“I do not navigate the world or music the same way a woman from outside of the Caribbean would,” Jennifer Mota tells Remezcla with zero pause over Zoom. This statement embodies the spirit of the badass public historian of dembow, content creator, and clothes designer from Philadelphia, PA, who is changing the music industry with her educational videos, music reporting, and production work, among many other projects.
Mota’s journey began in the hip-hop industry, where she learned the ins and outs of the music industry’s ecosystem. After a few years of working with and alongside artists, producers, and creators, she eventually immersed herself in covering a rhythm she loved beyond words: dembow.
From her bedroom, Mota shares the all-too-typical feeling of being “ni de aquí, ni de allá.” “I am always half-embraced everywhere I navigate,” she says, lifting an eyebrow. Mota is the woman who kick-started many important conversations about the impact of dembow in Latin America and Caribbean music, running the column “Si Tu Quiere Dembow” for Remezcla and at People en Español. Her articles on the genre created space for meaningful conversations about dembow, advocacy, and informative content creation about el movimiento in other spaces like Rolling Stone, Rapeton, and higher education.
Never to be missed in her work, Mota’s impactful journey as a Dominican woman in el movimiento is shaped by her unwavering commitment and deep love for her Caribbean identity. Her efforts have sparked dialogue around race, gender, class, and the diaspora within reggaeton. “We have been here, we have contributed, and we deserve to be recognized,” she adds, proudly clarifying that she identifies as a Caribbean and Dominican woman. Her innovative ideas, distinctive questions, and unique content have empowered many within the music industry to push past conventional boundaries.
For years, she has been carving out space for caribeñas, encouraging many to see what she’s known for a very long time: “Caribbeans have been the trendsetters and staples in the Latin urban music world.” We sat down with Mota, who spoke more on her journey as a Dominican woman in the music industry, her journalistic approach to hard conversations in the musical world, her love for dembow, and her jodona era.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
When was that one moment or turning point in which you felt you were in the right space?
My turning point had to be the first time I ever interviewed an artist as a baby journalist in Philadelphia. It was for RecPhilly’s first media day, and I interviewed the North-Philly Bori Peedi-Crakk. The State Property era was very special and impactful. To be able to interview someone from the diaspora who is also from an inner-city felt dope. It was a confirmation that my upbringing, experiences, music knowledge, and background uniquely tailored my approach to research, interviewing, and realistically understanding people. Since then, I’ve had an “I belong here” mentality in every room I step into. When imposter syndrome or racism tries to creep its way, I remind myself, “I belong here.” No matter what.
Why is the impact of Dominican women in the music industry important?
We bring a different perspective! I identify as a Caribbean woman, a Dominican woman, because my experiences and my culture are different from the ones that fall under Latinidad. I do not navigate the world or music the same way a woman from outside of the Caribbean would. Dominican women are important because we create so much. We have been here, we have contributed, and we deserve to be recognized. Caribbeans have been the trendsetters and staples in the Latin urban music world. I am excited for the next generation of Dominican women that will be taking on the work that I and other Caribbean women have started.
So often, we see people advancing in their careers or making “big moves” on social media, but we rarely hear or see those introspective moments in which a person considers quitting or transitioning. Did you ever have a moment like that?
I’ve had moments of desperation. Quitting may have crossed my mind for a few seconds, but existing creatively liberated the way I do my work. But being liberated comes with a price. I am not very well-liked in some spaces because I like to ask the hard questions that no one wants to ask. And, unfortunately, my ability to ask the hard questions has resulted in many lost opportunities. Because the industry begins to look at you as a problem for asking the hard questions.
Were there any mentors or other women that inspired or helped you get to where you are now?
Oh, yeah! When I see Dominican women in media and social discourse, like Zahira Kelly [known as Bad Dominicana on Twitter], Isabelia Hererra, Amanda Alcantara, and Marjua Estevez, it empowers me and my content. I feel seen with their writing, critiques, and existence. I can only hope that as I grow, I pour back into those women.
What’s one of the biggest hardships you’ve faced as a woman—or even as a Latina—in the music industry?
There’s different forms of violence that aren’t physical that play a major role in my emotional drainage at times. As a woman, a caribeña, and a freelancer, navigating the way I do with no cooperation or publisher backing me up means there is a lack of security or safety when I’m in public. There’s a level of disrespect and work erasure that happens to independent contractors. But by the music space being a “boys club,” it tends to erase the contributions of women to storytelling and music creation to a different level.
