We’re bringing you stories from women who are chasing their dreams and building a life that they love with New York Country Swag’s, “Woman of the Month”.
Each month, we highlight a different female pursuing her passions. Introducing you to women who are taking risks, working relentlessly, and turning their dreams into reality. These are empowering women who serve as role models and should be celebrated.
“I love music, I love songwriters, and I love that music makes the world go round”
Our first Woman of the Month for 2021 hails from the same hometown as our Managing Editor, Christina, on Long Island New York. Rakiyah Marshall now resides in Nashville but her inspiring story of finding her passion for music, moving to Nashville to pursue that passion, and taking a leap of faith to start her own business all started in New York.
Thinking back to her childhood, music was always playing in her home. Whether her mother was cleaning on a Sunday morning listening to gospel music, getting ready for a party and listening to reggae, or even listening to the country female powerhouses taking over the airwaves in the ’90s, the energy music brought to her household influenced her life. She attended Seton Hall in New Jersey for college and knew that she wanted to be involved in the entertainment world. She landed an internship at Republic Records at a crucial time for the label, when it was just beginning to expand and take off. She recalls watching major artists like Ariana Grande and Nelly walk through the office and seeing artists who weren’t huge yet, get their start with Republic. “I remember going back to my dorm and thinking to myself, ‘What world did I just walk in to and how do I stay in it’,” she recalls.
Marshall speaks so highly of her internship and what she learned there, explaining that after she graduated she asked if she can stay on, that she would help with whatever they needed at the time, and eventually that turned into a full-time job. She tells us that one summer a friend asked her to go to see Rascal Flatts at PNC Bank Arts Center in New Jersey and it was her very first time at a country concert. “I had never gone to a tailgate like that, so many people just in a parking lot out in a field, it felt like everyone was friends and family already, I never enjoyed a concert like I did that day.” She tells us after that show she really started digging into the newer country acts, learning to love the true storytelling aspect of the genre.
She made the move to Nashville and took a job working at BMG in publishing, helping to guide and work with songwriters like Lindsey Ell, Sean Stemaly, and Emily Landis. “The Music Row feeling, it’s one I don’t even know how to describe,” she tells us. “It’s a street filled with labels, publishers, PROS, and they are all located on one street, it’s magical and something that just does not exist in New York or Los Angeles, where it’s very corporate-driven and all high rises.” She quickly started to cherish the songwriter and the powerful energy that they brought to music city.
Like most people who work in the music industry, the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to pivot their strategies, sit down and figure out how they could use the slowed-down moments to their benefit. Marshall, who has always taken her own route in life decided that it was time for her to bet on herself, her talents, and confidently take a leap of faith and start her own company. After spending time watching cat videos on TikTok, she laughs, she tells us that she quickly realized that this new app was filled with untapped, unsigned yet very talented artists. After coming across Ashley Cooke, she knew she wanted to work with her. “My boyfriend, Seth England said ‘Why don’t you do it yourself? If you really believe in her, and she believes in you, you can start it together.’ It was scary to quit my corporate job in the middle of a pandemic, I had a lot of anxiety but I thought, there is no better time, I had time to think and strategize.”
England who is the CEO and partner at Big Loud Records also suggested the perfect name for her new venture and Back Blocks Music was born. “The term Back Blocks is because my dad and my family members say it a lot, when we are in traffic or trying to get somewhere fast, my dad will always say, “Take the back blocks”, and it’s basically his version of the dirt road”. Seth said to me, ‘Why don’t you call your company Back Blocks music? I have always found that you are a person that does really well at your job, you do it right, but you do it in your own way, you realize you can break artists too, but just in a different fashion’.”
Marshall also came across Lily Rose, on TikTok and she was instantly captivated by her. “I’ve never heard a voice like this, I’ve never heard a song written that way, she doesn’t look like anybody else, I am so curious and so I met her and I knew she was special, I gave her some strategies for TikTok and couple of weeks later, Villain was posted,” she tells us. The song skyrocketed, going viral and landing her a joint venture record deal with Back Blocks Music, Big Loud Records, and Republic Records.
With an exciting future ahead of her and her new company, we close out our conversation discussing the advice she would give to young girls looking to find their path in the music industry. “Internships are key. It changed my life, but also, the time you put into what you want to learn in those positions will change the rest. It’s ok not to know what you want to do, but there is no way to find out if you don’t try or work hard at it,” she explained. “I was always willing to do everything and anything to move to that next level and I think it really shows everyone above you, that you are ready to work. So that when it comes time for you to start your own company or work for someone else, that you feel you can bet on yourself and do it correctly because you had those tools before.”
In closing, she says, “As a female, confidence is key. We can do whatever we want and how we want to do it and be great at it. There is nothing that can stop us, not a man, not a corporation, nothing we are powerful and we are amazing.”