A woman on the Beat
Illustration by Seun Ajibola
In many areas of technical expertise related to music, there is no shortage of men. Many will argue that the top hip-hop engineer is Guru, a New Yorker, who has worked on some of the best music with arguably the best rapper of all time, Jay Z. While other engineers have never been credited with their contributions, producers have always received their recognition. If a list of the top hip-hop producers was crafted, it would not be difficult to highlight men who have contributed in significant ways to the genre. Whether it is Dr. Dre with the G-funk sound from the west or DJ Premier with the boom bap from the east, there are a plethora of men who have made a mark on hip-hop.
In a similar approach, I made an attempt to list the top female producers in hip-hop with the goal of only listing the producers who are behind the scenes and not artists as well. In short, it was more challenging than I expected.
While there are artists that have been credited with production, there is a shortage of purely technical producers that are not also artists. This presents the unique case for Ebony Naomi Oshunrinde, widely known as Wondagurl. A young woman who has produced for a number of the top acts in Toronto, but catching her break with a record by Jay Z called Crown – off Magna Carta Holy Grail Album.
She has received more than her fair share of praise for her production on the album, but lately, I’ve been thinking more about her actual production credits and whether there is enough knowledge about the impact of her sound on the current hip-hop landscape. While her placement on the Magna Carta Holy Grail Album has catapulted her to stardom, I believe the wider listeners in hip-hop have failed to appreciate her contributions because of the ease of creation and increased distribution of music over the last four years.
As a music fan, I have been guilty of glossing over her contributions during the last half-decade of improvements in music distribution. However, the responsibility is not only on the fans but the producer as well.
Over the years, most listeners of music who are paying attention to the technical parts of a song start to develop a sense of who wrote or produced what particular song. In the physical form of purchasing music, the liner notes provide you with the details of the contributors, and now in streaming, it is done through tags placed in by the producers. The former we have done away with, and the latter, Wondagurl has not provided for us to attach her to a particular song. Wondagurl has indicated in interviews that she recognizes that she is missing a tag to identify her contributions. So, it is not blasphemous to say that her impact could be more if we were aware that she created or collaborated on a specific song by well-recognized artists.
Women have had the harder time in work environments in claiming their contributions to appear humbler to keep with perception. This is in contrast to the average man, who fights for his credit. There are social reasons for this behavior, however, I would be surprised if there is no parallel in the music industry. From the early days of listening to music, the men have placed their background vocals, tags or the artists makes a shout-out to the producer to give the appropriate credit. Unfortunately, women producers in the game have not highlighted themselves in the same manner.
Among the recent producers, which include DJ Mustard, Murda, and Metro Boomin, I have repeatedly left out Wondagurl. A few of the top songs that she has worked on include records by Travis Scott, such as Sweet Sweet, The Ends and Antidote, records that I thought were just produced by Travis Scott. Other notable records include BBHMM by Rihanna and You Know the Ones (“YKTO”) by the Toronto rapper, Redway. Her contributions are not limited to the aforementioned acts because she has also contributed to the careers of Big Sean, Sza and Drake. With the continuous collaboration and production credits she receives, she could very well become a GOAT before she enters her thirties.
The production lane for a top woman producer is high in scarcity and open for exploitation. Wondagurl has managed to carve out a lane for herself as a producer in the current era with a focus on 808s and autotune. The problem though is our lack of knowledge about her full range of ability because we as fans are becoming lazier with the ubiquity of music as a result of the impact of technology on music, and the fact that she and her team have not done enough marketing to inform us of what she has contributed since that placement on the Jay Z record.