There are a lot of women working in front of the camera and behind the scenes in the journalism and hip-hop industry. One of the main topics at hand that we discuss on a constant basis is these women not receiving their just due in the industry. We are still fighting for equality amongst men and women in the industry in regards to pay, positions in certain companies and overall respect. With so many men and women standing up for gender equality every day, Nadirah Simmons decided to take her thoughts and put them into action. After multiple freelance roles at publications that didn’t value her opinion or voice, she decided to create a platform that represented women in hip-hop and journalism in a positive light.
The Gumbo is a female-based platform for minority women in music journalism. Focusing primarily on women but more so women of color, Nadirah and her staff at The Gumbo use the unique site to spread the word of black awareness within the culture of music and entertainment.
I had the opportunity to speak with Nadirah about her journalism inspirations, her motivation behind creating The Gumbo, the mission statement of the platform and what’s to come for the brand in 2019. Check out the full interview below.
1 – What inspired you to get into journalism and media?
I really was getting ready to go to college and I had no idea of what I wanted to major in. I just remember talking to my mom and dad and they were like you’re good at writing and you’re good at talking to people, you should do journalism. So I did that and I went to Rutgers and initially wanted to be on the news until I realized it’s sad and not what I want to do every single day. I come from a big music family. So that kind of led me into having internships like writing about music then interning at VH1. Then I became a lot more political while I was in school and wanted to mesh those two worlds – entertainment and news. I ended up interning at The Daily Show and now I’m at The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
2 – How did you manage to come up with The Gumbo?
I had interned for the music site Good*Fella Media, under one of my mentors who I’m still really close with. They had started at Rutgers and like they had interviewed people like Schoolboy Q, Mac Miller-a lot of people that were like huge and coming up at the time. I was so enamored by their ability as college kids to create a platform with such a huge following. I knew it was something I wanted to have of my own one day. I also worked for another publication after school and they didn’t pay and I just remember being very kind turned off by it. Then on top of not being paid, I also felt like my words and voice had no value. I was just ready to dip and do this on my own. Also, do it with black women because I know how hard it is for us in media and music journalism. I know too many amazing women who have amazing commentary on what’s happening in hip-hop and they’re not at the forefront and they’re not being amplified. I just wanted to create a space for that.
3 – In your opinion, why did you think it was important to highlight women in hip-hop?
Sometimes people think that women who like hip-hop can and will only talk about the other women in hip-hop. Yes, I amplify a lot of women rappers obviously because a lot of other places don’t. But, there are so many people that I know can write these amazing articles and aren’t able to get their foot in the door, you know people that have gone to school and have degrees. And a degree sometimes doesn’t mean you’re going to be a great journalist but there are so many women that I know who are essential to the culture. I mean, you can’t talk about hip-hop without talking about the contributions of women and specifically women in the communities where it was created and they look like me. I think women in hip-hop and women in media, in general, are often pigeonholed and I was just like nah, I’m just going to make my own thing.
4 – What are your thoughts on how women are treated or belittled in the music industry? Secondly, do you think a shift will happen when it comes to women rising in hip-hop?
Yeah. I definitely know a lot of great women in the music industry as far as women that are artists-women that are you know photographers, writers, journalists. There’s a lot of misogyny ingrained within our culture. A lot of times you’ll talk to women about hip-hop and they’ll say that sometimes they have to reconcile the misogyny and a song because they like the beat, you know, so in order to get respect within the industry, there has to be a shift in the narrative. Okay, who’s at the top of these companies? Who are these A&R’s? Who are the people that are going to be on camera talking about hip-hop, you know, who are the people that are going to be given the space to write about it? There are so many things. I think it really, really starts there. It starts with the music. It starts with things at certain rappers and certain people in the industry are allowed to say about women. The industry, in general, doesn’t respect us. And when it comes to black women, it’s even less respect. So once we get down to the bottom of that and we have a certain standard of “hey, like we’re not going to let you rap about dropping or slipping something to somebody because that’s not cool.” If you allow this rampant misogyny, of course, we’re not going to be respected because nothing has changed.
5 – “Our intention is to transform how these bodies view themselves, how they view music, how they view the structures and systems that operate around them and amplify the voices of women making plays in the field” – I found that very powerful. Can you touch on that
Sometimes when people give women opportunities, women of all sexual orientations and from different backgrounds, it’s simply because “hey you’re a woman, fill this quota” or because they think she’s attractive. I don’t want to contribute to a culture that puts women in a space just for the sake of filling a space because as a black woman that happens to us. We get tokenized. That’s a part of why I say I want to transform the way a lot of the bodies view themselves. I want little girls that are coming up who listen to the music, want to be in media, who want to write, who want to sing or whatever they want to do to know that they don’t have to be tokenized. And that they’re able to exist within whatever their identity is in totality and not have to apologize for it and not feel like they’re existing solely to just fill a stock.
