Queen Latifah was always somebody who started off positive, and she was able to really create that next generation of business for herself. Now, she is not only a singer and rapper, she is an incredibly savvy businesswoman. She has all of these endorsements, is a phenomenal actress, and she still is cool. Like at the end of the day, she is still is just as cool as she was like back in the early 90s when she was on the road with Naughty by Nature, doing shows all across the country.
But, she is someone that I look up to and always treated me the same. Because, in this business, all I ever want is respect. I don’t expect anyone to kiss my behind, excuse my language, but just treat me the same way. We are the same people that we were back in the day except some of us have had different experiences, we’ve made more money or vice versa, but at the end of the day, all you want is respect.
Sometimes, I see women that make a lot of money, they achieve this success, and they get brand new. I’m like, ‘Really? Like, okay. I remember back in the day when me and you were on the same level in terms of life experiences and career experiences and, you know, we kicked it. Now, like you don’t have time and you don’t call’ [each other]. And granted, we are busy, and we have a lot going on, but just try to show people the same amount of respect. ‘Cause at the end of the day, what’s going to be your legacy? I’d rather be the chick that like, you know what, when people say, that girl is always the same every time I see her.
And you know, everybody has a lot going on in their lives, but at the end of the day, who am I to treat you any differently? Because I could be in that same boat, and I’m in the position now that I started my career over. I pressed my reset button and walked away from a huge salary and corner office to do things a little bit differently and focus on other things that were important in my life. I was still trying to do music but, you know, I’m not at the award shows all the time or taking all these trips everywhere. I don’t see a lot of these men and women on a regular basis. You learn like, who are your friends or whatever, but at the end of the day, all you want is your respect.
AllHipHop.com: Right, that’s great. I really agree with that. So, just a few more questions. I picked some influential women on my own, just to get a quick opinion from you on them…
Shanti: Sure …
AllHipHop.com: …on what they signify. The first is Sylvia Robinson of Sugar Hill Records. We just lost her less than a month ago, so what are your thoughts on Sylvia?
Shanti: Well, one, I regret that I never knew her personally. But, I absolutely know about her legacy, and I think that Sylvia was obviously one of the first women that paved for women working at record companies and having their own record companies. So, if there wasn’t a Sylvia, a Sylvia Robinson, there wouldn’t have been a Sylvia Rhone.
AllHipHop.com: Right, how about that? How about that?
AllHipHop.com: Okay, TLC, who I see you in pictures with throughout the book. The two remaining members are still doing great stuff, and Rest In Peace to LeftEye, who we still feel is right here with us after all these years.
AllHipHop.com: So, TLC, what are your thoughts?
Shanti: TLC, I love dearly. Not only did I work with them closely as artists, they are really good friends of mine. I talk to them on a regular basis. I think they do great things in the community, and anytime I need Chilli to do something charity wise, she is always there. If she can’t come, she’s making a donation. She is a great mother and a great role model for people in the community. T-Boz, another that’s just my heart, and I love her to death. She has struggled so much over the years with Sickle Cell but is a trooper and a fighter and will still go out there and do shows. She is another great mother and great role model in the community. I just think they are wonderful girls, and they never let the success go to their heads. They are the same people they were back when I first met them as well.
I guess you can see that in a lot of my answers that I’m big on “just be who you are.” We experience so many different things in life, and some people are affected differently by them but, at the end of the day, we should still remain the same people in terms of our morals and values that were instilled in us early on. And if we didn’t have that coming up, then it’s up to other women to kind of put that out there into the universe, so that we can spread that positivity to the other ladies.
AllHipHop.com: Absolutely that we need more of that amongst women for sure, we are our own worst enemy a lot of the time.
AllHipHop.com: The third person I wanted to ask you about is sort of the lady of the day right now, which is Nicki Minaj.
AllHipHop.com: … who we saw at the American Music Awards. Nicki is loved and she is hated for different reasons. So, what are your thoughts on Nicki Minaj?
