If you look around the current hip-hop landscape, it is being increasingly propelled by powerhouses like Remy Ma and Cardi B as well as nascent talents like fellow Bronxite Ice Spice.
The rise of these women as on-stage supernovas is in concert with the rise of women as decision-makers, culture influencers and authorities, pushing the genre and culture of hip-hop into its golden anniversary this summer.
When women are given the microphone, stage or any opportunity to meaningfully contribute or shape their industry, “dope sh–t happens,” according to TT Torrez.
In 2021, Torrez, another Bronxite, became the first woman of color to hold the “VP/Artist and Label Relations” position at HOT 97.
In that role, Torrez acts as a “gatekeeper” of sorts, according to HOT 97’s biographical entry, by overseeing which music tracks are played on the station’s airwaves, managing day-to-day operations as music director and essentially being the face of the station as vice president.
Torrez is also using that role to keep the door — once shut or only left slightly ajar by an “old boys club” — open for women to be headliners and icons at a time when they are faced with the intensity of long-held stereotypes and misogyny that undercut their talents and accomplishments.
Torrez had a major hand in curating a lineup dominated by the women defining modern day hip-hop — including the aforementioned Cardi B and Ice Spice as well as GloRilla and Coi Leray — for Hot 97’s premier event Summer Jam on June 4 at Long Island’s UBS Arena.
“For as long as I’ve been in radio, going from different market to market, I’ve always been that girl who has been vocal on and off the microphone about women in hip-hop and telling our own stories and narratives,” she said. “From an executive side … there haven’t been a lot of women like me who have had these jobs, so it’s on me to continue promoting and elevating these stories.”
Born in the Bronx to a single mother and one of eight children, Torrez attributes her ability of multitasking and drive to her mom.
And her latest endeavor, a new interactive radio show titled “Tap In With TT” — weekdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — is the fulfillment of her dream to be a mentor and voice for other young women finding their path in the industry.
“For young girls listening, I want them to say, ‘hey, she’s pretty damn cool’ and ‘look at where she has come from to where she is now,'” Torrez told the Bronx Times in an interview. “It’s especially poignant at a time when female hip-hop artists have dominated the airwaves. I want to be an elevating force for women on all sides of the industry.”
Since its birth at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx, hip-hop has evolved from the DJ Herc breakbeats that originally defined it. After becoming the first female emcee of hip-hop in the 1970s, Sha-Rock was ordained as the “Mother of the Mic,” and most importantly a trailblazer in the genre.
According to the National Museum of African American History, hip-hop in the ’80s and early 2000s was navigated by women defining its transcendence into popular culture.
Pioneers like MC Lyte and Salt-N-Pepa, the first all-female rap group, provided a new template for women in hip-hop among a male-dominated genre. Further representation was fortified by the beautification of Lady Pink, the head-spinning clap-backs of Roxanne Shante and the crossover star power of Queen Latifah.
“Their rhymes matched their style, with frank lyrics about sex and men and a playfulness about both topics that demanded everyone dismantle stereotypes about Black women,” according to the museum.
For women like Torrez, Lil Kim’s raw, unapologetic lyricism and persona was a moment — dissatisfied with being footnotes in the industry — to see themselves driving the tone and conversation of the genre.
“(Lil Kim), that was kind of like my go-to moment. When I heard her, saw her visuals, I absolutely fell in love with her,” said Torrez. “Growing up at that time, idolizing and seeing all the dope stuff she was doing, I was falling in love with like the culture, the style, the deepness of her voice, the way she flowed in and out of records. The stories she told made me feel like hip-hop was for me.”
Torrez earned her first commercial gig, located in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the early aughts, and saw pathways into the profession as a radio personality paved by those before her.
Her advice for young women of color on the radio or in any industry is to “not allow anyone to silence your voice” and “be your own advocate.”
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes