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Debra Antney on her legacy, managing Nicki Minaj and not being intimidated by men

“Women are the head of the household,” pioneering hip hop exec Deb Antney told REVOLT for Women’s History Month. “Play your position. We don’t get intimidated because there’s a man in the room...”

Debra Antney

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Debra Antney has built a legacy as one of the pioneering women in the hip hop industry. The self-proclaimed “Pitbull in a skirt” is not only Waka Flocka’s mother, but is also the powerhouse executive responsible for the careers of Nicki Minaj, Gucci Mane, French Montana, OJ Da Juiceman and more.

For Women’s History Month, REVOLT spoke with Ms. Deb about her best advice for women hoping to get started in the entertainment business, the challenges she and Nicki faced as women breaking into music, and how women can work to build each other up and create their own lasting legacies.

Deb also explains why she thinks over-sexualization in music is boxing out new female artists, the call she received when Nicki gave birth to her first child (Deb’s “industry grandbaby”), what else she’s got planned for this year and more. Check out the chat below!

You’ve mentored many women, not only your superstar clients, but also others in the industry. What is some advice you’ve given women who see what you’ve accomplished and hope to do the same someday?

You wanna start with my famous advice? “Legs closed and pocketbooks open.”

Let’s get into it! How did you come up with that?

Well, when I was bringing in Nicki [Minaj], it was so hard because for women, a man always had to bring us in. I fought so hard for her to come in without a man… and she’s keeping herself going and she’s staying afloat.

And as I’m seeing where we’re going now, finally, we’re getting [better]. ‘Cause, you know, after [Lil’] Kim and Foxy [Brown], we really didn’t have no more females coming through like that, until Nicki came through. And now that we have it, all we’re doing is selling sex. And we’re losing the young girls who wanna be just like that. C’mon ladies, what are we doing? Let’s go with legs closed and pocketbooks open ‘cause it’s time for us to get back to the business.

It’s definitely a fine line because in many ways it’s powerful to see female artists owning their sexuality in their lyrics in a way that was previously taboo. I think of Megan Thee Stallion for example.

You can own your sexuality. When you talk about Megan – I have so much love for Holly, her mom. It’s cool to own your sexuality, but at what expense? Does it mean comprising who you are as a woman? You just gotta be mindful; we can sell things other ways. We don’t have to do it that way… Even if you give us a little bit of that [sexy] stuff, give us something else, too. Show us who you really are.

I feel like every interview I do, I end up talking about Jazmine Sullivan because I love her so much. She’s so freaking talented and so underrated because she’s not naked. She is talking some stuff, but she’s not unclothed. And there’s tons of women that are talented but [the industry] won’t let them through because of what they’re not doing.

And people say, “Oh, you let Nicki do this and you didn’t say anything.” But, it was still tasteful. The way she did things wasn’t as vulgar. And I would still be like, “Slow down with this. Slow down with that. This is what we’re not gonna do.”

Did you have any female role models when you were starting in the music business?

There wasn’t a whole lot because women ain’t really gonna open up doors for you. They become intimidated or they think you’re gonna take something from them. You know, the sooner we learn to stick together, the better off we’re gonna be.

I’m sure there were many times where you were the only woman at the meeting. What has it been like to work in a male-dominated industry and see how things are slowly starting to change?

People always say “male-dominated.” I constantly tell people this: Women are the head of the household. Play your position. We don’t get intimidated because there’s a man in the room; carry yourself right. You don’t have to worry about how your body is today, or the color of your skin, or what clothes you got on, or how your hair is done, or do you fit — do you belong. You’ve got to come in believing in yourself.

If we supported each other, you know how much further we’d be? You wouldn’t have to say it’s a “male-dominated” industry.

What’s a piece of advice you can give to women to not feel such intimidation around men in the industry?

I’m not gonna walk into a room full of men and be intimidated. It actually feels good that you can stand in a room with them and demand your respect. You have to teach them how to treat you. When you go in and you’re about your business, and they know you’re about your business, then you’re good. You just have to know your position sweetheart; you just have to know which way you’re going and be confident in what you’re doing.

So, you’re saying it’s a choice you have to make every day. To walk in with confidence and choose not to be intimidated.

You’ve got it, sweetie. I want to challenge women with that. Stop being intimidated. Change the narrative; we can switch that around. You know how much power we hold? And if you learn to be secure with you and the other women that’s around you, then you’re gonna be OK. I don’t care if you got a Birkin bag. I don't care about your waist being tiny. I like to call the bank and hear them numbers!

What challenges did you and Nicki face trying to bring her into the industry at that time?

What people don’t understand is I busted my behind. The only thing I wish she’d done is brought another female through. That’s the only thing I was always asking her: Bring one through. It’s so important to me that we are able to stand together and have unity. I don’t want us fighting. I always tell people, if I grab your hand and I pull you through, I don’t ever have to worry about falling because I have somebody with me who’s got my back. And if I bring multiple people up, which is what I was doing, then I’m always good.

It must have been doubly difficult since you were one of the few major female managers and you also were working to bring in a female rapper.

Oh, they shut her down. I remember one time somebody said she would never amount to nothing. I knew she was a star. She wanted to give up a couple of times and I’d cuss her out, and we’d go back and forth with each other. She did pay homage. She did look up to other people. But, how much did they want her to do that? She didn’t have it easy, and people don’t know the sacrifices she made and the struggles she went through. But, she was highly disciplined. And I’m telling you this right now, I have not ran into a woman yet that can even stand toe-to-toe with her as far as being disciplined. It’s hard for me, with women, because she set the bar for me so high.

Do you now find yourself looking for that level of discipline in your new artists?

I kind of look for that; I wanna see that. She deserved everything and more that she got. And nobody knew what was going on behind closed doors, what she was going through. And I wish more people knew that — that this is hard work, and you’ve gotta stay as hungry as that first day.

I remember when she walked across the stage at [the 2010] BET [Awards] and she won her first award. I was the first person to stand, and I clapped and tears rolled down my eyes, and I said, ‘My job is completed.’ When I went backstage, I hugged her and I said, ‘My job is finished baby.’ And she cried, too. I knew she could do it.

And now, being able to see her become a first-time mother…

That’s my industry grandbaby. Getting that call... That was the happiest moment for her. We talked about that — how she wanted to have children. There’s things that people don’t know — the old fashioned-ness about her. She’s got a lot of old-fashioned ways. And she struggled with religion, and everything with how she was and the things that she did... Nicki has a lot of old-fashioned morals. She wouldn’t have had children until she had a husband, and all these different things. I’m so proud of her, watching her become a mother and watching her grow even more now as a mother.

You were recently featured on “Hip Hop Uncovered.” What was that experience like?

Doing that documentary was so therapeutic for me. It was the best psychologist, psychiatrist, caseworker, or anything that I could’ve had. I got to open Pandora’s Box and relive some things, and I’m grateful to God that decades later I’m here to talk about it.

You’re currently running your Be100 Radio station for independent artists, and executive producing “Growing Up Hip Hop: Atlanta” and “Meet the Flockas.” What else are you working on?

I have some other little things that I can’t talk about yet, but I’m definitely coming back in because I’ve seen some female artists that I love, and they need to be brought in. They’re talking real stuff. They have bars. I’m ready now to come back.

With all the craziness of last year, what is your hope for 2021? What energy did you bring into this year?

To take my own advice. I’ma keep my own legs closed and my own pocketbook open (laughs)! My prediction for this year is there will be more women ready to do that and ready to get to the business, and there will be more women who want to work together. At the end of the day, we’re one body.

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