Women Behind the Mic: The Sisterhood of Hip Hop

by Cynthia Vasquez

Hip-hop has always been recognized as a predominantly male-dominated industry, with men at the forefront of every magazine cover, interview, and award ceremony during its zenith. However, as the saying goes, behind every great man is an equally great woman;
and the sisterhood that exists in mainstream rap culture is now coming forward to voice their own experiences as ladies playing in what is often believed to be a man’s sport.

Women Behind the Mic, a campaign that will include both a book and an HBO-produced docu-series, focuses on the ‘sheroes’ who helped create and build the infrastructure of the hip hop industry. Created by Michelle Joyce, former Director of Marketing for Bad Boy Entertainment and LaJoyce Brookshire, former Publicity Director for Arista Records both decided it was time to share the stories of the women who helped pave the way for women in pop culture.

Picture2From top left to top right: Crystal Whale, Alita Carter, Tracey Moore, Michelle Joyce, LaJoyce Brookshire. From bottom left to right: Dedra N. Tate, Tracey Jordan, Renee Foster, Sharon Heyward, Monique Davis Carey. Introduction Speaker: Audra N. Washington. Panel moderator: Jamie Foster Brown (not in this photo).

The movement had its very first panel conference during the Newark International Film Festival on Sunday, September 10. The lineup included icons such as Jamie Foster Brown, Tracey Moore, Renee Foster, Tracey Jordan, Dedra N. Tate, Crystal Whaley, Monique Davis Carey, Sharon Heyward, Alita Carter, Audra N. Washington, Michelle Joyce, and LaJoyce Brookshire. These “culture creators,” by definition those who played a role in shaping hip hop’s Golden Era, shared their own personal accounts of working in the hip hop world. From conversations on dealing with misogyny and harassment, to breaking into the music industry today, female empowerment, and advice on how to succeed in the ruthless branch of entertainment these ladies decided to embrace were a few of the subjects touched upon.

“You lead with your intelligence and when you do that, there’s a level of respect there,” said Brookshire, the publicist for Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston, on incorporating value to everything you’re capable of bringing to the table.

“We led, all these ladies, with our minds,” added on Michelle Joyce, former Vice President of Marketing at both Sony Music and MCA Records, while also stating that she owed her part of her success to keeping an open mind to any and all opportunities presented. “Whatever it is that you want to do in life, be fearless. Just step into it and embrace the opportunity.”

Picture1Speaker: Michelle Joyce speaking on using your intelligence to succeed in life. Photography by Cynthia Vasquez.

The panel then moved on to discuss the obstacles they often faced as women, specifically on dealing with much of the verbal and physical harassment they’d encounter throughout their careers.

“I was threatened, harassed, and followed. But I stood my guns,” admitted Tracey Jordan, former VP of Talent and Artist Relations at MVP, speaking on the hindrances she faced while working in the censorship division of music video productions.

Picture3Speaker: Tracey Jordan recalling her own personal accounts in the music industry. Photography by Cynthia Vasquez.

“This was when hip hop was really, really, hardcore, so we had to make sure that we armed ourselves with good energy,” said Crystal Whaley, Emmy-award winning producer and former music video director. Shifting the direction of the conversation to sisterhood, by also stating, “We decided that we needed to fortify ourselves and to make sure that we had a group of like minded young women who really, really, support each other. We were and are in the tradition of sisterhood.”

Picture4Speaker: Crystal Whaley, sharing her thoughts on sisterhood within hip hop. Photography by Cynthia Vasquez.

Sisterhood is definitely the key component everyone on the panel claimed assisted them in surviving the cutthroat industry they found themselves in. Through much praised girl power and dedication in terms of uplifting one another, they formed a circle of women to confide and trust in throughout their entire careers. Together, they also decided it was time to come forward and showcase their side of the story.

“The world needs to know – especially our daughters – that an elite group of women who were and still are sisters by love, sweat, and tears, contributed in significant ways to popular music and culture,” Michelle Joyce, on all the behind-the-scenes work all of these legends executed together.

The panel was only a brief showcase of the intimate anecdotes that will soon receive their own individual spotlights, and it was evident all the legends presented on stage that day definitely have a lot of interesting facts to reveal on their careers and lives. Most importantly, there will finally be a set focus on the sisters who helped build hip-hop.

The whole panel clapping during Audra N. Washington’s introductions of the panel. Photography by Cynthia Vasquez.

All upcoming panel discussion dates are set to lead up to the Women Behind The Mic book and documentary series release dates in March 2018. “The book will be a collective of conversations, personal stories, and photographs with the unsung ‘sheroes’ and history makers of the music industry,” said Brookshire.



