Last night, broadcast journalist Soledad O'Brien interviewed rapper/actress Eve as part of a monthly series hosted by The XX Project, an invitation-only group of professional women in various media industries. Held at No. 8 in Chelsea, this event was the second installation in the Salon Sessions, a series of intimate, inspirational discussions with female role models and leaders of their respective industries.
With O'Brien as a facilitator, Eve discussed her staggering accomplishments in the face of a male-dominated industry and personal struggles. Between Women's History Month in March, the publication of Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In," O'Brien's departure from CNN, and the release of Eve's first album in a decade in a few weeks, it couldn't have come at a better time.
The XX Project was founded by Michelle Edgar, founder and executive director of Music Unites -- an organization providing music educational opportunities to underprivileged, inner-city school students -- as well as VP of business development for New Era Media & Marketing. "This was originally just an idea," she said by way of introduction. "I was like, 'You guys, I just want to throw a dinner party with fifteen of you. And there are eighty here today." Attendees included future participants in the Salon Sessions, including No. 8 proprietor and legendary nightclub owner Amy Sacco and ICM Partners' SVP of Concerts/Head of Contemporary Rock Marsha Vlasic.
Edgar reached out to O'Brien, a longtime role model and CEO of production company Starfish Media Group, to see if she was interested in an establishment supporting women's success in areas where they're otherwise underrepresented. From there, The XX Project grew naturally into a volunteer-based entity (proceeds from ticket sales go directly to O'Brien's philanthropic causes and Big Brothers Big Sisters, which tapped Eve as its official ambassador back in January). Edgar hopes it will continue to grow. If Tuesday night's turnout was any indication, The XX Project's future looks pretty secure.
Eve and O'Brien's easy rapport steered their conversation, starting with Eve's decision to release Lip Lock on her own label, FTR Music. "I grew up on a major label and other people made decisions and I was comfortable with that," she said. Eventually, after frustrating years of dealing with managers, producers, and label executives -- especially once Interscope started going the "dance route" -- she decided to "take a gamble" on herself. "I was like, 'I been in the game way too long to be giving up my stuff," she said. And though she recalls fondly her days as the Ruff Ryders' First Lady, Eve thought it was time to make an album without fifty guys behind her telling her what to do.
She remembered in particular one "very famous male rapper" (O'Brien attempted to get Eve to spill the beans: "Tell us! You can tell us! You have to tell us. Rhymes with... initials?") trying to give her advice when she released her first album, Let There Be Eve. "He called me the night my album came out and said, 'I'm just calling to say congratulations, but don't be disappointed if it doesn't sell more than a few hundred thousand copies. Most girls don't sell that much.'" The record has since sold two million copies and gone double platinum.
As O'Brien discovered, unfortunately there's not exactly a rap sisterhood either. "Do women like each other? Do they support each other?" she asked earnestly, to audience laughter. "I'm guessing from the answer is 'No!'" Before all the notorious Twitter beefs between Azealia Banks -- whom Eve, when prodded, said she'd like to collaborate with -- and Angel Haze, and the drama surrounding Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey on "American Idol," there was a bit of a misunderstanding between Eve and Lil' Kim.
"The first couple of times I saw her," Eve said, "I couldn't understand her attitude. But later, we sat down at a dinner I was like, 'You're amazing.' I think if all the craziness was pushed out the door and we all sat and talked to each other, everything would be fine." She didn't have another answer except to venture to say that men were pitting women in the industry against each other. At least there's her Grammy-winning collaboration with Gwen Stefani, "Blow Ya Mind", which remains a high-water mark for Eve.
She said, "That was one of those situations I fought for. It was only my second album, and here I am, this chick from the Ruff Ryder camp. They were like, 'How do you even know about Gwen Stefani? It's not going to work.' I was like, 'She is just like me. She's a white girl from Orange County who hangs with the boys. She's a tomboy and a girly-girl, and I'm the same way." If more women thought like that, Eve said, imagine how incredible it would be to get all the female names in hip-hop on the same bill.
There's no easy solution for women trying to navigate male-dominated industries, but The XX Project is doing a good job trying to find one. After O'Brien and Eve finished, Edgar took over the microphone and assembled her team behind her as one last thank-you. It was especially moving when she choked up while thanking her mother, as Eve had done a few minutes earlier, for being her original mentor.