Mahogany Jones talks with the Detroit Free Press about Women in HipHop
Detroit’s Mahogany Jones ready to talk women in hip-hop
Mahogany Jones wants to know why introductions for her need the categorical qualifier of “female rapper.”
The accomplished MC, lyricist and educator is a key member of the Foundation, a collective of artists who organized the first Contemporary Interactive Women in Hip-Hop Conference, which is being held as part of this weekend’s Allied Media Conference.
The Foundation, based out of Detroit’s 5e Gallery, has been aligning artists, activists and academics through various workshops, educational programs and open mics for several years, fostering public awareness of the vital role of women in hip-hop, along with attempting to shift the hip-hop narrative often portrayed by the media. The Foundation’s workshops cover hip-hop culture, lyric writing, rhyming, freestyling, DJing, production, graffiti, dance and more. This weekend’s events will include programs intent on elevating women’s voices in hip-hop and encouraging greater involvement in all of its aspects, from performance, to production and beyond.
Jones (otherwise known as Charyse Lois Bailey) will perform at the Women in Hip-Hop concert Friday night, with Grammy-winning MC Rapsody, street-dance collective Venus Fly and the dynamic hip-hop/neo-soul singer Mama Sol & tha N.U.T.S.
Jones, who has served as a musical ambassador for the State Department’s American Music Abroad program, distinctively imbues her music with messages of positivity and empowerment. She poke to the Free Press about the weekend’s event, her musical approach and more.
QUESTION: What can you tell us about the Foundation and the build-up to this first conference?
ANSWER: It started with a woman by the name of Piper Carter, a fashion photographer who lived dualy in New York and Detroit and had always been a big lover of hip-hop. In the midst of her career as a photographer, her mother had taken ill, and she then returned to Detroit permanently.
Upon returning to Detroit, her first question was “Where’s the hip-hop at? Her second question was “Where are the women who, like me, love hip-hop?” (Carter) wanted engage women in hip-hop, and create an environment where women in hip-hop as well as in media were valued, respected and celebrated, so (Carter), along with Miz Korona and Invincible, both renowned Detroit hip-hop artists, and a few others, launched the Foundation.
It all began about six years ago, staring with weekly open mics (at the 5e Gallery). I joined about a year later, along with Nik Nak, and we noticed it kinda didn’t have a host. So we wanted to give (the open mics) some structure. Since then I’ve been part of the organizing. Our weekly open mic isn’t running any longer. However we still facilitate workshops to empower women and the community in general. Since the beginning, it had always been Piper’s dream to one day have a Women in Hip-Hop Conference. Since being a Knight Challenge awardee, it’s phenomenal that that “one day” has arrived.
Q: How do you feel about how the typical conversations about hip-hop, and what kind do you want to start this weekend?
A: It feels as if the conversation of hip-hop in the public eye is very myopic. Or that it’s one conversation, one viewpoint. It’s one conversation about its commercialism, or about over-sexualization, or about its hyper-violence. That’s cool ‘cause that is some people’s reality and that’s OK; I just feel the conversation we want to have is that there’s more room, there’s more room for more people’s lives and ways of being represented. There’s more room for community, there’s more room for love and appreciation for humanity; that’s the essence of hip-hop. Hip-hop started as a voice for the voiceless, and it just seems like, now, hip-hop is silencing too many people.
So we just want to create a conversation where people’s voices aren’t silenced, where people’s realities are represented in a broader spectrum and where men and women are working together. Ya know … in 2016, we shouldn’t even have to say “Women in Hip-Hop.” Why do we have to make that distinction: “female rappers”? As I say all the time, I didn’t know my brain had genitalia. I know that as a woman, I’m crafted in a certain way and see things in a certain way. That’s cool, but people don’t say “men in hip-hop.” Why can’t it simply be “hip-hop”? Why can’t the music just be the music?
Q: What kind of programming will be at the conference?
A: It’s gonna be pretty jam-packed. The conference is going to be very interactive. We have DJ Stacey (Hotwaxx) Hale, the godmother of Detroit techno and house music; she’s designed the practice spaces for the majority of the conference. The workshops we have are very engaging, we have DJ workshops, B-girl workshops, we have keynotes from hip-hop scholars Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown and Aisha Durham, where they’ll talk about the poetics and politics of women in hip-hop. We have some workshops on the business aspects of music, as well. And, of course, we kick things off with the concert, which will be really cool, with Mama Sol & tha N.U.T.S., from Flint, with myself, Mahogany Jones and my band and none other than Grammy Award-winning Rapsody. We’re so glad to have her. We also have Venus Fly (street-dance crew), and it will be hosted by renowned author and poet Jessica Care Moore.
Q: Can you talk about being selected to be a State Department music ambassador in 2012 and forming your live backing band?
A: A former mentor, Toni Blackman, was the first hip-hop cultural envoy that the State Department engaged to travel abroad. The State Department, since the days of Dizzy Gillespie, would export music and culture to Europe and overseas as a way to build people-to-people diplomacy. And the program, American Voices, recently opened up to more American genres, and the one that became big was hip-hop. (Blackman) said I should audition.
I got the band together and got the call back to be one of the 2012 ambassadors. I have since served about 13 countries, and it’s been so great to build these relationships.
Q: The championing messages of positivity and empowerment is one thing that’s set your songs apart.
A: When I moved to Detroit in 2004, a lot of the open mics I attended were more poetry or spoken word. When I later stumbled on the 5e Gallery it was a breath of fresh air. No disrespect to Detroit hip-hop, but a lot of the open mics back then really didn’t have content that was very conscientious; it was just, “I got these bars, I wanna get these bars off…”
I mean, I wanted to use my art for sharing a message that would potentially make a difference; I wanted to make the world a better place. Though a lofty pursuit, it’s one I feel can be achieved. Now to be clear, I don’t knock those who simply do this for the paper or their ego — there’s a place for that, and that’s cool. But that wasn’t really where my heart was at.
When I came across the Foundation, it was just, like, ‘Wow!’ This place has a mission!” We’re doing art because we want our voices to shift the culture. So, even though it’s “Women in Hip-hop,” it’s not just a conversation about that. We’re having a conversation about humanity, about family, a conversation about dissolving a lot of the divisions in the community. What are you here for? How do you feel about what’s going on? Let’s chop it up and see how we can truly be agents of change for ourselves, for our communities, for the people.
Contemporary Interactive Women In Hip-Hop Conference
There is programming throughout the weekend as part of the Allied Media Conference. More info at https://thefoundationofwomeninhiphop.com/
Women In Hip Hop Concert is at 7 p.m. Fri., Garden Theater, 3929 Woodward Ave., Detroit.
Tickets: http://bit.ly/rapsodyconcert All ages, $5.
More information on Mahogany Jones at www.MahoganyJones.com.
Allied Media Conference
This weekend marks the 18th annual gathering of a diverse community of groups and organizations that utilize media to encourage change. Allied Media Conference is produced by the nonprofit Allied Media Projects, whose members promote media strategies that hoping to create a collaborative environment that encourages participation. Hosted at the Wayne State University Student Center and nearby buildings on campus, the conference features 300 different sessions and 28 unique professional tracks. At AMC, the term “media” covers anything used to help individuals communicate with the world, with participants including filmmakers, radio producers, technologists, writers, dancers, musicians, artists, educators and youth organizers. Full schedule, location, conference map and more at www.alliedmedia.org/amc or 313-718-2267. Full AMC schedule at: amc2016.sched.org.