It’s no secret (or perhaps, it should be no secret) that the Billboard charts reflect a combination of radio play, streaming, and sales, three elements controlled and altered by powerful players in the music industrial complex. These forces have shied away from placing female R&B powerhouses at the top of the charts for years. There’s a huge problem in how few women, regardless of genre, make it to the top, but make no mistake: Women of color—and women of color within R&B-pop—tend to get the shit end of the stick.
It’s the main reason R&B talent Tinashe isn’t as well-known as she deserves to be—regardless of her critical acclaim. On Thursday, she released a new single feature Migos rapper/Cardi B’s boo Offset called “No Drama,” which, if there’s any justice on this terrible planet, will bring her back into the forefront of musical conversation. And keep her there.
Let’s back track, shall we? Tinashe Kachingwe was launched into temporary superstardom at age 19, in 2012, when she dropped her single “2 On.” A Drake co-sign later, the track peaked at No. 21 on the Hot 100 and she was signed to major label RCA Records. She toured with Nicki Minaj, collaborated with Britney Spears and was nominated for a BET Award. Not bad, right? Not quite—since then, she’s struggled to produce a hit as big as “2 On,” and just when it looked like her career was on the up-and-up, she hit a stand still. Her third LP, Joyride, has been pushed back for about a year now.
Whose fault is it? Last year marked a definitive shift in America’s listening habits: Hip-hop and R&B replaced rock as the predominately listened-to genre, according to a report from Nielsen Music. A distinction should made: It’s hip-hop and R&B made by men that rules supreme. In an interview with the L.A Times last fall, Tinashe broke it down:
“When it comes to black women, people want to put you in these almost race-driven musical genres, [our] songs automatically become ‘urban’ or ‘rhythmic.’ I was creating music that didn’t necessarily fall into what people [considered] black female music — and there was pushback....
For some reason, people are consuming male-based entertainment on a much greater scale. You look at the pop charts and there are no black women. And it looks like that on rhythmic and urban charts. Perhaps it’s a subject matter issue? Maybe it’s the gatekeepers? I can’t put my finger on it.”
Gatekeepers certainly come into play when considering the power of streaming playlists on Spotify and the like, those who control how few women make it to the most popular platforms for consuming music. Whatever opportunity women of color do get, as Tinashe puts so eloquently it, are designated to race-based categories that have little to do with the musician’s actual art form. Listeners tend to trust those labels.
Where does that leave Tinashe now? Dropping “No Drama, her first single in a minute (and one that will hopefully arrive on a 2018 release of Joyride), was a smart move—she’s certainly the star of the track, but a co-sign from Offset doesn’t hurt, considering how well he’s doing. (And remember, it was the Drake co-sign that helped draw attention to her talent back in 2012.) “No Drama” is a solid collaboration, one we can only hope wasn’t created to appease the powers at be—Tinashe is too talented to continue on ignored, or have to rely on male features to shine.
There’s no way to know that was the motive, but let’s face it: It’s up to us, music fans, to try and right this institutionalized wrong—the black women of R&B shouldn’t suffer, especially when the genre is more popular than ever before.