Qveen Herby: Recording Artist, Writer
Amy Noonan embodies the pervasive reach of hip-hop and R&B as well as anyone. Born and raised in Nebraska, a flyover state best known for corn production, Noonan fondly remembers growing up to Mariah Carey, Brandy and other ’90s heavyweights. An early affinity for their swaggering confidence would eventually resurface, fully formed, in her new artist project, Qveen Herby.
Empowerment has never been about a one-size-fits-all solution. For Herby, it all comes down to presence. Her music—towering, high-octane, unafraid—inherently helps amplify the female voice in a genre historically disposed to do the opposite. It feels good—regardless of gender—to hear an artist sound self-assured. That sentiment doubles for women. For the passive listener, 101 male options exist for an adrenaline-pumping boost of courage, whereas only a handful of women might come to mind. That should not hold true in 2018.
Progression and advancement sit at the heart of Herby’s mission, which made her a perfect fit for TRAKGIRL and Stem’s “The 7%.” The panel series kicked off in May to tackle music’s gender disparity. Before guests took their seats and conversations started to roll, Herby sat with Stem to discuss her journey through a notorious industry. She’s surfed a digital wave—from major label YouTube duo to independent solo act—and picked up key insights along the way.
At the end of our interview, Herby listed a group of female artists worth your attention, including Taylor Gordon, Maliibu Miitch, CupcakKe and Gifted Gab and Blimes Brixton. Spotlighting talent—in ways big and small—helps move the needle forward. In a world where one retweet can change careers, we all have an opportunity to help push seven percent to 50-plus. Stay tuned for more news from Stem about the second 7% event and read Qveen Herby’s interview below.
Between your involvement in The 7% and your own music, what mission guides you?
Empowering women is a huge part of my mission as Qveen Herby. When I stepped into my own as Herby, it felt like time for me to embrace my own power, my feminine power. Figuring that out creatively—especially in the genre of hip-hop, being a woman is a unique experience. A lot of girls need to see powerful women in these positions. I’m driven by it daily and I try to communicate that in my videos, in my lyrics.
Was it a natural transition, mentally, from Karmin to Qveen Herby?
It was definitely a process. I’d say it started when I was a little girl. I remember listening to my favorite singers in my room, pretending to be Brandy or Mariah Carey [Laughs]. It wasn’t until this year I was able to fully be myself. With Karmin, we signed a big, fat record deal. I was in my early 20s and I kind of just let things fly. We were so excited to have a job in music. I eventually realized you could set trends and influence the world through art, through how you carry yourself. That played a big role in deciding my name. Herby means warrior.
Have you ever felt uncomfortable as a woman in the music business?
The good news is, I’m self-made and independent. I’ve been with the major label system and I’m now independent and happy about that. I’m able to hire women and surround myself with powerful women in my career. Powerful men, or allies. But they’re all here for the Boss Bitch movement. I’m blessed for that.
I also have a few notes in my phone that I read to myself if I’m ever feeling weak or subjugated in a male-dominated industry. It’s kind of sad, sometimes, when you have to ask yourself whether to do a session because you’re worried the person wants to sleep with you. I’m married, so it’s easier for me.
Still absurd you have to check that box. What would you like to see from music companies or the school system to help push the 7% forward?
If you can put a woman on—not just because she’s a woman, but because she’s talented—do it. Cardi B changed the landscape of female rap with one song. It’s going to feel good to know you were a part of the change toward a better world. Female energy is creative and free. Those attributes are important.
There are women who grew up in their own homes being told they were inferior. Having to liberate yourself from that is hard. I make anthems—bad bitch songs. I remember being in Malaysia one time on a music trip. Everyone was wearing burkas and we had a meet & greet at a Sephora. Some of them were crying. Like, “Thank you for rapping, in my country we’re not allowed to do any of this.” It’s a big world.
When you first started getting interested in music, how did you perceive the industry? Were you struck by the gender imbalance when you began to break into it?
Maybe it’s because I was suppressing it, but I never felt threatened. I did think it was impossible to break into, though, and I definitely had that sense of being a sex object. When I realized that “sleep your way to the top” was a thing, I was worried about it. But I kept a man by my side—shoutout Nick.
The internet changed so much. Just put yourself out there, no one can tell you shit. I just put a bunch of videos up and people were like “I love you.” There are influxes of hatred, as well [Laughs]. But you need the hate. Words are just words. I have a song that tells a guy to not be a pussy, and a lot of women were like, “Wait, hold up, aren’t you part of the movement?” I’m just making light of something. Reclaim the word the way Amber Rose is reclaiming “slut.”
For men in the industry who want to continue stepping up, how can we help?
I came from a culture where I love getting flattered by men. But guys can do that while still being a good person. Also, recognize talent. Seven percent is embarrassing. We’re all here creating shit! Finally, don’t be sleazy. If you have sleazy friends, tell them. You can say, “Bro, don’t talk to her like that. She’s a human.”