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Music & Advocacy Come Together at GRAMMYs on the Hill

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
Boardroom got exclusive access to The Recording Academy, executives, and Grammy-nominated artists at GRAMMYs on the Hill to discuss the future of the RAP Act.

With great power comes great responsibility — at least that’s what what the Spider-Man movies say. When it comes to the music industry, artists, producers, singers, and songwriters know the power of their platform and how important it is to use their voices to bring attention to the issues that matter.

Black, white, cisgender, transgender, female, male, or anyone in between, music is a language that everyone speaks. But what happens when those curators of the universal tongue feel censored and punished for exercising their right to free speech?

On April 26, The Recording Academy built a bridge between political figureheads and industry professionals to discuss creators’ rights within the entertainment community at the 21st annual Recording Academy® GRAMMYs on the Hill® Awards. Specifically surrounding the rights of music people and artist advocates, the celebration took place in Washington, D.C. and honored 13-time GRAMMY®-winning artist Pharrell Williams, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), who have each championed philanthropic and policy efforts that support the rights and well-being of creators.

“This is where rubber meets the road,” Recording Academy President Panos A. Panay told Boardroom during a red carpet interview. “Unless you have a solid legal framework to advocate for creative’s rights that protects creative expression, you can’t really have a creative industry. You can’t really have a music industry, and you can’t really have artists that aspire to do this for a career.”

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While he emphasized the importance of having more than just lobbyists and politicians in the room, Panay noted that the purpose of GRAMMYs on the Hill is to demonstrate the power to ensure the protection of creators and their intellectual rights. Without that, he told Boardroom, there would be no functional ecosystem within the music industry.

“GRAMMYs on the Hill really celebrates that, as well as the fact that music is the most powerful diplomatic tool that I believe exists,” Panay added. “There is soft power versus hard power. Besides artists, it’s important that we celebrate the contributions of lawmakers that really are responsible for this foundation that enables us to all have an industry.”

As a GRAMMY-nominated singer-songwriter herself, Victoria Monét prides herself on using her art as a form of creativity and positive messaging in addition to advocating for her communities as a queer Black woman in music. In an ideal world, the “Ass Like That” artist envisions an inclusive community within the industry that unites people of all ethnic, religious, and gender-expansive backgrounds. Whether it’s picking a female engineer for her forthcoming album Jaguar Part II or including non-binary and queer folks in accompanying visuals, the singer makes an effort to pave the way for folks who do not normally get their well-deserved shine.

“I’m just trying to make sure the playing field is equal and break barriers for people where I’m from, so I’m excited to be here to see more positive change and be an advocate for future generations,” Monét told Boardroom on the red carpet. “I think music affects so many people and it’s a part of the fabric of America. I think that this event is where politics and music meet and it’s important for us to have a humanizing understanding about each other and what we need from each other.”

Specifically alluding to legislation such as the Help Independent Tracks Succeed (HITS) Act, the Restoring Artistic Protections (RAP) Act, and the American Music Fairness Act (AMFA), Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason, Jr. expressed the importance of a boardroom that’s inclusive of Black and brown individuals.

Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of the Recording Academy speaks during Grammys On The Hill: Advocacy Day. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

“You don’t get great outcomes unless you have different perspectives and different viewpoints,” he said. “Black and brown people are instrumental in our industry, as they are in any industry, but specifically in music and entertainment. You look at music right now, 34-35% of music created and consumed is Black music, so how can you have any meaningful dialogue or conversation about music without Black and brown people?”

Aligned with the sentiments of the Recording Academy CEO, Tank and the Bangas frontwoman Tarriona “Tank” Ball added that Black women especially should be included in conversations about policy and advocacy in entertainment.

“We are the voice and the back and the legs and the mind and the mouth,” she said. “We influence so much. That’s why we have to be a part of the conversations.”

“We can’t just influence the clothes and the hair and the makeup. We have to influence the policy so that the women that’s coming behind us have more ground to stand on, especially more Black women. I personally think that we have to have more diversity in this game. They have so many amazing women that’s doing anything, and I wanna see ’em.”

For The Recording Academy’s Secretary/Treasurer on the Board of Trustees Om’Mas Keith, the relationship between the Black community and politics within the music industry does not begin and end with the RAP Act. Though the official reintroduction was announced swiftly following GRAMMYs on the Hill: Advocacy Day, he notes that rappers used their artistry for activism and advocacy far before 2023.

Record Producer Om’Mas Keith attends Grammys On The Hill: Awards Dinner at The Hamilton on April 26, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

“There’s been a political connection with the hip hop community since its inception starting on local levels,” Keith told Boardroom. “I think I see that there will be more interaction between the hip hop community, obviously, and politicians in the coming years just because of the visibility, because of social media, because society is not having it anymore and they know it’s time. Everyone knows it’s time for a change. Of course, our politicians are elected leaders, like myself at the Recording Academy, and if they wanna stay in office, they better interact with the very people that are in their communities they are representing.”

Later in the evening, Pharrell was honored at the awards dinner for his philanthropy and advocacy through art, music, and creativity with the Creators Leadership Award. For Spotify’s Music Editorial Lead for Black Music & Culture, DJ Domo, honoring the “Number One” artist means more than just a plaque presented to him in a room filled with first-time meeting powerhouses.

“I love what P’s been doing. I honestly love what him and Pusha [T] have been doing,” she said of her fellow DMV native. “They’ve been doing a lot of work to come back home to represent Virginia, D.C., Maryland — all of it together. It’s been a really big bridge to build and I really love that they’ve been doing the work to uplift the artists that are from here and then bringing culture back here.”

The GIRLAAA Agency co-founder continued: “Considering where they’ve been and where they are, they don’t have to do that. It’s so, so, so important to build that because we lack a lot of resources and infrastructure so them taking the initiative to care, it means a lot. Having Something In The Water in [the] 757 is important. Having it last year in D.C. is important. If they don’t do it, who will?”

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