Michelle’s career began in music when she worked alongside Sean Combs as the Director of Marketing for Bad Boy Entertainment. Michelle conceived, developed, planned, and executed the marketing blueprints for the label for artists like The Notorious BIG, Craig Mack, Faith Evans, Total, and 112 who combined have generated more than 30 million in album sales to date.  She has worked as General Manager and Director of Marketing at ByStorm Entertainment and held the position of Vice President of Marketing at both Sony Music & MCA Records working with artists such as Mary J. Blige, Babyface, Charli Baltimore, Jaguar Wright, and more. Today, she is the Chief Experience Officer of Digital Chick Consulting and considers herself to be a change agent of the new millennium in the marketing platform, an individual who “pushes the envelope and thinks outside of the box, always looking for innovative ways to execute marketing plans.” Michelle is the Co-Author & Co-Creator of The Women Behind The Mic Book and Docu-Series.


Dr. LaJoyce Brookshire will tell you she is a full-time wife, mother, and a part-time everything else. That includes being a Naturopathic Doctor, a six-time bestselling author, with five of her books all concurrently named as bestsellers, as well as literary success as a NYT bestselling author of the novel based on the smash hit movie Soul Food. LaJoyce was a high-powered entertainment publicist to the STARS, and was also Director of Publicity at Arista Records in the mid-90s. She represented artists such as The Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, Sean “Puffy” Combs, Toni Braxton, Kenny G, OutKast, Monica, Deborah Cox, Craig Mack, Total, Faith Evans, 112, Usher, TLC, Whitney Houston, and The Notorious B.I.G aka (Biggie Smalls) to name a few. Due to her efforts as Director of Publicity her artists sold over 100 million albums worldwide. LaJoyce is the Co-Author & Co-Creator of The Women Behind The Mic Book and Docu-Series.

Dedra N. Tate, a Howard University graduate, has been a thriving contributor to the entertainment industry for over thirty years. After thirteen years as the president and general manager of Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit Entertainment, Tate stepped into the entrepreneurial arena with her company Unlimited Contacts, Inc. Tate’s career started at MTV Networks, Inc. followed by tenures in executive positions at MCA, Motown, BIV 10 Records, and Flavor Unit Entertainment. The list of artists Tate has worked with includes Queen Latifah, Boyz II Men, Naughty By Nature, Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill, New Edition, GUY, Hezekiah Walker, Marvin Sapp, and Stephanie Mills to name a few. Tate was the Supervising Producer of WWOR-TV/MY9’s scripted reality comedy series for shows such as Come Back Kings, and recently entered the theater world as producer/music and script supervisor for the musical stage plays Sister’s Keeper and The Day Before Heaven. Her TV/film credits include Wifey, Blackout, Life, Love, Soul, The Tombs, Attempted Burglary, and Two Days in Harlem.


Crystal Whaley is a multiple EMMY Award-winning creative producer and development executive in film/TV/digital offering a unique combination of cross-functional skills with over 15 years of experience; with a specialized expertise in content development and acquisition, strategic brand initiatives, and creative direction. Crystal is responsible for the overall financial sustainability and creative integrity of multiple shows/projects, including the oversight of all logistics necessary to meet creative mandates, broadcast standards, and brand recognition. She’s developed, produced, directed, and supervised award-winning TV series, documentaries, commercials, and music videos. She was the former principal and co-owner of Pixel Media LLC / Lionsgate, former senior producer for Sesame Workshop, former director of video for Arista Records, and former executive producer of Free Spirit Films Inc. She is currently the owner and Creative Director of Plan C Media Group.


Tracey Jordan has vast Experience in music management. Topics include her career in the Music Industry with Clive Davis and Arista Records, her work with Motown Records, playing a role in the creation of Motown’s “Soul by the Sea,” her time at MTV as VP of Talent and Artist Relations, ad Talent Director for Yo! MTV Raps, Motown Cafe, and ABKCO Records. Tracey was formerly publicist for Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin. She is currently Director of Talent at Sirius XM Radio. With an extensive amount of expertise in the music field, Jordan claims keeping an open-mind is the most important trait in achieving success, claiming, ““If you want to follow your dream, get your foot in the door someplace, and just keep growing, reading and asking questions.”

Sharon Heyward has the ability to both influence and help change the lives of those willing to learn from her story. With more than 30 years of experience, this native New Yorker was an entertainment executive that played as the driving force behind the success of various Grammy-award winners and the multi-platinum success’ of numerous artists including: Lenny Kravitz, Paula Abdul, Gerald Levert, Soul II Soul, Mint Condition, Cali Swag, Evelyn “Champagne” King, and Sounds of Blackness. While at college she seized the opportunity to join Virgin Records as head of its Urban Promotion department in 1987. After 5 years at Virgin Records and a three-month hiatus on the beach, hit-makers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis named Sharon as the new president of their label, Perspective Records, in 1993. Currently, Sharon runs her own company, the Solutionist LLC; and claims the key to remaining successful is doing what “you need to do to make it happen. I rolled through the business, always willing to try and always about young people.” She continues to mentor those in the music industry and guides one her greatest successes– her daughter.