Shanti: I don’t have any bad thing to say about Nicki. I think Nicki obviously has done a great job in terms of taking her career to new heights. She is kind of out there by herself as a female MC, and when I say out there by herself, sure there are other female MCs that are out there trying to make it on the come up, but she has been the one to kind of break down that barrier. She is the, uh, I hate to make that comparison, but I’ll just say, she is the premiere female MC of our time and of this decade, if you will.
I would like to learn more about what she is doing out there in the community. I’m sure she is doing great things, but I would just like to see more of that side of her to kind of balance out everything else. I will say, I applaud her in terms of her being able to expand her brand because kids, you know, were dressing up like Nicki Minaj for Halloween. They were selling those costumes in certain venues. I think a lot of artists, when they get to that uber success, they don’t know how to capitalize from a business perspective, and they let these other companies make money off of their brand, name, and likeness.
But it seems like Nicki is doing a good job of making herself a brand‚ as opposed to just Nicki the rapper. You know, it’s the Nicki Minaj brand, as opposed to her being seen as just a rapper.
AllHipHop.com: Right, right, yeah, she has been really good at doing that. So, the last thing I want to wrap up with is, I get e-mail alerts and things from you about the things that you’ve done in the community recently, and we had Thanksgiving come up last week and everything. So, what’s next for you on the professional/do-gooder side over the next months, Shanti?
Shanti: Okay, well I just recently on Sunday, I started this new thing where I feed the homeless once a month in Atlanta, Georgia, and it’s been recently branded “No Reservations Needed.” I thought that was cool ‘cause we just showed up one Sunday about four months ago. I passed by this same parking lot after church, and there’s a lot of homeless people out there, so I just started gathering all my friends, and we just had our fourth one; we served Thanksgiving dinner, and we served over 400 plates.
Philanthropy and mentoring is big for me. To be more specific, to answer your question, I volunteer for a lot of organizations, the Sisters of Today and Tomorrow, which is one that I do, where I mentor several girls but I’d like to take this on the road. I’m going to start speaking at a lot of colleges. I really feel that, not to get all spiritual on you or anything, but I think I finally realized my place. Like, it takes a lot for one to find this space and this comfort and this peace in life, but I know why God has me here now and that’s to help other people.
I think He inserted me in the industry because I can understand that world, and I just try to spread a little more love and support in that arena as well as everything else. So, in addition to doing the music, because I have my showcase, I do “ATL Live” in the park, which is once a month, but I really feel like doing more in the community, giving back and helping these young women and men. I’ve even had a lot of men tell me that they learned a lot from me in The Hip-Hop Professional. They now know how they should treat women, you know, so I think it’s not just a book for women.
I had four young men that bought the book this weekend and were so excited about it and couldn’t wait to read it. So, I just want to give back more. I want my legacy, when some one says, you know, when I pass away, to say, ‘Wow, Shanti really gave a damn about others.’
AllHipHop.com: Right, okay, well Shanti, I want to say I feel totally empowered now! I think as women in the industry we need to support each other more, more positivity, and share those things with each other. I feel like I can go do a whole bunch of work for the rest of the day now!
Shanti: If I can ever support you. and if AllHipHop ever does any more stuff in the community, call on me. You know I have a lot of respect for Chuck and all of you guys, and I would love to get to know you better. I will fly to New York, I will go to L.A., whatever y’all need, like, I’m here. I really, really, genuinely want to help.
AllHipHop.com: Alright, thank you. I definitely will get back to you about that, because Chuck [Creekmur] and I started an initiative last year called City for Change, where we’ve been going city to city and creating, like, a town hall meeting for teens, and we talk to them about Hip-Hop and some of the imagery, how to cut through to what’s real and what’s not. We’ve also been talking to them about careers in Hip-Hop. You know, the majority of us will never be a rapper, but you might be a sound technician, you might be a DJ, or a journalist like me…
Shanti: Exactly, I think my book speaks right to that, so you know, whatever I can do to help, that would be great. If you don’t mind, would you mention my website on where the book is available?
AllHipHop.com: Absolutely, you can give it to me now.
Shanti: Yes, it’s www.thehiphopprofessional.com. It’s also available as an eBook on the Kindle, and on Amazon and iTunes.
AllHipHop.com: Great. Best of luck, Shanti!