In an industry that is dominated by white men, veteran producer Rikki Hughes has paved the way for herself, tackling projects like BET’s Hip Hop Awards, VH1’s Mother’s Day special, Dear Mama, and so much more. These days Hughes has even taken on a new role as the showrunner for Comedy Central’s latest series, Hood Adjacent with James Davis.
Recently, EBONY.com sat down to chat with Hughes about what pulled her towards the entertainment industry, what she looks for when a project comes across her desk and what she wants to achieve next.
EBONY.com: Why was transitioning into the entertainment space; film and television to be specific, the natural move for you once you decided you wanted to move away from music?
Rikki Hughes: I ran the international department for a record label, so I had been spending time overseas, and I understood the trend that was coming with digital music and that the industry was going to have some trouble down the line. It was a natural progression because most of our talent had aspirations to move to film and TV. So, for me, it was a natural progression to be able to service them in that way and to have access to the talent already. That was in my wheelhouse.
With all of the different films and television shows today, there are still very few Black female producers in the entertainment space. Why do you think it’s so important for Black women to get involved behind the scenes in that way and to have that power when it comes to telling different sorts of stories?
One thing that’s really big for me is us being able to have a seat at the table to tell the stories. If you think about it, even just economically, right now women, disproportionately outspend males. Especially [in] the African-American community. So, it’s natural for me to want to speak from the vantage point of where I come from. Then, to recognize our buying power is enormous and it’s under-serviced and definitely under-recognized.
What would you suggest to anyone looking to get involved in projects as a producer?
I would say the first thing is really figuring out your point of view. It’s not just on the other side of the camera; it’s behind the camera as well. If you start with your point of view, no one can tell you better about yourself, or what you’ve become an expert at. So for me, the natural entry point is, if you’re an expert in cosmetology, if you’re an expert in trash collection, whatever it is, then you’re now this unique Black woman whose working in trash collection. You’ve got an entry point that no on else can speak to. So instead of saying, well, no one does this, think, I’m unique, and people want to hear about it. Find any stories that are really interesting that have moved you. Those are the ones that you can really hold onto. In this business, you can bring up an idea to someone, and they’re like, “Oh we were doing something like that.” Even if they weren’t, just so they don’t have to really speak to you about it. But, no one can speak to me about the Black female experience. A room of ten 65-year-old, non-Black men [can’t] tell me how it is to be a Black woman.
You’ve worked on a plethora of different projects, from the BET Hip-Hop Awards to Dave Chappelle’s stand-ups, Dear Mama and Katt Williams: It’s Pimpin’ Pimpin’. What was the most challenging project that you worked on thus far?
Two of them were equally challenging and incredibly rewarding. [With] Dear Mama I was pretty much the lead producer, the EP on the show. It was a new relationship with the network, and there wasn’t any model for the show. This is a show celebrating mothers; celebrities’ mothers. So you know, there’s a certain care that we have to take with the talent, and then take of their parents. There wasn’t necessarily a road map for it. It was challenging, but it was really interesting because we were able to kind of forge the way in that lane. So that was great. Then, with Dave Chappelle, Dave is such a private, insulated person. For him to say, “Hey, I trust you with my craft,” to me, is insurmountable. To be able to say, “I really have to craft this to make sure he’s in his best environment, for him to create, to do what he does it’s my job to provide that environment for him.” So that was definitely a challenge, but I was so happy and so excited to be a part of the project.
When different projects come across your desk, what is it that you look for, what is it that really prompts you to get involved and decide that you want to put your name in the fold?
For me, it’s the expectation of greatness. I have to feel that in every project that there is something great in it, where I can lend to the equation and feel like I can make it even better. So if I don’t feel like I can help or be engaged, then to me, at this stage in my career, it doesn’t make sense.
Your two latest projects are HBO’s All Def Comedy and Comedy Central’s new show, Hood Adjacent. What prompted you to get involved with those?
Hood Adjacent with James Davis is a show based on comedian James Davis’ life. I’ve known James for about 10 years. When he first got into stand up, I immediately noticed him and took him under my wing. I encouraged him to write. I encourage all my comedians to write, but I really saw a greatness in James and in his ability to write and to translate his thoughts onto paper. That is great in this industry because we don’t have so many of those voices. So [I] brought him on, he started writing for some of our awards shows and live specials, and I think it really kind of honed him into understanding himself as a business and not just a comic. Then it also, in turn, helped his comedy. So when it became time for him to have his own show, he called me to say, “Hey Rikki you understand, you get my voice I really need you to run this ship.” That’s when I came on as the showrunner for Hood Adjacent with James Davis. It is basically the middle-class Black male experience. He’s the guy that grew up not in the hood, but just near the hood. He has a single mom, but she’s also an attorney. He went to private school and got a golf scholarship for college. So his is such a unique perspective where he’s constantly falling on different sides of the fence. I think it’s beautiful to have a lane for him.
What about All Def ComedyI, which premieres this fall?
All Def is based on a night that we had in Los Angeles which was a really hip, cool, celebrity, comedy night. Russell Simmons got involved and then took over in the marketing and brought his brand to that night. Then, it started to feel a lot like a Def Comedy Jam, but this was a new incarnation. It’s really exciting to have some young fresh voices in a slightly different setting.
You’re wearing so many different hats now from showrunning to executive producing. What’s next for you?
I just want to continue to be able to tell the stories that really mean something to me as a mom, being married, to just being a business woman. More than anything, I want to put the images in front of us to make sure everyone knows that they can. Once we raise the possibility, then everyone else can keep striving for it. I want everyone to continue to push forward. Push me further than I want to go. Push me just a little further outside of my comfort zone, because for me that’s the only place we’ll both exist.
Hood Adjacent with James Davis airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Comedy Central. All Def Comedy returns to HBO this fall.