In an industry where looks are sometimes more important than skill, often female rappers have been told they need to be sexier or thinner. But according to House Slippers rapper Joell Ortiz, male rappers face similar issues.
“I recall walking into a meeting [with labels] and getting let down. Going in there hype and leaving discouraged for reasons that didn’t have anything to do with music,” the MC told BET.com. “One major label was like, ‘The music is fresh but you just a little heavy. Maybe if you drop it down a bit then we can work something out and figure how to target some women.’”
Ortiz, who is from Brooklyn, continued to try his luck with New York and East Coast based labels, but was constantly stymied by superficial road blocks. “Another major label was like, ‘I love your music, but you’re Puerto Rican, so we have to figure out a Latin route.'”
The experiences left Joell with a bad taste for the music industry. But he finally struck gold after he released his The Brick (Bodega Chronicles) in 2007. “Out of left field, someone over at Interscope got my CD to Dr. Dre and he flew me out there,” Ortiz recalled of the 2008 career changing moment. “It was the first breath of fresh air, because he wasn’t looking at me. It didn’t matter. He was just like, ‘This is crazy, I want you to be here.’”
Dre’s belief in Joell’s music put the street hustler turned rapper back on track and gave him his first chance in the cutthroat industry. However, a year later, Joell decided to depart from the label. He formed the Shady Records super group Slaughterhouse with Crooked I, Royce da 5'9" and Joe Budden in 2008 and, as fate would have it, he found his way back to the label that gave him his unbiased first shot.
“I know Dre honored the decision that I made to leave the label because it validated who he thought I was, a leader,” Joell said.
Check the video below to see Joell talk about struggling to get put on in the game, getting a break from Dr. Dre and how he is a leader in his own right.
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(Photo: John Ricard/Getty Images)