Tom Joyner bills his annual Fantastic Voyage cruise as having just as much purpose as it does party. In between the water-gun fights, back-to-back concerts and late-night parties on this week's cruise (full disclosure: I host a regular segment on the Tom Joyner Morning Show), I had the privilege of moderating a panel of amazing women in music: MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa, Monie Love, SWV and Lil' Mo, along with Eshe and Tasha Larae of Arrested Development.
The women shared stories about the challenges of climbing to the top in a male-dominated industry, balancing family and career, staying relevant and negative images of women in hip-hop.
It was refreshing to see these artists display a genuine, mutual respect and affinity for one another. For instance, Lil' Mo told of how she bleached her hair in her younger years — so much so that it all fell out — to try to achieve the signature blond look that Salt-N-Pepa rocked backed in the day, while Monie Love talked about how hard she worked to gain respect in the rap game from Salt-N-Pepa and MC Lyte. And SWV mentioned how exhilarating it had been to share the stage two nights earlier with Salt-N-Pepa to sing the hit "Whatta Man."
But one of the most memorable moments for me was when a male audience member asked the ladies about the negative images of black women in the music industry. He asked specifically about two incidents: When Snoop Dogg showed up to the 2003 MTV Awards walking with women on leashes with dog collars around their necks, and the infamous Nelly "Tip Drill" video, in which a credit card is swiped down the middle of a black woman's buttocks.
Over the years and still today, several of the women on the panel have given their fans plenty of sexy, but they have always kept it classy. Not once have any of them disrespected themselves or the sisterhood. And on the panel, the ladies admitted that things have taken an unfortunate turn.
Monie Love said that black men in the industry need to be more accountable for their expectations of black women, and shared the story of a 20-year-old black British woman who was dropped from a video shoot after producers discovered she was wearing butt pads. She flew to the U.S. to get illegal silicone butt injections, which caused medical complications that led to her death.
Hip-hop and R&B fans should be a part of the solution by not supporting those negative images, said Cheryl "Salt" Wray. She said it is time that we speak up even louder about it, especially on social media platforms. Wray added that we can also make a difference by showing support for the women in music who are putting forth positive images on and off the stage.
Encouraging the audience to realize that those negative representations of black women do not define us, Monie Love said, "The women you see here sitting on this stage — this is what the women of hip-hop and R&B really look like."