Images via their respective Instagram accounts
“I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t hide anymore, “Jazmine Sullivan proclaimed at last year’s Soul Train Awards. In her speech, she talked about how she is learning to show up for herself even when she does not want to. Jazmine Sullivan has to be one of the greatest vocalists of this generation period! So, the fact that she felt like she had to hide or make herself small baffled me. Her albums, especially her most recent one, Heaux Tales, are masterpieces!
Her speech got me thinking about the challenges that dark skin women have to go through to be successful in the music industry and in general. You have to rise above the hate comments, misogyny, colourism, racism… and soo much more. The price of fame does not even seem worth all the hardships that you’re forced to endure. Even when you get to the top, you still seem invisible.
I have seen this pattern in the industry of dark skin Black women being passed over and not given the accolades they deserve. It is horrible and unfortunate how colourism puts many talented artists at a disadvantage compared to their lighter-skinned peers. It is easy for these artists to give up before they even get started, but their talent and faith in their abilities push them to keep going.
“It wasn’t accepted easily to be plus-size and be considered beautiful, for you to think that you were beautiful or sexy.”
— Jazmine Sullivan
Jazmine Marie Sullivan was just eleven years old when she got booed off the Apollo stage. Now, Jazmine Sullivan aka “Philly’s Phinest” is a 2-time Grammy award winner who started 2021 with a bang when she dropped her project Heaux Tales. It did not matter if you were 16 or 42, you related to this album because of how authentic Jazmine’s music is. She captures the emotions that the majority of Black women feel. This album was amazing, not just because of the songwriting. But because of the vulnerability and the storytelling with the skits. Jazmine taught us that we are allowed to be sexual with tracks like Put it Down, Bodies- Intro, On It, and so many more. This album felt very personable, like a late-night conversation with your girls.
Jazmine is definitely not new to this, she’s been in the game for over ten years. If you are anything like me, you used to blast Bust the Windows and In Love with Another Man even though you knew nothing about love or heartbreak.
However, after a while, it seemed like Jazmine Sullivan “disappeared”. So where did she go? According to her interview with The Source, Jasmine took a hiatus from all things music. This was due to the abusive relationship she was in at the time. Jazmine is open about her experiences, whether good or bad. Especially when she talks about the fear she felt when coming back from her hiatus. When she sat down with Scottie Beam and Sylvia O’Bell on the Okay Now Listen podcast, she explained that she second-guessed if new artists would want to work with her because of how long she’s been out of the game. I could not believe someone as gifted as Jazmine Sullivan ever felt small or unnoticed.
I thought back to the way that the industry treats Black women like Jazmine Sullivan. If you do not fit the industry’s beauty standards, you are pushed to the side and you start to undervalue yourself. Jazmine said that “it wasn’t accepted easily to be plus-size and be considered beautiful, for you to think that you were beautiful or sexy.” I believe that Black women relate so much to Jazmine because she owns her truth- the good, bad, and ugly. She does not “sugarcoat” her experiences, she owns all of them and puts that passion into her music for other Black women to hear. Jazmine had many reasons to leave music forever- an abusive relationship, colourism, fatphobia, etc. But she never gave up because she knew that they were Black women out there that needed to hear her story.
“Imma do it my damn self”
It did not matter where you lived in the world, last summer was the summer of Essence. Whether you were at a supermarket or in a club, you could not escape the song. For most people, Essence by Wizkid featuring Tems was the first time we were introduced to Temilade Openiyi, famously known as Tems. Born to a single mother in Lagos, Nigeria, Tems grew up pretty introverted and she said that her secondary music teacher helped her find her unique sound. I wonder what her secondary music teacher would think about her song, Essence, making history as the first Nigerian song to break the Top 10 on the Billboard Top 100
chart. In addition, Tems also made history as the first Nigerian artist to debut at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with her feature on Future’s Wait for You – according to the Guardian.
It seems like everything Tems touches turns into gold, but her road to fame was definitely not easy. After she graduated from university, Tems wanted to pursue music seriously, but she could not afford many of the producers she wanted to work with. Tems said “Imma do it my damn self” and that’s exactly what she did. She learned how to make the beats from YouTube and that’s how her album For Broken Ears was born. She did not have much money so she borrowed an acquaintance’s studio to record, and she had help from people to take the picture for the album as well as create the actual cover art. Tems had to hustle to make her dreams come true because she knew she could not wait for others to see her; she had to force people to see her.
In December 2020, Tems spent two days in a Ugandan jail for failure to respect the COVID protocols. While she was there, she saw life a little differently. She experienced gratitude for all that life had to offer. She lived in harsh conditions with around 50 other women, some even had children. It was rough but it made her appreciate the small things in life and made her want to create more music.
Tems is one of the reasons why representation matters so much to me. To see a Nigerian woman with physical features just like mine become so successful makes me want to dream big. She did not stop at “no” because she believed in herself, and she knew that Black women would benefit from hearing her music. It does not matter where you come from, if you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything. Tems taught me that and I cannot wait to see how she progresses in her career. Because she’s just getting started!
“In the music industry, you do kind of always feel that this single is your last single before you completely fade away, so I think that played into it.”
I first heard of NAO through Tik Tok because her song Drive and Disconnect was trending for a while last year. After hearing that song, I immediately did a deep dive through her entire discography, and I fell in love. My favourite songs of hers are Orbit, Antidote and Burn out, but all of her music honestly just transports me to another place. Her soft, angelic voice almost sounds robotic, especially in Orbit which is something I have never heard before and I love so much.
British Jamaican singer NAO has been very honest about her journey to fame and the hardships she has endured to get to this point. In an interview with the Independent, she discusses topics like motherhood, self-image, and even her being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. She decided not to tour after dropping And Then Life was Beautiful to prioritize her mental and physical health. Making that decision must have been very difficult but she knew herself and her body and knew that was the best choice for her. NAO is very candid about her struggles in and out of the industry, but I believe that is what draws her fans closer to her. Not only is she a talented artist, but she is always vulnerable with her fan base which reminds people that she is still a human being.
As Black women, we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be excellent at our craft, and Nao definitely agrees with this sentiment. She talks a lot about not feeling like enough and the immense amount of pressure she feels to produce amazing music. The music industry was not used to someone like her; she combines so many genres like Soul, R&B, Electronic, Funk etc and it’s beautiful but it is definitely different. She explains in a DIY interview that “In the music industry, you do kind of always feel that this single is your last single before you completely fade away, so I think that played into it.” She always believed that her time in the music industry would expire, and they would drop her without a second thought.
I think musicians like Nao are important because she is not afraid to take risks and play with different sounds. We do not hear many Black women doing electronic funk that still has a soulful sound, so Nao is the first of many. Therefore, it is important that we uplift her as she continues to climb to new heights in her stardom.
These 3 dark skin Black women come from completely different parts of the world and walks of life but yet they all have worked their asses off to be respected in this industry. None of them have had easy beginnings, they had to forge paths for themselves. As a result of their resilience, they have opened the door for future and present dark skin women to show up as their authentic selves. I can be confident like Jazmine, sexy like Tems, and vulnerable like NAO, I can be it all.
I believe it is important to give people their flowers while they are still here so Jazmine Sullivan, Tems, and NAO here are your flowers. Thank you for persisting in spite of it all, you have already paved the way for so many girls in the industry and you are the representation that so many of us dark skin women have been waiting for.