It was one of the hottest days Washington D.C. has seen in 2016, 8:30 p.m. and still registering almost 90 degrees. I bopped along V street with an extra bounce that seemed to accelerate with every step I took toward the 9:30 Club. Sporting a t-shirt from Kanye West’s 2014 Yeezus Tour, black jeans, and custom Adidas, I was particularly feeling myself – and a bright red lip tied the whole street style vibe together.
Schoolboy Q was the headliner that night, an artist I’ve followed since before his solo days when he formed the hip-hop collective Black Hippy (S/O to Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, and Kendrick Lamar!). I wasn’t an early fan, but when I first heard the group back in 2010 I was hooked. “Setbacks” was a strong start for Schoolboy Q as a solo artist and its follow-up, “Habits and Contradictions” was my favorite album of 2012. “Hands on the Wheel” is still one of my most played songs ever on iTunes. It was that perfect blend of sampling, production, and verbiage. It was immediate and euphoric. I couldn’t get enough of that track. His major label debut, “Oxymoron” maintained the same level of intensity as its predecessor. From “Los Awesome” to “Studio,” “What They Want” to “Man of the Year,” the album was track after track of pure production gold. And now, just two weeks ago, Schoolboy Q released his latest album “Blank Face LP” another critical success.
I had never seen the rapper perform live and I was downright giddy when I made it to the club and got into the absurdly long security line to enter 9:30.
“You can come right this way, honey,” a pleasant security woman said to me. “Oh no, that’s fine. I’d like to stay with my friend,” I replied. As soon as the words came out of my mouth I realized there were two lines: one for men and one for women. The security was particularly intense that night, perhaps as a result of the tragedies that seem to continue unfolding right in front of us on the evening news every day. Each attendee was frisked so thoroughly that it felt like going through TSA. So, I acquiesced. I waved good-bye to my friend and said “I’ll see you inside.”
My line had exactly zero people standing in it.
Once inside the venue I realized I had quite some time to kill before meeting up with my friend again. I walked around, scoping out the crowd and looking through the merchandise table, when I noticed something that honestly shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did. I was one of maybe 50 women in a club with a capacity of 1,200.
Nothing makes me more indignant than listening to smug men try to argue that women have bad taste in music. There’s still so much latent sexism when it comes to this subject, to the point that women who are real fans find themselves having to defend their passion within their own music communities. If you can’t name a specific song from an album (and not just any album, oh no, you must be an expert in special releases as well) you are an impostor that must be exposed for the silly female fraud that you are. It’s insulting and it’s exhausting. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if I was at a show “because my boyfriend likes the band” I’d be a very rich woman.
I looked around the club and saw a wonderfully diverse crowd – black, white, Hispanic, young, old, hip, not-so-hip – but the gender gap was there, and it was the starkest I’d ever seen.
Schoolboy Q’s performance was fire emoji perfection. Because the show was a “pit stop” and not part of his official tour, he was very loose on stage and openly admitted to having no set list. He frequently engaged with the crowd, asking us what songs we wanted to hear, then going off on the mic. He also bantered with the audience and threw bottles of water into the sweaty, rapturous crowd. “None of y’all are gonna die tonight!” he joked with a big smile on his face. The crowd’s reaction to “Man of the Year” was without a doubt the most hype I’ve ever seen folks get at 9:30 and I was grinning like a moron when he came back out for an encore with “What They Want.”
I had a moment of hesitation last night when I thought that maybe I wasn’t up to going to this show, but I’m so glad I did. @groovyq put on a hell of a pit stop performance. He asked us what we wanted to hear, brought a fan onstage, and teased white bros in the audience. Absolutely 🔥🔥🔥 #930club #seeninshaw
Maybe Schoolboy Q was too specific of a show to ponder the notion of underrepresentation of women at live music venues. He certainly hasn’t achieved Kendrick Lamar’s level of universal adoration, but hip-hop is no longer a genre exclusive to the male listener. I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason women hesitate to attend those shows is because they worry they will find themselves in my situation – vastly outnumbered by intoxicated men in a crowded semi-public place. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, particularly if you aren’t accustomed to the sweaty, cramped space-invading encroachment that is unavoidable at a place like the 9:30 club, when you see no female compatriots to latch onto should you start to feel unsafe. It makes perfect sense given the statistics surrounding sexual assault and bars. Approximately 25% of women will experience some form of sexual assault in their adolescence or early adulthood, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and about half of those crimes occur when the perp was under the influence of booze. When you start to dig into the statistics surrounding women’s safety, and the circumstances in which these awful crimes tend to unfold, it starts to make sense that perhaps women don’t feel entirely safe at concerts – particularly at smaller venues where alcohol is typically cheaper and there is less security. It may not even be a conscious connection. But rather years and years of gendered (and valid) paranoia.
We’ve come a long way since “On the Equality of the Sexes” but as I stood in that 1% of the crowd at Schoolboy Q, I realized we’ve got a long way to go.
This was the first in a series of essays about women and music.