A3C: 'You Can't Put Hip Hop In A Box'

Oct 7, 2016

Thirty thousand people are expected to attend the 2016 A3C hip hop festival and conference Oct. 5-9 in Atlanta.

One of the industry's most prominent women executives is Atlanta native Shanti Das.

Das launched her career in the early 1990’s with Atlanta-based LaFace Records promoting local artists including OutKast, Goodie Mob, Usher, and TLC.

She joined Rickey Bevington in the studio explaining Atlanta’s entrance onto the international hip-hop stage.

Growing up as a child in Atlanta, we always looked to the Northeast or to the West Coast for our hip hop. In the early 1990s, you had these two little kids from East Point Georgia -- Andre 3000 and Big Boi -- who formed a group called OutKast. And for the first time -- for the kids living in the Atlanta area -- we felt like we had something to hold on to. It wasn't about putting on that New York Yankees hat. We now saw Big Boi wearing an Atlanta Braves hat or talking about Headland and Delowe which were iconic streets in East Point, Georgia. And we thought "You know what? This is our sound. They are crafting a unique sound specific to Atlanta with references that we can all relate to."

Bevington: Is there a song that you think represents the beginning of the "southern" sound? 

Das: "Players Ball" by far. It's the first record that I worked when I got hired at La Face Records. It was actually a Christmas record that we released from a LaFace Christmas compilation. We ended up servicing that record to DJ's in Atlanta and it really caught on. They went back into the studio and to remove the Christmas references and it ended up being their first single off the debut album "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik."

Bevington: Does that Christmas version still exist?

Das: Oh yes. We were able to pull some of the references but you can definitely tell on the hook. Organized Noize, who are the producers of that track, had that holiday feel when they were making it in the studio. 

Bevington: As you came up the corporate ladder in the music industry did you see other women being promoted and advancing with you? 

Das: I wasn't alone. There were other females that I looked up to in the entertainment industry, particularly some of the African-American women that were in positions of power. But, unfortunately, I don't feel like I had a lot of those women as my mentors. I cannot say that there weren't any women paving the way but a lot of men had to open up doors for me.

Bevington: Do you see more women coming up now in the industry than back then?

Das: I think the industry has shrunk. I don't think there are as many opportunities for women. Back in the 1980s and 1990s you had a plethora of different labels and women at the helm. But those opportunities are diminishing. Now the industry is shifting, it's more technology based. The business model has changed for the entertainment industry and so maybe we'll see more women rise in tech.

Bevington: Speaking of role models.What are you trying to model for people in the industry today?

Das: That's a deep question. For me it's more of a spiritual journey. I took a leap of faith when I left the corporate side in 2009 and started my own company because my mother had developed Alzheimer's. I went through some health issues and I felt a real close spiritual connection to my higher being. I feel like God wanted me to be great in music so that I could still be a shining light in a tough industry. You need to know that there is more to life than just work. I'm hoping that God keeps me in entertainment but allows me to be this light of positivity and peace and influence.

Bevington: A3C calls itself "Hip Hop's Family Reunion." A wide range of music styles are represented this week. So do you think it's appropriate to fit all of these different styles under the hip hop label?

Das: I think that's something that will probably be debated until the end of time. Hip hop has evolved from being born in the Bronx, New York. It was more about the lifestyle with beat boxing and DJ'ing and dancing and rhyming. You saw this evolution particularly with women in hip hop with Queen Latifah and MC Lyte and Jojo. Those women paved the way and it was definitely more positive and uplifting. It's disheartening to see so much of the degradation still be there for women. I've got to tell you it's tough. I'm not for censorship. I believe in freedom of speech and in people being able to express themselves, especially in music. But there's not enough balance there. We're all very different and very complex. We share different beliefs and faiths and we have been exposed to different things. It's very complex. You can't put hip hop in a box. 

Bevington: It has been a pleasure speaking with you. 

Das: Thank you. Same here. I could talk all day with you.