Just three days before his company takes another groundbreaking step with its 20th anniversary concert Friday at Target Center, Rhymesayers president Brent “Siddiq” Sayers posted an open letter Tuesday night apologizing for one of his label’s obvious shortcomings, its lack of women artists.
“If I’ve failed anyone, I failed my daughter, my nieces, all of the women we work with and our women fans who deserve to see themselves consistently represented in our life’s work,” Sayers said in the letter, which is a response to Chicago rapper Psalm One criticizing her former record label in a City Pages interview last week.
In the interview, the real-life Cristalle Bowen – who issued Rhymesayers’ only album by a female rapper in 2006, “The Death of Frequent Flyer” – alleged that she was never given equal support by the Minneapolis company, founded in 1995 by Siddiq and Atmosphere rapper Sean "Slug" Daley. “I don't feel I was ever given that opportunity or platform to kind of grow," Psalm One said. "It's very telling that I'm the only woman that they've signed."
Siddig disputed her claims in his letter, but acknowledged he should try harder supporting women’s artistic efforts.
“I feel a sense of personal obligation for every artist I work with,” he wrote, going on to detail all the efforts made to promote Psalm One’s record. “It became clear that even with everything we put into the project, Psalm’s album wasn’t on track to recoup what we spent.”
Siddiq pointed to the bigger issue of women being under-represented throughout hip-hop, an issue that Psalm One herself addressed in a 2006 interview with the Star Tribune when she was on tour as Atmosphere’s opening act. “For me personally, the only female rapper I've ever seen perform outside of all the local gals was Jean Grae -- and I live in Chicago -- so I understand," she said. "In a lot of the smaller cities, they've never seen a woman rap, period."
Women have been better represented in recent years at Rhymesayers’ annual Memorial Day weekend festival, Soundset, a fact celebrated in our review of this year’s shindig. However, Friday’s Target Center concert is made up entirely of Rhymesayers recording artists and thus will not feature any female rappers in lieu of Psalm One.
“She was never invited or uninvited,” Siddiq said, while pointing out that there will be women performing under other guises Friday, including famed indie singer/songwriter Kimya Dawson (part of the Uncluded with Aesop Rock), and dancers such as B-Girls Anne “AnnieUp” Aldag and Bella Roberts as well as Iman & Khadija and their S.H.E. troupe, the burka-wearing Muslim crew that has often performed with Brother Ali.
“With all of that being said, the fact still remains that women are underrepresented in the world, in hip-hop and on our label,” Siddiq wrote. “It takes an intentional commitment and a consistency that I haven’t prioritized enough. I accept the challenge and welcome the reminder to make it more of a priority going forward. My people and I can do better.”