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Where My Girls At?

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Where My Girls At?, a presentation at the annual Can A Sista Rock A Mic? Festival held a roundtable discussion bringing up an important subject that is often overlooked in media and within the hip hop culture: women’s voices in hip hop. Event producer Shyree Mezick picked panelist that, alone, marked the importance of getting women’s voices heard and the endless possibilities of how women can make positive changes in the world. The panelist included authors, poets, and emcees, all of whom continue to contribute to the beauty and strength of femininity. The discussion not only touched on the subjects of misogyny, self respect, and female hip hop heads that fit outside of the stereotypical minority facade of hip hop, but it delved into the historical portrayal of women in American culture.

In understanding the struggle of getting women's voices heard in the music industry, more specifically in hip hop, it's necessary to understand the fight women have gone through to achieve equality throughout history. Women have used their femininity and sexuality to express themselves, and rightfully so, but, at the same time, an element of abuse by their male counterparts is ever-present. Many people are continuing to come together to raise awareness about the power that women encompass, and women in the hip hop culture are taking back their images and taking back a culture they helped to create. One organization in particular, Women's Truth, is using the unity of women within hip hop to carry on the name of Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner Truth, born Isabella Baumfree, was a slave that fought to abolish slavery and help bring up issues about women's suffrage. Although this phenomenal woman's legacy will be forever memorialized in history books, her name is becoming less and less known to younger generations. In December 2006, after 10 years of Dr. C. Delores Tucker's campaigning efforts, Congress passed a bill to memorialize Sojourner Truth. With the help of Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee and Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Arlen Specter, a bust and educational program that will spread the legacy of Sojourner Truth will be erected in Washington, DC. Not only will this memorial mark America's appreciation for Truth's works, but it will also be the first memorial to a black woman in the nation's capitol.

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LAist had the privilege to learn more about Women's Truth, which is planning an enormous concert to raise funds for Sojourner Truth's memorial. DJ Soyo, Commissioner for the Sojourner Truth Commission and an amazing hip hop enthusiast, has taken on the honor of spreading Truth's word through music. Not only does she reach out to her neighbors in Washington, DC and youth audiences through her mixes, she also holds it down for female emcees everywhere by planning "Women's Truth," an event featuring and uniting women in hip hop from across the country.

The main event will take place in March 2008, and will host a panel discussion and concert featuring women from all over the US, on both the mainstream and independent levels and will showcase the unity and diversity of women in hip hop. A few artists that may make an appearance include Mc Lyte, Rah Digga, Mystic, Yo Yo, Sista Souljah, Dr. Roxanne Shante, and Wise Intelligent.

DJ Soyo's reputation as a representative of the hip hop culture is rightfully earned. She is a reputable DJ, speaker, activist and promoter, representing the Temple of Hip Hop, the Lyricist Lounge, and Intelligent Muzik. Her list of accomplishments include hooking up with KRS-ONE to plan conferences in Washington, DC., Los Angeles, and in Florida; organizing free lectures from Professor Griff of Public Enemy; organizing tours for Dead Prez, Big Daddy Kane, Bootcamp Click, and Killa Priest; organizing "Rebuild Our Communities," a concert that raised funds to help Hurricane Katrina victims that featured Immortal Technique, C-ray Walz, Chief Rocker Busy Bee, Just-Ice, and Wise Intelligent of the Poor Righteous Teachers; and organizing "Stop the Torture" headlining Dead Prez, Wise Intelligent and Mystic.

LAist: What is the mission of Women's Truth, and what activities and events does the organization put on?

DJ Soyo: Women's Truth came about when I was named a Commissioner for the Sojourner Truth Commission. The commission was formed to raise funds to have Sojourner's statue placed in the Capitol. I wanted women in Hip Hop to play a role in making this happen. To make it even more significant I am organizing the event in March 2008, which is Women's History Month.

LAist: What elements of the entertainment industry does the organization mostly work within?

DJ Soyo: I would say music.

LAist: How long has the organization been around? What sister or supporting organizations work with you?

