The music industry stretches far beyond what we see or hear about on a base level, like the artists and their managers. There are countless people behind each big name, from marketing teams to booking agents, publicists to record label upstarts. There are countless unsung heroes, and while many of them – particularly within the history of hip-hop – are male, there are many females who’ve played incredibly integral roles in the development of artists, of the inner workings of radio and music television, in the backstories of your favourite artists, albums and songs.
One of these women is Fiona Bloom, a British-born New York resident who was a core figure in underground hip-hop for the better part of two decades. Born across the road from Abbey Road Studios in London, Bloom’s involvement in music began from the very start. Today, she runs successful publicity agency The Bloom Effect, championing a diverse and dynamic variety of artists from across the musical globe. Previously, she played an integral role in the development of many well known and highly revered hip-hop artists, both as a publicist and founder of both 3-2-1 Records and Sub Verse, co-founded alongside Bigg Jus (Company Flow) and investor Peter Lupoff. In it’s short but fruitful existence, Sub Verse released music from the likes of MF DOOM, Blackalicious, KMD and more.
In a new series on Howl & Echoes, we’re going to delve into the history and impact of women throughout the hip-hop industry and beyond. We wanted to know more about Fiona and her experiences, so we asked her to share a few facts about herself and her life.
- Fiona did the voice-over for the entire MTV Video Music Awards in 1999, which was hosted by Chris Rock. This event featured performances from a now-legendary selection of artists, including Britney Spears and ‘NSYNC, Eminem with Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg, David Bowie introducing Lauryn Hill – who had only released Miseducation a year earlier and more. Ever wondered who reads out the award categories, the nominee names, and all other voice overs? Wonder no more.
- Bloom also ran her own radio show, World Party on WRFG 89.3FM in Atlanta, Georgia. Among her many interviews, including Ru Paul, The Pharcyde, OutKast, Fat Joe, Organized Noize, Del and Souls of Mischief, she recalls one particularly special interview with George Clinton, who was getting high on something he said to be eucalyptus. Fiona joined in, saying, “He literally took a wad out his nose and I stuck it up mine. What the hell was I thinking…” Although you can’t actually get a high off eucalyptus, it gave Fiona a rush, describing it as “very potent – the type of stuff you’d rub on your skin when you have a sunburn.”
- Liner credits may not be as revered these days, considering that physical copies of albums are fewer and farther between every year. Yet they’ve often served as an incredible addendum to albums, especially hip-hop records with lyric sleeves. Fiona is credited on one of Atlanta’s greatest albums ever – OutKast’s groundbreaking debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Admittedly she was accidentally credited as “Fionna,” but it’s there. The story behind this is that Fiona broke breakout single Player’s Ball on Atlanta radio. They went so far as to play at her farewell party when she moved from Atlanta to New York City. Her party was held at nightclub Just Jazz, and also included guests like Ludacris, Pebbles, Dallas Austin, ex-Mayor Bill Campbell and more. OutKast and Xscape both performed, while Lil Jon was on DJ duties.
- Fiona has an interesting history with MF DOOM, one of the most important, not to mention mysterious figures in underground hip-hop to this day. DOOM joined her label Sub Verse when former Fondle’Em closed. Robert “Bobbito” Garcia of Fondle’Em had discovered and signed DOOM and put out both Operation: Doomsday and his previous group KMD’s Black Bastards, but they hadn’t made much noise due to a lack of promotion or budget. Sub Verse re-released a re-mastered version of Operation: Doomsday. Sub Verse gave him a “hefty” advance and worked hard on promotions, “so he was super happy and we put him on the map!” Fiona also recalls playing his early work to music executive Steve Stoute, who has worked in executive roles across Interscope and Sony. “Ah you’re messing with that underground shit,” he told her. Fiona also may have been the first person to see DOOM’s face, behind his metal mask. “I was sworn to secrecy,” she says.
- Fiona produced the late, great Phife Dawg’s first solo performance after A Tribe Called Quest parted ways. The show took place at the Knitting Factory in 2002, two years after his solo album Ventilation: Da LP in 2000.
- Another game-changing show produced by Fiona was Minnesota duo Atmosphere’s first ever performance in New York City, at Downtime club for CMJ in late 1999 or 2000. Along with others, the group went on to form one of the most outstanding underground labels, Rhymesayers, whom Fiona took to Austin for their first SXSW showcase in 1999, during which Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Soul Position, and P.O.S. among others performed. The beloved label, also based in Minnesota, have an incredible roster also featuring Aesop Rock (and his collaborative groups including The Uncluded and Hail Mary Mallon), Brother Ali, MF DOOM, Soul Position and more.
- Fact: Fiona is mentioned in a compilation book about Madonna, published in 1993. Check it out:
- One of her more interesting roles as a publicist was as the representative of Game Recordings (who worked with Royca Da 5’9” and Sean Price among others) and their infamous Hip Hop Honeys at MIDEM, one of, if not the most important international trade fair for the music industry, which takes places annually in Cannes, France. “It practically got me banned,” she recalls. “You can only imagine scantily clad girls at the exhibition stand and hall in a super serious music biz conference!”
- Fiona recalls being called in by Jay-Z’s Rocafella when they were searching for new publicists. Of course she said yes – it’s an incredible opportunity for anybody (not to mention the chance to meet Jay-Z, right?) “It was the longest day of my life, she says. “They literally had us publicists all waiting in one room for hours, it was like a cattle call. Jay-Z was there, I saw him briefly, but the funny thing is the entire roster came through to meet me and shake hands and chill. It was super uncomfortable, not the fondest memory.” So many “hot shot” publicists were made to wait for hours, and some even walked out before their interview.
- After playing his first album, Represent back in 1993, Fiona brought Fat Joe out to Atlanta. As a Bronx MC, “nobody really gave him love in Atlanta” until then. His debut single Flow Joe topped the Billboard rap singles charts, and Fiona brought him over, produced his concert and had him speak on the radio.