TRIGGER WARNING: The following content contains subjects surrounding sexual assault. If you are sensitive to these topics, this article may not be for you. Reader discretion advised.
Three years after the ‘Me Too’ movement rocked headlines, former A&R director – Drew Dixon recounts her battle with the male gaze in the music industry and the apprehension of telling her story.
I relate to Drew Dixon a lot. She had big dreams and a bigger work ethic to support her as she dived head first into the music industry during the early 90s. After candidly showing the camera a mixtape made by the Notorious B.I.G (one of the biggest rappers in the world at the time) she goes into detail about her musical background. Her mother was a fan of Billie Holliday, remembering how she would line up her mother’s records on her living room floor and listen to them on repeat. Music was in her blood, in her soul and after discovering Hip Hop, Dixon had found her calling and began to work in A&R (Artists and Repertoire). Her desire to hustle was admirable, as she worked her way up from answering the phone at labels like Warner and Zombie Records, to directing A&R at the infamous Def Jam records.
Founded in 1984, Def Jam is one of the leading record companies in the industry. Not only did they produce some of the biggest names in Hip Hop, they continue to support household artists today with the likes of Big Sean, Two Chains, Kanye West and Justin Bieber among their extensive clientele.
To say that Drew Dixon was an active influence in the company was an understatement. She was a hardworking member at the forefront of the label in the early 90s, arranging tracks from Aretha Franklin’s ‘A Rose is still a Rose’ and Mary J. Blige’s and Method’s ‘You’re all I Need’. These tracks weren’t big, they were huge, with ‘You’re all I need’ reaching Billboard’s No.1 spot in the Hot R&B and Hip Hop category in 1995. The success of the track skyrocketed Drew Dixon’s career, and earned her a lot of attention from industry personnel. 1995 would certainly be a year for her to remember, but sadly not for all the right reasons.
Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen were the faces behind Def Jam, and known for their explicit requests and sexual harassment towards women. When Dixon first started out at the record label, she was confronted by Cohen who branded her as one of Simmon’s “skinny bitches“. He advised her that if she saw Cohen around the office, she should avoid him, implicating that Dixon was an object of Simmon’s desire. Dixon was simply there to do her job and took Cohen’s words with a pinch of salt, unaware of Simmon’s true colours.
Before and after the success of Dixon at Def Jam, the unwanted attention from the music mogul began to surface. He made sexual advances towards her weekly and Dixon recalls her having to tame him like a “tragic A.D.D puppy dog“, seeing his advances as harmless and unlikely to spread. On her way home one night, Drew walks by Simmon’s apartment who offers to call her a car. She waits in his apartment and whilst doing so, Simmon’s claims to have a CD in his soundsystem in which he’d like her to hear. Dixon herself explained that something like this was “catnip“, music to her ears (literally). She was business orientated and had a lust for the next big thing in music. But as she attempts to find the track in Simmon’s bedroom, things take a turn for the worse.
Dixon remembers feeling “reduced to nothing’“. She showered in her clothes that night. The act of sexual assault is one thing and the aftermath is another. It’s a flame that burns constantly as more women find the strength to tell their stories. On the contrary, people’s reactions to Dixon’s story weren’t always of a positive nature.
‘On the record’ was made by Academy Award nominees – Amy Zierling and Kirby Dick. As it hit its breakthrough, more women started to speak out on their perspective of what it’s like to be sexually assaulted as a woman of colour. It’s a thought that hadn’t crossed my mind until it was explained to me (in such a profound way) in ‘On the record’ . The creator of the MeToo movement – Tarana Burke, highlighted the stigma that “black women have a duty to protect Black men” in every way possible. So for a survivor of sexual assault to speak out about her experience would go against the “race loyalty” found in Black communities today. It’s a horrific thought, yet an understandable one. From slavery to the Civil Rights movement, it’s clear to see that Black people, Black men especially, have been and continue to be targets of the law. To put a Black man in a position where they become even more victimised by the law, a law that is already set out to oppress them, is unheard of. It’s shocking how many women in all industries and walks of life thought this in 1995. And perhaps even to this day.
Dixon was convinced that she would never be “that person”. Misogyny still continues to plague the music and film industry with many hits created by people of all races that depict women as sexual objects. But the reality of this is that these were hits, and hits sell. Dixon, like many others, thought that this behaviour was part of the culture; sexualising women was the language of the entertainment industry.
Dixon moved onto another label, teaming up with L.A Reid and becoming a Vice President of A&R at Arista Records. What Dixon didn’t know was that she’d jumped from one sinking ship to another, as Dixon claimed that L.A Reid refused to see clients she brought in because she denied his sexual advances. Again, Dixon’s smell for success is proven, as two of the clients that L.A Reid refused to see went on to become huge names in the music industry. John Legend and Kanye West to be exact.
This was the breaking point for Dixon. Enough was enough and she abandoned her dreams of pursuing music in an attempt to close the door on her sexual assault in the process. It was screenwriter and actress – Jenny Lummets that played a part in breaking Dixon’s silence, 22 years later. After her recount of her sexual assault from Russell Simmons, hope was planted in Dixon’s mind and she agreed to speak to the New York Times about her assault.
This choice was nothing more than an act of bravery and took immense courage. So much so, that other women who had also been assaulted by Simmons and L.A Reid began to speak out. Both men denied the claims and refused to participate in ‘On the Record’.
As Dixon begins anew, she is left feeling like her life would’ve been shattered without the MeToo movement. We can argue, debate and retort the reasons why women wait 22 years or however long to speak up about their assault. We can victim shame and brand these women as liars and attention seekers without even taking one second to absorb their words and offer them the empathy they have been denied for decades. Or…we could listen. We could accept history as it was; a cage for women, that sought out to arrest female voices and keep them away from power and success. Dixon was a creditable worker, yet she had to be subdued to sexual violence to retain her respect.
Women have been trained to be silent and submissive for centuries. Acknowledging women like Dixon will allow us to have a better understanding of the treatment of women in the world today. It will pave the way towards breaking the status quo, and making sure no woman is only rewarded respect by giving into sexual favours.
Words By Angelica Gayle
Disclaimer- all images used within this article have been sourced from ‘On The Record‘s press release and Google. Ragged Culture Publishing Ltd. does not own the copyright to the images within this article. All rights reserved.