|Rapper Nelly with video model in his Tip Drill music video|
By Brenda Alexander
The series aired in three parts and exposed the rise and fall of the video modeling world. It opens by detailing how curvier girls of black and brown shades were ushered in as rappers’ leading ladies during hip hop’s heyday of multi-million dollar productions to accompany and promote their music to the masses. Where singers could rely on their voices and choreography, record executives honed in on exotic features and hour glass frames to make their sells. The marketing plan was to showcase the opulence of the rags to riches – with male viewers envious of their favorite rapper’s arm candy and female viewers desiring to be the leading ladies of the wealthy. What execs didn’t anticipate was just how famous these leading ladies would become.
Models would bounce from video to video, often making just as much or even more than the rap stars. Why? Because, they were the main attraction. Rita Acosta boasted that she was paid as much as $10,000 per video. Imagine, three videos for a year at that rate and that equates to the average starting salary of a full-time job. Models were treated like gold on set with their own trailers, wardrobe stylists and more.
|Former Video Model Melyssa Ford covers KING Magazine|
With the addition of urban hip hop magazines like KING and Maxim, the same models became the cover girls thanks to a surplus of requests from readers. One journalist during that time commented on combing through thousands of letters with fans asking, “Who was the main girl in Jay Z’s video? We want to see her.”
If you think about it, this was no different than a white actress or model on the cover of Cosmopolitan where they were given multi-page spreads and interviews to give readers and fans an opportunity to get to know them better. This led to models becoming brands, selling calendars and merchandise and even hosting gigs.
However, things began to change when Internet streaming availability impacted money from record sales. Video budgets were cut from millions to low thousands, leaving record companies unable to afford movie-like theatrics and the actors that came with it. Southern rap was beginning to boom where strip culture was thriving and as Melyssa Ford put it,
“Casting directors realized they could get a regular girl from the strip club who aesthetically looked just like me, for a lot less money who was willing to do a lot more for the job and to become famous…even wearing close to nothing or nothing at all.”
Even former backup dancer Shane Johnson explained in an interview this past Spring that she hung up her dancing shoes after the emergence of video models, specifically strippers with Shane saying,
“The South had something to say during Hip Hop’s peak in the late 90s and early 2000s, and we weren’t down for that so I let it go.”
Video models were phased out and vixens were born. BET helped none with the creation of late night music videos rivaling soft porn showcased in UNCUT and the fallout from Nelly’s Tip Drill visual.
According to many of the earlier pioneers who turned a video cameo into other opportunities, there was always a certain level of misogyny in the lyrics and of course they’d get hit on, but they insist the artist and co were respectful and only did what was allowed to do. Melyssa Ford proclaims, “I was the QUEEN of no. I have a man to go home to and I’m here to do a job.” But, Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine “Superhead” Steffans changed that perception for not just the women, but also gave rappers who were once deemed respectful a gateway to being pigs.
We all know what the book detailed and even to this day, professionals involved in the industry are still pissed. Models were all typecasts as being “industry hoes” who were eager to sleep with rappers as their claim to fame. Not that these women didn’t exist prior, there will always be some willing to do whatever to get to where they desire. But, the book didn’t help and instead marginalized the culture as a whole and it did not separate Karrine’s story from the rest. It was widely assumed that all video models were the same.
If she were a man, the backlash wouldn’t have existed. Her being a black woman counted against her with black women shaming her and black men publicly denouncing her.
There’s no difference in Karrine Steffans turning her alleged sexcapades with wealthy rappers and the lifestyle it afforded her into a book and empire than Kris Jenner spearheading Kim Kardashian and co’s careers from Kim’s sextape – anyone who thinks otherwise lacks sense.
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What do you think about the docu-series’ exploration of video modeling?