DJ Soyo: This is the first event that my company organizes (Hip Hop Unity, LLC). However, I've been a part of many events and have been a diligent representative of Hip Hop culture for about six years now.

LAist: Where are you located, and what regions do you primarily work with?

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DJ Soyo: Washington, DC. I am working with women in Hip Hop in Los Angeles, CA, Chicago, IL, Boston, MA, New York, NY, and Atlanta, GA. This event is not only a fund raiser, but [it will also] shine the light on the wonderful women all over the country that choose [to] represent Hip Hop Culture.

LAist: How can you be contacted?

DJ Soyo: Either myspace.com/djsoyo or email: soyodj@aol.com

LAist: Where can people go to check out performances?

DJ Soyo: The venue has not been finalized. The website will be www.womenstruth2008.com and it will have updates on the event and women involved everyday.

LAist: What are your future plans with the organization?

DJ Soyo: Well I will continue to connect with icons, legends in Hip Hop to educate people on what Hip Hop Culture is. Also, to continue to be a catalyst of positive change.

LAist: What affect does the current image of women in hip-hop have on the youth?

DJ Soyo: I wouldn't blame the negativity on Hip Hop that the youth is experiencing. The crime rates are high due to the lack of funding to our communities and really the youth have nothing to do.

The schools are horrible. Here in Washington, DC, the schools are so under funded to the point that classes are cancelled because there is no heat in the winter. Where is the anger over that! No rapper made that happen.

Another school had bathrooms that could not be used. Do you really think kids feel appreciated and taken care [of] by their communities? Not at all. In addition to the drug problems, teen pregnancy, violence.

Now I like to use Hip Hop to bring a positive energy to these kids. But the truth is those problems have to be addressed by the community as [a] whole. You want to feel pride but we don't give them much to be proud of.

We have grown folks still acting like teenagers.

Using Hip Hop as the bad guy is a cop out.

LAist: What can interested women (and men interested in the movement) do to contribute to the organization, help young artists, and spread the word about women in the hip-hop culture?

DJ Soyo: Support! Buy the music, come to the shows! If you are a promoter, include women in your events.

Can't make it easier than that. Volunteer at youth centers and if you are an artist, teach what you do.

I personally always try to do community events, grassroots just to give the youth a different flavor to what they are used to [on] the radio.

BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT IN THE WORLD!

LAist: What can communities do to help spread the word and expand the organization to reach more areas nationally and internationally?

DJ Soyo: Well if there's a particular artist, event or festival, anything of that nature, add them to your myspace page and email lists. Word of mouth [is] still [a] very effective form of advertisement.

LAist: What artists do you think people should look out for as far as female artists that are really making a difference in the hip-hop culture and/or are great examples of what the organization stands for?

DJ Soyo: Well first look at the foundation of the Culture. Find out who the first female DJs were. Jazzy Joyce is [a] good one. Emcees like Sharock or even Angie Stone who used to be Angie B. from Sequence.

Then of course MC Lyte, and the new breed of Emcees like Jean Grae, Apani B. Fly, Lady of Rage. DJ Chela, DJ Kuttin Kandy, man I could go [on] and on.

LAist: What can parents and mentors do to help youth artists develop their abilities without falling into the misogynic behaviors the entertainment industry often enforces upon women?

DJ Soyo: I always say lead by example. Listen to your kids, talk to them. Stop being scared of our youth. Give them the freedom to express themselves once those lines of communication are open, they will listen to you. Have events focusing on women issues with the boys involved. That way they can understand the issues that girls/women deal with.

LAist: What can people do to help stop the abuse and disrespect toward women in the entertainment industry? How can people become more proactive?

DJ Soyo: Start buying records from artists who do have the messages of respect for women.
I do not listen to the radio, I can't take it.

As far as TV goes, hmmm, I like Ugly Betty, because it really shows how ridiculous this society is over looks and popularity.

Play music that your kids will never listen to on their own. Don't tell them [the music] is old. My son loved the Pharcyde and though it was a new group. I just let him think that.