Two and a half weeks ago, Fadia Kader returned from a two-month trip to the Middle East with a renewed spirit and a suitcase full of swag: tiny jars filled with sand she'd collected from the foot of the Sphinx in Egypt, handmade daggers purchased in Syria, and a suitcase full of authentic keffiyehs.
No less tangible were the bloody, recurring images of the war that consumed Gaza during the last two weeks of her visit. Thanks to a steady diet of Al-Jazeera newscasts, horrific footage like the one of "a kid that had his brains and guts still spilling out" had been etched into her subconscious.
"Everywhere you turned, everybody had a TV on, be it in the little mom-and-pop store, be it the salon, at your cousin's house. It was everywhere," says Kader, who was born to Palestinian refugees in Kuwait and spent her early childhood in Jordan before moving to America. "The reality was constantly in your face. It was almost like a challenge, like, 'OK, you see what the hell is going on, now what are you gonna do about it?'"
So Kader decided to throw a party.
Her next monthly Broke & Boujee soiree at the Five Spot on Jan. 29 will flaunt a throwback theme – Make Love, Not War – and a portion of the door proceeds will benefit Gaza relief efforts overseen by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. She says it's her way to bring awareness to the "human crisis" in Gaza – where more civilians died than Hamas soldiers during Israel's three-week offensive – without getting too muddled in the politics surrounding the conflict.
Twenty-six-year-old Kader tends to get tangled in politics of a different nature. Last year, she waged her own resistance of sorts, against factions within Atlanta's up-and-coming hip-hop scene. Thus, her recent call to "make love, not war" could be intended for targets beyond the Middle East. It just might double as a resolution of peace aimed at her music scene peers, too.
If little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, Kader isn't the least bit interested in joining the club. One of her favorite quotes is from an interview Larry King conducted with Martha Stewart shortly after she was sentenced to serve five months in prison in 2004. "I wish I were just the nicest, nicest, nicest person on Earth. But I am a business person," Stewart was quoted saying. "If I were a man, no one would ever say that I was arrogant."
As the creator/promoter of the Broke & Boujee lifestyle parties that turned the city on its ear two years ago; manager of the Atlanta-based rap duo Proton; sometimes celebrity-stylist (who worked with Mariel Haenn on Q-Tip's recent album photo shoot); and all-around industry maven on the come up, Kader aspires to be that tough.
But she's also the same Fadia Kader who greets friends and associates with full-bodied hugs, prefers listening to the adult contemporary radio station B 98.5 over anything remotely hipster-related, and has filled one and a half journals with an ever-evolving list of things she wants in a man. So far, the list stretches to No. 450.
Girly has a soft side – a stamp-collecting, MTV's-"The Hills"-watching, snorts-uncontrollably-when-she-laughs-out-loud side. And sometimes, it really gets in the way of business. But mostly it just reminds her that she's still her mother's child.
Born the youngest of six brothers and sisters, Kader was only 6 years old when she saw her mother die. It happened one day as the two of them were walking home through the desert. Her mother had taken Kader to the doctor's office but forgotten to bring her wallet. On the trip back to retrieve it, she collapsed from what Kader believes was a combination of heat stroke and diabetes.
"It's interesting, 'cause I see myself in her," says Kader. "I look identical to her now. I saw pictures of her on this trip, and that's why this trip has been so good – because it's been such a closed case with my family. [They've always been] like, 'OK, it's enough that she saw her dead; we're not talking about her.' Nobody would tell me anything, and it's really important to know one's past."
As older family members filled in the missing pieces of her mother's life, Kader gained more insight. "She was overly generous and had a bleeding heart, and I'm such a sap," she says, recalling how she witnessed her mother endure burdens in life so hurtful that Kader prefers to keep the details private out of respect for her family. "She was just really strong and she put up with a lotta shit."
When Broke & Boujee earned a substantial plug in Urb magazine's annual Next 100 issue in 2008, some within the local scene considered it overkill -- especially since Kader had merely served as the innovator of the genre-bending, scenester club aesthetic started by Sloppy Seconds.
