'The Late Show' Associate Producer Is Bringing Women's Voice Back to Hip-Hop

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Name: Nadirah Simmons

Hometown: Burlington, NJ

Occupation: Social Media Associate Producer on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert/ Founder & Editor & Chief of The Gumbo

Instagram: @hinadirah @thegumbo

Fun Fact: “I can speak French pretty well!”


Nadirah Simmons is changing the game. More women are emerging in the forefront of hip-hop with the likes of Cardi B and Nicki Minaj dominating the charts and Missy Elliot reemerging and receiving her just praise as an innovator in rap; the industry has made slow progress, but progress in the inclusion of women. However, Simmons doesn’t want you to forget about the woman in the background. While juggling her job as the Social Media Associate Producer on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Simmons also founded The Gumbo, a hip-hop platform showcasing female voices whether it be through the contributors on her site or the creative minds that are showcased. Through The Gumbo, Simmons is making sure that the women who contribute to the culture receive their credit.

MN: So what inspired you to pursue journalism?

NS: It’s so funny because I just feel like, growing up I wanted to do everything. But, for some reason, I was always really good at writing and talking to people. So, yeah, I remember I was just applying for schools, wasn’t really sure what to do. My mom and dad were like, “Have you thought about the media? Do you want to be on the news? You could be good at that.”

MN: Really, your parents gave you the idea to pursue journalism? My parents were like, “How are you going to feed yourself.”

NS: Oh my god, no! I’m very fortunate. My parents are my best friends. They’re super-duper supportive. Of course, you want your kid to make money. You want them to do really well and be able to take care of themselves. But, my parents are very like, “You gotta be happy.” So, they were like, “You should do that.”

I wanted to be on the news at first so I went to school for journalism and media studies; then I realized I hated the news. I just didn’t like the pace of it. I didn’t like how insensitive it was, which is the nature of it. If you have to report on something, you can’t show your bias, and you can’t feel a certain way. So I was like, “This doesn’t really fit well with me.” But yeah, that’s how I found my path into journalism.

And then after that, I’m a big music head. My entire family, we all love music so much. I got an internship at a music site that was called Good Fella Media. And from there and from there, I just really realized I like music, and I like news that isn’t so insensitive, and you are able to have an opinion, and you’re able to have a voice. So, through music journalism and through that, I went from interning at Good Fella Media to VH1 to The Daily Show, and then creating my own site, and then working where I work now.

MN: You’ve had a lot of cool work experiences. Can you tell me about that?

NS: I think I was very, very fortunate with the internships I had. I know a lot of times people speak about internships like, not being paid, or people not treating them well, or them not really being involved. I was fortunate that most of my internships were paid. On top of that, I never felt like I was just a coffee girl or I was just someone there to run errands for them. Granted that’s a part of the game. You do what you gotta do.

But, at VHI, I created my own in-house news site for them. Yeah, I was just doing little stuff like that. And then, being at The Daily Show, I really realized I liked news and I like the satire take, and I like being able to say what I want to say about something. So, yeah. Had some cool experiences.

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“Hip-hop is so ingrained in me and in my culture and in African American culture, and in black people’s culture in general. To know that there are people out here that are writing about it that either isn’t of the culture, don’t respect the culture; and when they do [respect the culture]; they’re not getting paid on time. Or, when they do, their words are being minced or twisted. Their voices aren’t being amplified.”


MN: So talking about The Gumbo, when I wrote this down I was like, “that’s such a corny question but I have to ask.” My question is, when did you fall in love with hip-hop?

NS: Oh my god! That’s so funny, because that was the theme for our first month, and I had all my writers and my contributors and people answering the question. And in my head, I was like, “Wow, I don’t even really know how I would answer it.” I feel like, for me, it wasn’t really one moment, but it’s always been something that’s just been a part of me.

My youngest childhood memories are of me and my dad riding around at 3-years-old rapping the entirety of Reasonable Doubt. At any low point in my life, or in the extremely high point, I can relate it back to a song. I talk about Mac Miller’s music a lot, because he was a very influential artist to me. But, I can’t think of a time in my life where hip-hop wasn’t tied to it. It’s always been something that I love.

MN: Why was it important for you to have a platform to discuss hip hop in relation to women?

