Pauline Duarte is a trailblazer. At the age of 37, she was appointed to run Def Jam Recordings France, a subsidiary of the legendary Hip Hop label from New York. In July 2020, she became the Director at Epic Records, a record label owned by Sony Music Entertainment.
Published on 13.11.2020
“Rap is beyond entertainment”
Since her childhood, she knew the rap industry was her calling. “I always felt that the music is in my blood. I’ve been immersed in rap all my life… At the end of my internship at Sony Music, I received a job offer. At that time, I was supposed to continue my business school. In the end, I decided to take the offer and never regretted the decision.”
When she joined the industry, she instantly felt home. “I witnessed the rap movement blossom. Rap is beyond entertainment. They express the real social issues that we are living through.” She cites her brother Stomy Bugsy, a successful rapper, as a major influence in her life. “I am lucky to have a brother who is a singer. I know that when an artist gives me their album to work on, it is like giving me their life. I know I can’t let them down and I do everything to achieve the goal. I think that’s why artists trust me so much.”
Over the last two decades, the record chief has seen the challenges experienced and overcome by her industry. “I started my career in 2003 when the industry was experiencing a huge crisis. People were illegally downloading the albums and stealing music online.” Today, she believes that the digital transition was ultimately a force for good. Despite concerns for fair remuneration for artists and copyright infringements, “the digital economy has brought artists much more revenue compared to history and transformed the lives of many artists. Look back at history, the digitalization has saved the music industry.”
Breaking the glass ceiling
Duarte may be an emblematic figure in the rap and hip hop industry, but her journey was not straight forward. Lower pay, less opportunities, no role models – back in the early 2000s, the rap industry was far from an inclusive environment for female professionals. She recalls one meeting where 80 per cent of participants were male – she could feel her self-confidence shrink.
This is why she decided to take a leadership course. “My leadership coach encouraged me a lot. She told me that I was chosen because of who I am, and that I should be proud of my achievements.”
Duarte recognizes that the industry has come a long way. “There are always places for women including key positions. In the beginning, rap was a movement carried by men. In the early 1990s female rappers started to appear. Since then, more and more women are claiming their space. The respect to women is always there in the rap community.”
Today, Duarte exudes confidence. “When I got my first management position, people saw me as a role model because there were not so many women in this position, especially black women. I had struggled and worked hard for it for 15 years. I have earned it.”
Towards the next decade of female leadership
After two decades, Duarte’s passion for rap knows no bounds. “I love everything I do. The work is dynamic and continuously evolving. It brings diverse artists together. I never do the same things.” To Duarte, her passion and profession are indistinguishable.
“Passion is essential. There are continuous daily exchanges with artists, which demands a huge investment of time and efforts. Work with your full passion, or you will quickly exhaust yourself.”
While she continues to grow her international and local portfolio – Travis Scott, Future, Dj Khaled, Ronisia and Gazo to name a few – she has also started to focus on the women following her footsteps. This year, Duarte joined the mentorship programme MEWEM that helps young women create their own music labels. “All women have the capacity to lead. But most of the time, women are used to hiding their leadership skills to fit to social stereotypes. We need to know that there are trainings and coaches who can help us. We need the training and the chance to practice. It is important to change the stereotypes on women from the young age. We should empower little girls through education.”
With tireless dedication and bottomless passion, Duarte continues to forge paths for women in rap and music.