I’d be hard pressed to find a female musician that has not encountered the incredibly offensive “surprise” of someone learning that you are more than a vocalist. Not to dismiss this skill whatsoever, but this is the musical role that females are seen to typically occupy, much to my and many others’ dismay. So the following artists on this mixtape were chosen specifically for their role as a producer or sole-contributing musician as well as their personal influence on my musical style and ethos.
According to my older sister, Bjork was my favorite bedtime music as a baby. I’m not sure of the veracity of this account but I did grow up listening to her. My respect and love of her music has continued to grow over the years, especially after I discovered that she produces all the crazy experimental dance music herself.
As a troubled, queer youth in the Atlanta suburbs, I couldn’t help but gravitate toward the noise/industrial racket of Atari Teenage Riot. So you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to find out there were two women producing the music alongside two men, and one of them had her very own side project that is still 150% just as sick as it was when I first listened to it at age thirteen.
I was inspired by Grimes as a young burgeoning musician after hearing the story of her musical beginnings. While studying Neuroscience at McGill (also my major), and singing for numerous male producers, she realized she could be making the music completely on her own. Grimes is now known for not letting anyone touch her music until the mastering phase. Unsurprisingly, few people realize this even as she’s blowing up.
Fatima Al Qadiri is a producer in the supergroup Future Brown, but what interests me most is her personal work. Fatima grew up in Kuwait during the Iraq invasion and found solace in video games. You can hear her story in the grime/electronica that she produces. Lush and evocative, “Power” creates a dark soundscape not unlike what you might find during the perilous portion of a video game.
Buffy Sainte Marie is an award-winning Native American artist, musician, and activist. Her music is highly political and evocative. I don’t usually get weepy listening to music, but she gets me in the gut. Her debut record, It’s My Way, speaks to issues of opiate addiction on reservations, sexual abuse, political corruption, and the environment. Her political presence was enough to get her blacklisted on many radio stations and aimed to thwart her career, but her activism grew only stronger. Definitely a great example to me of what a radically political musician can do.
Now I know that y’all already love Miss Lauryn Hill, but did you know that she produced her five-Grammy-award-winning solo debut? Did you?! I didn’t. No hip-hop head ever told me that. To take it even further, her boyfriend at the time offered to help produce the record, but Miss Hill said no thank you. And for that, I love her to the moon and back, because how many times have successful female musicians been ridiculed for riding on the coattails of their male partners? I’m guessing the number is much higher than a million.
Speaking of riding the coattails of men. . . Janet. People talk a lot about her brother, but Janet Jackson is a formidable pop star on her own. Her dance moves are underrated and so is her influence. Janet was producing genre-defying pop music that eventually paved the way for new jack swing (think MC Hammer, Salt ‘N’ Pepa, TLC, LL Cool J, and many more). Furthermore, her hit “Nasty” (1986) was a public call-out of the sexual harassment she faced while producing the album Control. She even won a GLAAD award for best media ally of the year. I say we all start talking about Janet the way we talk about Michael; she deserves the love.
Last but not least, I am certain that you love to get down to “Work It” and “Lose Control.” Missy Elliott’s music production career is expansive as well as impressive. She’s a wonderful female role model and music model in general. I CAN NOT WAIT for her new album! Go Missy.
Honorable mentions/not on Spotify: Juliana Huxtable, Crystal Caines, WondaGurl
Lee Heikkila is a radical queer, musician, activist, and aspiring neuroscientist. Lee also greatly enjoys the ecstatic joy that comes from moving their body to music and is optimistic that safe spaces will become commonplace in no time!