Too many women are signing major deals and then seeing their albums delayed for years.
Two weeks ago, Tinashe released her sophomore album, Joyride. Production for the album began in January 2015, three months after the release of her commercial debut on RCA, and one month after she finished her home sessions for what would become the Amethyst EP. The first sign of trouble came just a month later: Tinashe released a self-directed video for her debut album's title track, "Aquarius," with no label promotion, and RCA removed it from YouTube shortly afterward. In September 2015, a teaser and song ("Party Favors") from Joyride arrived, and everything seemed like it was on schedule. By November an official lead single ("Player") had arrived, and Tinashe was hosting a listening party in New York. "You're only one day away from doing anything you want to do," she reportedly told the 25 industry attendees. Little did she know, she was still 29 months, or almost 900 days, away from releasing her album.
The following two-plus years saw periodic false starts. Tinashe announced the Joyride Tour in January 2016, only to cancel the second half of it in April to "wrap up finishing touches" on her album. That February, a screenshot leaked from a group chat in which Tinashe complained about RCA prioritizing Zayn Malik over her. In July, a new "lead" single, "Superlove," arrived, followed by a "second" single, "Company," in September. Out of nowhere that November, Tinashe released the Nightride mixtape, which she claimed was made "alongside Joyride," despite the fact that it included three songs, "Party Favors," "Ride of Your Life," and "Company" that had initially been announced as Joyride album tracks.
March 2017 brought us another "lead" single, "Flame." Shortly afterward, Tinashe revealed RCA's role in choosing a new single: "I wasn’t forced, but it was one of these situations where it was like 'Okay, I will trust you guys and this is what you believe is the best decision so I’m going to get behind it,' because that’s more advantageous than to sabotage my own songs." Then things went dark for almost another whole year until what became the final Joyride rollout got under way this January.
This is deeply fucked up. Sure, in an interview with Vulture earlier this month, Tinashe said that by the time Joyride actually came out, the project was "all her," but she also mentioned that along the way, there were "creative discrepancies," a "confidence crisis," and "probably 200 songs" that were recorded for the album. Tinashe alluded to the fact that these "discrepancies" were the times that RCA, against her will, set her up with alleged sex offenders/abusers for various promo: a Terry Richardson photoshoot that had her grabbing Travis Scott's crotch; the "Player" collaboration with Chris Brown, which she said was RCA's idea and led to Brown disparaging her on Instagram; sessions with Dr. Luke, a producer who's accused of sexually abusing Kesha, who Tinashe has defended in the past. Also: 200 songs?! Forcing an artist to make almost 20 times the amount of music that actually ends up on an album is ridiculous. Enduring all of this, it's no wonder Tinashe had a crisis of confidence.
If this Joyride situation was an isolated incident, it'd be easier to write off as a fluke— maybe Tinashe's not the right fit for RCA, maybe all of the 187 songs that didn't make the album were awful— but what happened to Tinashe on the road from her first to second album is a regular occurrence for women in the industry. All too often, a promising, prolific female artist signs a deal and years go by before an album comes out, completely derailing their trajectory. Let's take a look at three recent examples: Teyana Taylor, Tink, Rita Ora, and SZA.
Taylor signed a joint deal with GOOD Music and Def Jam in 2012, shortly before the release of Cruel Summer, which featured her on three tracks. She dropped her debut album, VII, two years later with little promo from either label. So far, so good. But like Tinashe, by the time she drops her sophomore album, years will have gone by from her first attempt to roll it out. In June 2016, she released "Freak On," ostensibly the lead single from her next album. Almost two years later, just earlier this month, label boss Kanye West finally announced the release date for her next album.
Tink signed a joint deal with Epic and Timbaland's Mosley Music Group in October 2014, and has since released two mixtapes, but not Think Tink, the commercial debut she announced in 2015. In a Fader interview earlier this year, Tink claimed that Epic was ready to release the album in July 2015, but Timbaland delayed it. “It was [Timbaland’s] call to hold back on it, and I think, I want to say, for the benefit of the doubt, he did want to perfect it. But it was Tim's call not to put it out.” At the beginning of 2017, Tim's label severed ties with Epic, and Tink then tried to get out of her deal. It wasn't until last December, when Tink captioned an Instagram post with "#freeAtLast," that she ended her legal battle with Mosley and became independent. According to the Fader interview, she's now scrapped all plans for Think Tink in favor of starting anew.