There’s also an over-sexualization that happens with caribeñas specifically that other women don’t experience, which makes our experience uncomfortable. Men in the industry create a culture of inferiority toward the women working alongside them. They create this culture of inadequacy by doing women “favors” and hoping we feel indebted to them. My generation of women—we are not accepting that. If you want to be an ally, great, create space. But I’m here, and I am going to progress regardless.
What’s one of your favorite parts of where you are now in your journey?
This is my jodona era, and I love it. I’m owning it. Embracing it. Women who are straightforward, tough, outspoken, have a “don’t play with my time or money” vibe, or women who have masculine energy are referred to as a jodona. I’ve been called jodona many times. It has such a negative connotation, but I’m embracing it. Yes, I’m jodona, ¿y qué pasó?
I’m also in a space where people are giving me flowers, and I can’t seem to get over that because everything I’ve ever done has been for the pure love of storytelling, our music, our people, and their journey. Throughout this evolution of mine, I’ve constantly been in survival mode and never really stopped to fully enjoy moments and be present. I’m working hard to be present now.
We’re seeing more and more women artists and music creatives speak out about how their work went unprotected or their trust was abused in the industry — what has been your perspective on this, if any? Is this something you’ve seen happen?
I have major trust issues because of this. And one example is, like I mentioned, I’m independently doing research in the hoods, in the clubs, in the studios, talking to people in the industry and the creatives themselves. My research is experiential; it’s qualitative! It’s been a tough journey witnessing and experiencing things that brought me to the facts that I’m the most outspoken about. I navigate unprotected, therefore seeing people using my work but not giving me credit is infuriating because that road was difficult, and I was met with a lot of resistance. My existence was met with resistance. I haven’t released research in almost three years because of it. But when I release my work, it will be on my terms. On the other hand, I see academics using my work and creating space for Dominican/Caribbean women like me. They use me as a source even, and I love that my work causes conversations and new ideologies. However, even in these academic spaces, I am still met with resistance because of academia’s elitism.
What do you feel can be done to make the music industry feel more safe and collective for women?
We need men to think about how they perpetuate the over-sexualization of women in studio culture. They should ask themselves, “Are you making this a pleasant experience for this woman?” “Am I dismissing her feedback on the song?” “Are you holding tracks hostage in order to fuel your ego?” Or, “Are you paying attention to actual talent, or are you only making space for women that fit your beauty standards and male gaze?” We need men in positions of power to make space for the next matatanas. We need more women in executive positions and production spaces.
We need more women in executive positions and production spaces.
But it’s not just men. Women can also affect each other’s journey or success. Can you explain why a crabs in a barrel mentality is harmful to women? There is a tendency of, when a woman gets ahead, other women may try to pull them right back down, based on the fact that society has often pitted us against each other or made us feel like there can “only be one.”
It’s unfortunate, and yes, this industry is so traumatizing and violent for women that it creates these crabs in a barrel mentality. I think we’re in a space and time where more women are making an effort, but it’s more than being a woman. It’s also ageism, intergenerational misunderstanding, animosity. It’s racial violence, and it’s political. If you can’t see how your race/ethnicity is more privileged than others, that is a problem. If you discriminate against women from other countries for their Spanish dialect and culture, that’s a problem. If you contribute to the systemic oppression that exists within U.S. Latin media and music, that’s a problem. We have to really think about the social responsibility we have as women in creative power.
What do you hope to personally change about the music industry, especially for the next generation of women in this space? Talk to us about your legacy of making space for others while on your journey.
I’m happy to know that many conversations I had alongside Katelina Eccleston [also known as Reggaeton con la Gata] shifted the culture in the industry. Being outspoken and calling things out for what they were created new jobs, created visibility and recognition for Black artists who are often forgotten. It also formed new approaches to how teams manage, market, and pitch their artists. When I think of the Dominican Republic, I get emotional knowing that this young chick from Philadelphia is the reason key power players began to create space and support Dominican dembow. I’m bringing awareness to the experiences and lack of understanding of the Dominican music ecosystem in a way that is contributing to this generation’s music structure. It’s a priceless feeling. I hope to continue storytelling and shed more light on creatives from la isla and the Caribbean. The bridges I’m building and connecting are my life’s work. To pour education, resources, and love into a culture that is often erased from music is my work.