12.1.15 — Open Letter To The Community From Siddiq —
— Open Letter To The Community From Siddiq —
It's not in my nature to be a public person. I’ve spent my career behind the scenes developing platforms for other people to tell their stories and offer their messages to the world. When I read Psalm One’s comments about our 20 year celebration this Friday, my first reaction was not to respond. I’ve always believed that regardless of what anyone says, the best response is to keep it moving and let my work and legacy speak for themselves. After reading her statements though, I feel I owe it to myself, my team and our community to tell my truth.
I’m proud that the label we’ve built from the ground is a platform for artists with a wide spectrum of identities to express themselves. We’ve developed a roster of diverse ethnicities, religions, languages, social/political views and genres. Along with her being a talented MC, Psalm being a woman and her sexual identity were part of what excited me about her potential as an artist. Our success with artists has been hinged on them exploring who they are as people and connecting with their audience by authentically speaking their minds.
We signed Psalm and even though she was a newer, developing artist, invested all of our time and resources into her debut album. We employed the same marketing, publicity, distribution and resources that we would on any of our major releases. Our artists offered their full support as well. Brother Ali and Ant appeared on her album and Psalm toured the country multiple times with Atmosphere and Ali. There’s a family vibe between most of the cats we work with and I know Ali has opened his home to Psalm on numerous occasions when in Minneapolis.
We’re an artist-driven, independent label and we only survive by our artists succeeding. What drives me personally is seeing artists grow into their own skin and find their voice. It’s also the business reality that if our artists struggle with that, we don’t succeed.
As her album cycle began to wind down and the audience hadn’t responded like I’d hoped, it became clear that even with everything we put into the project, Psalm’s album wasn’t on track to recoup what we spent. My gut told me that she needed more time to find herself artistically and the level of business we were doing together wasn’t sustainable. Pouring money into releasing albums on this scale and not being able to sell enough to break even would mean, not only losing the money we put up, but also that Psalm wouldn’t make any money from these albums. Instead of exercising our option to release her next album, I suggested that she build off of the attention we were able to generate and take her own path for the foreseeable future. If she scaled her expenses to reflect the demand for her music, she could earn enough money to keep going. I kept the door open to keep sending me music so if anything made sense in the future, we could explore it.
I feel a sense of personal obligation for every artist I work with. Sometimes it doesn’t work out like we envision it, but I try to keep communication open. I still want us to win together. It’s been over six years since Psalm’s business relationship with Rhymesayers ended, yet we’ve promoted her shows and releases, invited her to perform at Soundset and spoke several times about new music and the possibility of releasing it through Rhymesayers. In all this time, Psalm has never spoken to me about feeling uncomfortable as a woman on our label, or any disparaging words being used in regard to her sexuality. While I don’t blame her for perhaps not knowing how to raise those issues, I wish she would have felt more free to do so. This isn’t behavior we condone or accept and I would have welcomed the opportunity to address it with her. Psalm continues to use the Rhymesayers name and reputation to her benefit, as well as take shots at us publicly when it’s of benefit to her. The timing and tone of her interview strike me as insincere. She doesn’t offer any self reflection or critique. She tells the story as if she’s done everything right and the label who invested in her has left her out because of her identity, and that’s just not true.
Friday’s concert at The Target Center is a celebration of the work we’ve done together for the past 20 years. It’s not a retrospective of our entire catalogue and Psalm isn’t the only artist who isn’t on the bill. We’re not deleting her from our history. Rhymesayers is built on personal relationships more than anything and the relationship with Psalm doesn’t feel genuine. While I mentioned the idea of the concert to Psalm earlier this year, she was never invited or uninvited. After considering some of the interactions we’ve had recently including strained relationships with other artists, we opted not to have that energy in the building. Out of respect I personally called Psalm prior to announcing the show to discuss our position but got no answer or return call.
With all of that being said, the fact still remains that women are underrepresented in the world, in Hip Hop and on our label.
As president of Rhymesayers, I didn’t fail Psalm One. 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. It’s not easy to swim against the current and be the exception in a male dominated culture. 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.
We continue to increase the women representation at Soundset, partly because the community asked for it and we hear their concerns. Booking a festival is about scouting artists and balancing the major draw acts with up-and-coming voices that deserve to be heard. As label president though, I’ve never actively approached artists that way. Our strength has been that our relationships have started as personal ones that grow organically into business partnerships over time. Looking at the lack of women artists on our label, it’s clear that I have to recognize it as a priority and shift my approach. If these voices aren’t found through these relationships I commit to going out and finding them.
Rhymesayers has always been about community and diversity. Those are our roots, and our history and legacy reflect that. I can say honestly though, that being consumed by the work itself and the demand of raising our families may have allowed us to lose some of that connection. But as we round out our 20th year, I am excited for the opportunity to reinvigorate those roots and recommit to those principles more than ever.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be reaching out to artists, leaders and community members to explore how Rhymesayers can better serve our community. I look forward to building something healthy with genuine people.
I’m proud to have Kimya Dawson, B-Girls Anne “AnnieUp” Aldag and Bella Roberts, and Iman & Khadijah (the young Muslim women who’ve performed with Brother Ali for the past several years) along with their new 12 woman dance crew S.H.E (She who Holds Everything) on stage at Friday night’s celebration. We hope you’ll join us in not only celebrating the last 20 years, but building the future.
Brent “siddiq” Sayers
12.1.15 Rhymesayers 20 Compilation
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