The 21st century has introduced the world to a host of trailblazers who continue to defy stereotypes, break glass ceilings and raise the standards for what’s “acceptable” in the entertainment industry and beyond.

Unlabled a convo about labels in today's society

Join @ohyesMario and @DawnRichard live from the Power Stage at #EssenceFest

Posted by Essence on Friday, July 5, 2019

During the 2019 ESSENCE Festival presented by Coca-Cola, multi-talented entertainers Dawn Richard and Mario joined Coca-Cola Senior VP of National Retail Sales, Pam Stewart, for an honest conversation about what it means live a life and create art free of labels. The panel, appropriately titled “Unlabeled In Entertainment,” was one of several conversations that brought Diet Coke’s newest campaign “Unlabeled,” to life during the Festival’s 25th year celebration.

Dawn, who also hit the ESSENCE Fest stage as a performer in her hometown of New Orleans for the very first time this year, spoke candidly about feeling proud to be among the newest wave of Black women who are defying labels in music.

Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for ESSENCE)

“Especially being a Brown girl in the industry, we tend to get labeled and told that we have to be one specific thing in music,” she told the crowd. “And now, being an [independent] artist and with what technology has been and become, I reject, we reject, that narrative. We can be whatever we want to be. And you see so many beautiful, Black female artists coming out in pop, electronic, DJs, producers. Just across the board, really creating their own sound and their own wave and, I’m really proud to be a part of that group of women in the industry.”

As an artist who inked his first record deal when he was just 14-years-old, Mario says becoming an independent artist has helped him realize that true power and respect is in remaining authentic and creating art from the soul.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – JULY 05: Mario speaks at 2019 ESSENCE Festival Presented By Coca-Cola at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 05, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for ESSENCE)

“Now, being an independent artist myself, I understand the power of not putting labels on anything and just creating from the soul; being authentic,” he said. “That’s what’s going to preserve you in the end and ultimately, I think that’s what people respect, even if they don’t tell you that they respect it. It’s the thing that will grant you the power from God to really carry out your mission to whereas though now, you are the narrative of your own label.”

Check out the full conversation above and be sure to head back to for more of everything you missed from the 2019 ESSENCE Festival!


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