“I have this philosophy: No kneepads,” says Thembisa Mshaka,
author of Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your Entertainment Business. “You’re not a soccer player, you shouldn’t be bring your knee pads out at work. So we don’t want to get to the top on our backs or on our knees, we want to do this standing up.”

This is the straight no chaser type of statement you can expect from Mshaka on Friday, August 20, 2010 when she speaks at Youth Uprising (4-5:30pm) and then at Marcus Books (6:30 – 8pm) on the Bay Area leg of her book tour. After one conversation it is clear that Thembisa is not one to hold back when she feels passionately. She credits her time in Bay Area and attending the Alma Matter of Barbara Lee, Elaine Brown, and Kathleen Cleaver with empowering her to speak. At the age of 16, Mshaka moved to Oakland to attend Mills College. So while she was raised in the Los Angeles, she came of age in the Bay Area. “Oakland’s activist disposition definitely gave me permission to think critically and speak my mind and to express that creatively.”

Permission to speak freely and passionately translated into a commitment to make women’s voices heard in the hip-hop world and beyond. As editor of Gavin (a radio trade publication that was based in San Francisco) she put Yo-Yo and Lady of Rage on the cover and ran specials on women in the
entertainment industry. “I’ve been amplifying women’s voices in the entertainment industry really since I started,” says Mshaka.

Her newest vehicle to bring attention to women in the entertainment industry is Put Your Dreams First where she addresses some of the differences between men and women on the scene. “I think one of the main differences is that our career trajectories tend to hinge upon sexuality and looks more so than our male counterparts,” noting that many women start to think that the only way to advance is to use their bodies and compromise themselves sexually and psychologically. But Mshaka knows otherwise. The list of male hip-hop and R&B stars she has worked with is extensive and includes 50 Cent, Wyclef, Maxwell, Jagged Edge, and Nas.  “I’ve never had to compromise myself in any of these situations because I knew to draw the boundary and I knew that wasn’t the way
to get respect,” she emphasizes.

Another issue she tackles through Put Your Dreams First is the lack of mentorship for women in the industry. Early in her research for the book, Mshaka found that 80 percent of her respondents did not have a mentor. Whether the lack was due to insecurity about sharing information or the economy and changing landscape of the field, Mshaka saw it as a problem she could help remedy. In addition to advice from folks in publishing, publicity, make-up artistry and the likes, the book includes resource guide of organizations, conferences, and websites for anyone trying to make their industry dreams come true. “[The responses] prompted me to create a tool that could serve as mentorship in a bottle for women and men, but primarily for women who are interested in the entertainment industry.”

However, Put Your Dreams First is not a ladies only guide. While the stories may give men some insight on the sexism that takes place in the industry and even make men examine their own actions, the book is packed with valuable information for anyone trying to make it. “There is conversation about obstacles that women encounter based on gender. But it’s not a recurring theme of the book,” explains Mshaka. “If anything the recurring theme is that it took something monumental to happen in their careers whether it was a high or rock bottom for them to realize that they had been standing in their own way more than anyone else.”