Rita Ora signed with Roc Nation in 2008 and released her debut album, Ora, four years later. Four more years went by with Ora trying to get the ball rolling on her follow-up until she filed a lawsuit against the label in December 2015 which stated that she had "only been permitted to release one album despite creating multiple additional records for release." Six months later, she reportedly signed a new deal with Atlantic, which to date has yielded two singles and no sign of an album.
Of all these women, SZA's undoubtedly been the most successful, but lest we forget, it was not always this way. She signed with TDE in 2013, released the Z EP a few months later, and then began work on her debut album. In Fall 2016, the first signs of problems emerged, with SZA tweeting, "I actually quit. @iamstillpunch can release my album if he ever feels like it," referring to her label head. When Ctrl finally arrived a little under a year later, she claimed that TDE had to take her hard drive away from her to release the album, implying that she was to blame for the delays. She never did explain that previous tweet though.
With all of this in mind, I was struck by something 21 Savage said in an interview last week. In conversation with Seth Rogen for Interview Magazine, he was asked about creative struggles with his label, Epic, and revealed how little their input matters on his final product. He claims that Epic told him to not release "FaceTime," a track from his 2017 album, Issa Album, and yet it still ended up on the tracklist. "They got A&R’s that put you with different producers and that type stuff," he elaborated, "I don’t really use they ideas, I ain’t even gon’ lie. I like to create my own stuff."
Short of Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna, it doesn't seem like many women in rap and R&B are allowed this privilege, even those with years more experience than 21. In the aforementioned Vulture interview from this month, Tinashe claimed, "There’s this crazy competition factor that comes with women that men don’t really have to deal with." She offered further evidence during the premature Joyride listening party in 2015, unintentionally foreshadowing the further sexism she'd face:
"When I started collaborating, it's an extremely male-dominated industry, especially in the production area. I've worked with so many producers and engineers, and I've only worked with only one female producer and one female engineer. It's insane."
During a 2017 podcast, she got even more specific, describing a Joyride session in which she felt pressured into making music she didn't want to make:
“My A&R from my record label was there, and I, as a new artist with no hit to my name, felt an unspoken pressure to allow everyone else in the room to take the lead. The night dragged on and on with the song feeling more like something I would never say.”
Maybe most male rappers are too afraid of seeming vulnerable to admit this sort of thing, but it seems like female artists face more strong-arming and label tampering than their male counterparts. Instead of being allowed to be themselves, they're forced into boxes, as Tinashe hinted at on Joyride's "No Drama": “Tried to be myself but they won’t AKA me / AKA a pop star AKA a problem / AKA don’t hold me back.” You could suggest that a lack of commercial viability could also be to blame for album delays— after all, for major labels like these, music is very much a business— but in Tinashe's case, the "Superlove" video got over a million views in 24 hours, and it still wasn't deemed fit for a lead single.
Last week, Complex's Carolyn Bernucca wrote a piece entitled "Where Did Tinashe Go Wrong," which spends most of its time complaining that nothing on the new album matches the pop success and enjoyability of her breakout single, "2 On." Despite mentioning that RCA "doesn’t seem particularly interested in developing her talent or deepening her image," Bernucca saved most of her rage for Tinashe, writing that "breathily whining lyrics that don’t say much of anything, over a watered-down version of an already-popularized sound" is "Tinashe doing what she always does." Bernucca does have a point that Joyride often feels depersonalized, but by using SZA's hyper-personal Ctrl as a counterpoint, she unknowingly echoes Tinashe's line about the "competition factor" between women that men don't have to deal with. Let's be real: comparing Tinashe to SZA is just as accurate as comparing YG to Logic.
The solution to all of this, as Tinashe indirectly suggested, is placing more women in producer, engineer, A&R, and label head roles. What do her, Teyana Taylor, Rita Ora, Tink, and SZA all have in common? During their years-long album delays, their label bosses were high-powered men like Kanye, Jay-Z, Timbaland, and Punch. Until they're in positions to act like 21 Savage and hand-pick their tracklists, the music industry's unfairly silencing some of its most promising young voices and derailing their careers to boot.