Monique is much accomplished in the areas of Marketing, Promotions, and Event Management. Encompassing strategic planning, branding, public relations, and sales promotion with the ability and skill to identify opportunities and deliver effective strategies to generate results. She has worked as the Mid-Atlantic Field Director for Atlantic Records, Perspective/A&M Records, and MCA Records. She is also the daughter of Sharon Heyward. “I grew up in the industry. My mom took me to my first concert when I was 10,” said Davis Cary. “When I went out, I didn’t have to wait on line. Everyone knew I was Sharon Heyward’s daughter, and I needed to continue this. That’s my story.”


Alita has had a multi-faceted career in the Entertainment industry. She was an intern at both NYC’s WPIX Channel 11 network and PolyGram Records. She has worked in Publicity at Palm Tree Studios with Santana, Fat Boys, Patra, and Kurtis Blow. Her writing caught the attention of the music television shows Krush Rap and The Source Awards. She soon became Director of Publicity and Production after humbly accepting an “assistant” publicity position at Untouchable Productions with Heavy D, Mary J. Blige, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, and TLC. Her career followed with a lead position as the Sr. VP of Black Music and A&R at Atlantic Records, followed by Kedar Entertainment/Universal Records. Following the trend Alita landed a position with Digital Mafia Enterprises and then joined BET to expand their Internet presence. Today, Alita serves as a Grant Manager for the city of Jersey City, is a Lifestyle Expert and the author of the forthcoming “CocoaSavvy Entertaining from Beginning to End,” and is also serving as the Assistant Executive Director of the Newark International Film Festival.


Tracey Moore is known within the film, television, and music industries as a quadruple threat having developed a level of mastery as an acting coach, director, producer, and casting director.  She discovered Dave Chappell for MTV’s TRL Show, and casted for the iconic movies “Just Another Girl on the I.R.T,” “New Jersey Drive,” and many others. Tracey was the darling of the record industry casting music artists on New York Undercover weekly. She has also coached Missy Elliot, Eve, Nelly, Ludacris, Lil’ Wayne, and Salt-N-Pepa to name a few to acting successes. She is currently co-executive producer of “Inside the Black Box with Tracey Moore,” a new show exploring the experiences of Black actors in Hollywood.


Renee is a results-driven public relations and marketing professional with more than 25 years of experience in performing arts, entertainment, and now new media. Developing comprehensive communication strategies and event solutions that advances goals and improves efficiencies is her forte, she was formerly on the publicity team at MCA Records working with Heavy D and the Boyz, New Edition, and Stephanie Mills to name a few. A former lifestyle magazine writer/editor, she is adept in event planning as well as content creation. As an influencer, it is her passion to shape the conversations centered around technology while amplifying the positive impact of behind it in the changing multicultural landscape that will have an impact on communities and hip hop culture. Her mission statement is: “Winning hearts and minds, one at a time.” Renee is the Chair of Fundraising and Development for the Universal Hip Hop Museum.

Audra N. Washington:

Audra N. Washington, former Director of Writing Relations at ASCAP, worked with hip-hop influencers such as Sean “Diddy” Combs, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Missy Elliott, Maxwell, Timbaland and the late Notorious B.I.G. As the Creative Director at EMI – Jobete Music Publishing, she oversaw the artistic use of the entire music publishing entity of Motown Records, where she worked with Stevie Wonder, Suzanne de Passe, and Berry Gordy. “Being a woman entrepreneur, there are so many emotions and they come fast,” said Washington, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Poised Magazine for African-American women over 40. “The satisfaction of seeing an idea be birthed into existence is exhilarating.”

Jamie Foster Brown (The Moderator):

Jamie Foster Brown is the owner and publisher of Sister 2 Sister Magazine, which was launched in September 1988.  For 26 years, Jamie Foster Brown interviewed a multitude of celebrities and pop culture icons, including Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, Carmelo Anthony, and Sean “Diddy” Combs for Sister 2 Sister. As a well-known entertainment journalist, Brown wrote a regular column in her magazine, called “Meow,” where each of her interviews were incorporated into each edition, and became the first nationally known Black female gossip columnist, while Newsweek the magazine the “African-American version of People Magazine.” Prior to her years as a print journalist, Brown worked in advertising and begun her career in media at BET and worked her way up to Producer of Video Soul. Describing her start in the entertainment industry as rigorous as one would expect, saying, “Working in the entertainment industry is one of the most coveted positions to land. Getting in the door is a feat unto itself — not to mention, getting your name on the door.” She has certainly proved herself capable of doing both, and The Jamie Foster Brown Show will debut on the Internet in October. Her own talk show, The Jamie Foster Brown Show, will debut on the Internet this month.




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