NS: Going back to the question you just asked, “when did you fall in love with it?” Hip-hop is so ingrained in me and in my culture and in African American culture, and in black people’s culture in general. To know that there are people out here that are writing about it that either aren’t of the culture, don’t respect the culture; and when they do [respect the culture]; they’re not getting paid on time. Or, when they do, their words are being minced or twisted. Their voices aren’t being amplified. I was just extremely bothered by it.

I was like, “Okay, I’m going to create something. I’m going to save up my money so I can also pay these people.” Because, that’s extremely important; I want to create a space where, not only is it, “Okay, yes we have this platform and we have black women, and we have latin women talking about hip-hop, and talking about women, but they can talk about anything on the spectrum.” So, every piece doesn’t have to be a “Little Kim’s sexuality, and how it did this for this,” cause, we’ve seen that before. But, that these women can talk about a prominent male rapper in the same way that the white dude over at another platform could.

MN: Why did you call it The Gumbo?

NS: It’s so funny; I tried to come up with a name. I’ve been working on this for two years. I had this idea for a while. I couldn’t think of a way to accurately describe something just coming together so perfectly. And I was like, “Okay, what word will describe the beauty of this project?” Because it’s going to be a hip-hop platform and it’s also going to be a social club. We’re also going to have events. We’re also going to sell merchandise. There are so many things that make this great amazing thing. And I literally was sleeping one night—it came to me in a dream—I was like, “I’ma call it The Gumbo.” I woke up and told my friends. They were like, “Yes, we like it. We like it.”

MN: What do you think is hip-hop’s role in the Me Too movement?

NS: I don’t know if hip-hop necessarily has a role in the Me Too movement. I think there are a lot of women and men within the culture who are extremely outspoken within their music or within their platforms about how they feel about hip-hop and this inherent misogyny. But, at the same time, we have to be really, really honest. As much as I love hip-hop, as much as I’m a fan, [misogyny] it’s ingrained in the culture in a way. And, I hate that.

I saw someone write an article, or maybe they tweeted it a couple of weeks ago, and they were like, “When is hip hop going to have its Me Too moment?” And I think it’s going to take a lot for hip-hop to have its Me Too moment, because of just how ingrained, and how misogyny and misogynoir just go kind of hand-in-hand with the music that we create. And, that’s not just speaking about the artists themselves, but also the people that are running these record labels, and the people that are maybe running these platforms, and the people that are shooting these videos, and maybe the photographers.

You can look at what’s happened with the Me Too movement as far as film and television, and see how people have gotten comics and actors and a lot of different people up outta here. Whereas hip-hop, these dudes get on the songs and they say, “I’m going to do this. I’m gonna put this in your drink, and that’s just going to be that.” And people go out and dance to it, and they go out and bop to it. Someone will say, “Yo, this rapper did this with this underage woman.” And, people are like, “Okay, his album drops Friday.” We’re just like, “Okay,” but, it’s so crazy.

Me and my friends talk about this all the time. You would have to literally rebuild the entirety of just the culture and the music and the genre. You would have to literally remove so many people from their positions. And, you also would have to have a standard within the music. You would have to say, “Okay, you can’t say these things.” We have so many rappers, majority of—not even majority—a lot of our favorite rappers have said things in their songs that should absolutely get the side eye. Absolutely. And, if they weren’t a part of hip-hop, maybe if they were an actor, or if they were in any other field, people would be like, “Get them outta here,” but, it’s just so a part of it.

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I want it to be a community for all of the women that are marginalized within the culture. So, it’s not just the women on the mic, but it’s the people shooting the videos. It’s the people producing the songs. It’s the people taking the photos at the concerts. It’s the people maybe running platforms, social media accounts. There’s so many of us, and I just think it’s important to highlight us.”


MN: Why does hip-hop get a pass?

NS: It goes back to it being ingrained in the music and the culture, and just having the inherent misogyny. There are so many rappers that you can name that had rape cases, and that have had sexual assault cases, and that have had so many different things. Their music still goes to the top of the charts. They still go gold. They still go platinum.

It’s like people don’t care. At the same time, I think one thing that we also have to understand is, when I say misogynoir because misogyny is a big part of it. But, when I say misogynoir, that’s another thing that I think people don’t realize and don’t think about. When things happen to black women, it’s treated in a different way than when things happen to white women. That’s just the nature of the game and where we live. It goes back to all of that.