"Fadia used to come to Sloppy Seconds and she would watch from the sidelines," recalls Ian Ford, who collaborated with Ree de la Vega and Caleb Gauge to create Sloppy in its halcyon days before the original F'n Socialites split. In the aftermath, de la Vega and Ford lent their cache to Kader to help her kick off B&B, which spawned an ironic mix of Atlanta's black Hollywood and underground hip-hop cliques. "It was good timing. And it was at a point where me and Ree were so much on some 'fuck you' shit to Caleb that all our people that we used to encourage to go to Sloppy, we started saying, 'No, go to Broke & Boujee.' That's our shit now."
By then, Kader was already managing Proton after being introduced to them by de la Vega at a party at Gauge's house. The monthly B&B parties seemed like the perfect outlet to promote Proton. And B&B became the breeding ground for Atlanta's cultured hip-hop movement.
Then Hollyweerd happened.
When "Have You Ever Made Love to a Weirdo" hit locally in December 2007, it caught everyone by surprise – including the four members of Hollyweerd, most of whom had been pursuing separate careers before members Tuki and Dreamer met at B&B and the underground super-group launched. With Young Jeezy's former manager, Coach K, at the helm, the song soon generated spins on commercial radio stations Hot 107.9 and V-103.
Still in its infancy, the scene seemingly had an overnight success story in the works – plus a bit of an unspoken beef brewing.
"Honestly, my first thoughts were, they hadn't paid any dues," says Larry Baker of Proton, recalling how he felt about the members of Hollyweerd presuming that they should "be put in the same light." Whereas Proton had been evolving for nearly a decade, Hollyweerd was just beginning to define itself. But everyone recognized their potential.
"They were growing in front of our eyes, but it's like they were growing while looking at what other people were doing and taking elements of everything," says Kader, whose refusal to let Hollyweerd and other eager acts perform at Broke & Boujee led to what she felt was a bastardization of the blueprint she'd honed. Similarly themed showcases with the same lineups began to spring up almost weekly in the absence of B&B. It was a platform she'd popularized, but she couldn't patent it. "So I just had to completely disconnect for a while. It's like that tough love. Gotta let them do their own thing first."
While many looked to Kader as the unofficial mommy of the scene, Proton was still her first priority, which meant she had to look out for their best interest at the cost of all those Come Up Kids she had inadvertently raised. "With [Hollyweerd], they saw me as their homegirl and [thought] I should be doing the things I do for Proton for them," she says. "Of course, I'm gonna go for my artist first. It's a given, so either you accept it or you don't. And people didn't accept it, and no one's signed a year later."
As a little girl in Jordan, Kader used to play Monopoly with her cousin incessantly. Sometimes one game would last longer than a week. "He was three years older than me and he would beat the shit out of me, and that's how I got strong," she recalls. "That's how I learned business -- from playing Monopoly. Seriously, I learned how to hustle and negotiate all because of Monopoly."
After Kader's mom died, she came to the U.S. under a humanitarian visa to stay in Atlanta with a brother and sister, both of whom were barely out of high school. Over the next decade, she shifted back and forth between family in Tennessee, Atlanta and Kuwait. "Every time somebody would get engaged to get married, I got shipped off," says Kader, who still refers to herself as a gypsy because of the constant uprooting she endured as a child. It made her an "anti-social, social person," she says. "I would just be a loner, because I always had the defense that I was gonna move soon. I couldn't let anybody in too close."
In the process, she became a social chameleon of sorts, the kind that could hobnob with Buckhead Bettys during the day and hit up a 'hood-ass strip club with homies after dark. "I'm, like, stuck in two different worlds," she says. "I'm Middle Eastern Fadia, but I'm in a very segregated community that accepts me for how I look. Like, when I wear my hair straight, best believe Atlanta Peach [magazine] people think I'm a white girl with a good tan."