6 – Are you afraid that you may be coming off like an activist to your following or to the people who come across your site?
How people perceive it is a reflection of them. So I think if you come to the site and you go on the Instagram or go on the Twitter and you feel like I’m forcing you to want to like black women who are talking about hip-hop or forcing you to want to listen to black women, that’s a reflection of you. I’m not attempting to force anything that we do down your throat. The one thing that makes us so authentic is it’s simply like “hey, this is our message. This is what we do. This is what we stand for.” I can’t remind you every day. I don’t tweet on there every day. We don’t have a problem doing that because I love myself. I love the people that contribute to the site and I love our followers, but at the same time, I just feel like it’s a reflection of you as a person if you’ve come on there and you feel like you’re being forced to think or feel a certain way. I also think that there’s nothing wrong with activism, that’s another side of it. We’ve gotten to a place especially with social media where people sometimes feel like it’s good for activism one day and then the next day everybody hates it or they don’t want to be super righteous. But, I have no problem with it. As long as you know what you’re advocating for it’s cool and not anything crazy. Definitely don’t get online and advocate for some wild shit. But, if you’re advocating for a great cause and for people who are a minority then I’m down.
7 – What’s the overall mission for The Gumbo?
Well, it’s definitely targeted towards everyone. I want everyone to come to the site and read the articles and buy the merchandise. There are so many opportunities that we don’t get as women because a man was chosen for it. That’s why all the people that create our stuff are women or non-binary. We are not in a place in society where there’s equity and people can get those opportunities. So my overall vision is yes, to transform the way we view ourselves as a part of these spaces but also to create that community. When I think back to hip-hop’s origin story of being in a neighborhood, people inviting you to a party or you’re going outside and people on the basketball court are freestyling or break dancing, that is a community and that’s what I want to bring back to hip-hop.
8 – What advice was given to you early on or currently in regards to your career that helps motivate you? Secondly, what advice would you give to the aspiring journalist?
I have two things: definitely utilize your resources. I think a lot of times people will not really capitalize on where they’re at. As far as you know, where they live, who they know, where they work. Like a lot of times, people are afraid to take risks because they’re afraid of the word “no.” But the more comfortable you get with that world the closer you get to a “yes” being on the way. A lot of times you can get comfortable with your work, you might do one good thing that everybody loves and you might do two good things everybody loves. But if you’re lazy and you’re not consistent with what you’re doing, it’s not going to work out for you. You can’t have one big event and everybody’s gonna pull up and never do it again. Everybody’s gonna forget about you. Or say I’m going to drop this article this month and then another one in September. At least set a standard for yourself so you can be consistent because sometimes the only difference between somebody like me and a millionaire is their work ethic. They could be worse at their job than I am but the reason they made it to where they made it is because they were able to be consistent. They were able to work hard. When I went to sleep they may have stayed up til to midnight. I wake up at 9 a.m. They wake up every day 6 in the morning.
Also very important, especially for women: don’t be afraid to speak up. If you are in a meeting make your voice heard. Now that I’m an associate producer, I always remember the people that spoke up. I remember the interns that would come in and talk. And when you make yourself known these people are the ones that are going to give you opportunities down the line. You also have to connect with the people on your level. People try to reach for the stars and think “I’m gonna shoot my shot and tweet Diddy.” He might see it but also, somebody on your level could also be the next Diddy. If you work laterally, you can both come up together, instead of every day trying to shoot your shot out into the moon, you don’t know what’s gonna happen.
9 – What’s next for you, your team and The Gumbo?
I’m really excited to start having our monthly meet-ups because they’re so important. I know that we have this online community, but I think it’s really focused on creating a community in real life. So I want us to meet up once a month and be able to just chat. It doesn’t have to be a big crazy event. But yeah, we rent out to space and just talk about whatever we’re thinking about. As far as my team, I’m trying to get a grant. One thing I’m fortunate that I did before I moved to New York a year ago is save up a lot of money. In the back of my head, I was like I’m going to use some of this to help fund The Gumbo, you know and make sure I’m able to pay these women and do everything I need to do, but I really want to get a grant. I want to get more people on and also increase my rates. I want to remain consistent, do more collaborations and connect with more people that are around and on my level.