Even R Kelly; he’s a part of hip-hop culture. Yes, he’s an R&B singer, but he’s a part of hip-hop culture naturally. The things that he’s been accused of, the things that he’s been acquitted for—not found not guilty of—the things he’s been acquitted for, and, the fact that people go to his concerts. People still stream his music; even XXX passing away, people just championing him. And it’s like, “Okay.” I get people don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but I also don’t want to minimize the suffering of women, just to champion this rapper. You don’t have to do that.

But, I think a lot of it, especially with hip-hop, boils down to the misogynoir; misogyny and the intersection of race. People really don’t care about what happens to black women. I think that’s a big, big part of it. Yeah. So, I don’t know. I really don’t know when hip hop’s day of reckoning is going to come.

But, what I do think that people should do, and one thing I try to do with The Gumbo, is champion these artists and these rappers and these men and these women that are making music that isn’t misogynist, that aren’t dangerous, that aren’t encouraging violence or emotional or sexual abuse, that aren’t doing any of those things, and go stream them.

Because, people want to say, “Oh, 6ix9ine’s music is so great. I don’t know how to not listen to it.” My rebuttal is, “well, Rico Nasty has music that is just as great, actually better, you can go stream her instead.” There can be a good alternative.

MN: I notice how you do feature a lot of women, and not only (musical) artists, but people around the culture like photographers. I saw you wrote about a painter who was featured on The Shade Room. So why is it important to feature these women?

NS: I wonder who’s sticking up for these black women within their industries? Who’s championing them? Who’s showcasing their work? And who’s helping expose them to other people, and doing it in a positive way, and giving them a space to tell their story?

With The Gumbo, I don’t want it to just be a site; which is why we’re going to have events, and we’re going to have meetups, and have meetings. I want it to be a community for all of the women that are marginalized within the culture. So, it’s not just the women on the mic, but it’s the people shooting the videos. It’s the people producing the songs. It’s the people taking the photos at the concerts. It’s the people maybe running platforms, social media accounts. There’s so many of us, and I just think it’s important to highlight us.

MN: What advice do you have for women or young girls trying to make it in media?

NS: Definitely don’t be afraid of the word no. I think for me, oh my God; I had such a big head coming out of high school. Everything was a breeze. Great grades, class president. “I’m about to just shit on all of y’all. I’m gonna be good.”

And, the first time someone told me no, granted it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t lose any internships. I didn’t get something; but I realized everything is not going to work out for you, and you can’t be afraid of having someone say no to you because it will literally destroy you, it will stunt your growth, and it’ll make it impossible for you to move forward. So, take every no as a little bit of, “Alright, I’m gonna go harder so I can get that yes.”

Also, don’t be lazy. It’s so important, especially for women in media, if there’s a networking event going on a few blocks away—I know you might be tired—but go. Go because you know it’s going to be something that’s positive for you. And, when you’re in a room, make sure your voice is heard. Always leave an impression wherever you go. So, even now, granted I have my job and I’m happy there and I’m comfortable there and it works for me, but I don’t ever go into a meeting with anyone without my voice being heard. Whether it’s something I don’t agree with or if we’re just having ideas. You don’t ever want to be able to be forgotten, ever. That is the worst thing you could do is going anywhere and not introducing yourself, not making your voice heard. No; make sure people remember you.

MN: Where do you see The Gumbo going? What is your vision for it?

NS: Oh my god. My vision for it is to have our own space in New York and in Los Angeles, where people can go, and it can be a co-working space. It also can be an event space. People can hang out and just chill. But, I want to have that space for us, especially for black women, because we don’t have any spaces like that really, where we can just go and just be ourselves and be alone and just network with our people.

I also want us to get a big sponsor. Somebody that’s going put a lot of money into it, because I need some money, because I love paying people, and I want to pay more people. It’s cool, I can fund five articles a week, or I can fund 10 a week. But, if I could fund 10 a day, or five a day? I’m in the mindset of, now I want to get grants. I want to have stuff like that. And, I want to put on our own festival. I want to put on a hip-hop festival where all of the acts are women. And, I want to amplify the black women, and the latin women, and the queer women of color. That’s what I really, really want to do. So, I want it to be a big old media enterprise.

Photo cred: Crystal King-Charles
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To learn more about The Gumbo and experience other dimensions about women and hip-hop, check out her website.

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