Desperate to reconnect with her own culture, Kader – a non-practicing Muslim – looked forward to taking the trip back home last November. But after arriving in Jordan, she noticed it wasn't quite like she remembered it from her previous trip seven years ago. "It was disappointing because it was so Westernized," she says. "Every single little teenage girl looks like Avril Lavigne. I mean the hair, black nail polish, extensions. I'm like, 'You have beautiful hair and you're putting in extensions?" With her naturally curly hair, Kader stuck out like a tourist. "They would all be like, 'Welcome, welcome. Come buy!'" And she'd respond in her native tongue, "'Shame on you, I speak Arabic,' or 'I'm a woman of the country,' and they'd be shocked. I don't know how Middle Eastern women carry themselves, but hell, I guess I don't carry it the same way they do."
If her family had its way, Kader would've gone to law school, and possibly be married with kids by now, living a more traditional lifestyle. Instead she graduated from Bauder College with a degree in fashion merchandising, and got bit by the music-industry bug while working her way through school as a waitress at Gladys Knight & Ron Winans' Chicken & Waffles downtown.
Last year, after putting B&B on hiatus and temporarily moving to New York, she flirted with the possibility of starting her own boutique record label. The more she increased Proton's profile, the more her name became synonymous with the next wave of rap stirring in Atlanta. At times, it became hard to distinguish who had the most star potential. "Motherfuckers don't even mention us without saying her name, and she hasn't rapped one goddamned lyric," Baker says jokingly. "That speaks volumes."
Still, navigating her way through the male-dominated industry proved challenging. Kader's driven, decisive style rubbed some the wrong way, and she began to earn a reputation for being a real B-word.
"Cats kinda look down on businesswomen behind the scenes," admits Ford, who still works closely with Kader as co-promoter and host of the revamped, 18-and-over Broke & Boujee parties that take place monthly at the Five Spot. "You could even say the same thing about Hannah Kang, [who] runs [T.I.'s label] Grand Hustle. Everybody calls her a bitch, but when I see her out and about I don't think she's being a bitch. I think she's getting the job done."
During her trip home, Kader hoped to reconcile the two extremes: her business side vs. her nurturing side. She met a woman on the bus ride back from Syria to Jordan who helped her re-evaluate her self-worth. "She was talking about just taking care of myself before I take care of anybody else," says Kader. "You can find happiness in so many other things, it doesn't just have to be in our accomplishments. And that's what I've been basing a lot of my happiness on in life."
Since Kader transformed B&B to an 18-and-up party last September, it lost a bit of its gravitational pull within the scene. But she hopes to address that with a monthly party planned for the Clermont Lounge called Friends with Benefits, featuring visuals by Dosa and DJ Apple Juice. Meanwhile, she hosts her first Broke & Boujee outside Atlanta, in Chicago on Feb. 5.
Since returning home to Atlanta, Kader seems at peace with herself and the scene she turned her back on last year. Both she and Proton – who ended a five-city tour last month – have a newfound appreciation for Hollyweerd after watching them develop over the past year. "I've had conversations with Proton and Fadia, and everyone realizes that the music scene is kinda bigger than us [individually]," says Dreamer. "In order for it to be what it is, we gotta coincide, 'cause us feuding against each other ain't gonna make the overall situation a success."
Kader's hopeful, too. "They loved me in '07, hated me in '08," she says. "I think we're coming together. I think 2009's going to be an amazing year for the scene."
But even her peace treaty comes with stipulations. She still believes that her approach to exploiting talent by focusing on one act at a time and allowing the love to trickle down as interest peaks is the best model for success. She makes a good point, too. The same approach worked last year in Chicago, and resulted in acts such as A-Trak, the Cool Kids and Kid Sister broadening their fan base beyond the city limits by coordinating their efforts.
No matter what happens, she might be wise to take the advice of promoter and friend Ian Ford, who has encouraged her to woman-up in '09.
"She's making stuff happen, I got a lotta respect for her because of that," he says. "She's a chick in the game making it happen, but she can't play that double-standard card ... 'cause people talk shit about me all day and I don't give a fuck. I just keep it moving. If you were a dude in this, you would just keep it moving. But because you're a girl, you're playing the girl card and you're like, 'But they talkin' bad,' and I'm like, 'Naw, naw, you gotta stand up, and you gotta boss up, and you gotta be that boss bitch.'"
Surely, Martha Stewart is somewhere nodding in agreement.
ooooohhhh, I'm so excited!! I can't wait to see them together!
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