Rapper Nelly with video model in his Tip Drill music video
By Brenda Alexander
After watching BET’s 30-minute digital docu-series “VIXEN,” I was left wondering: was video modeling a legitimate starting point for Hollywood hopefuls that could spearhead a dream career? And did the supposed tell-all ‘Confessions of a Video Vixen’ by Karrine Steffans change the narrative and perception of video models to hoes?
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.
Like many, I do not agree with Karrine Steffans seemingly exploiting herself and her lovers involved for profit. She knew what she was doing when she made the choice to release the book and continues to document her life in the same way for public consumption. Just recently she called out ‘Power’ star Rotimi on instagram over an alleged miscarriage. With the exception of maybe three people interviewed, she’s largely viewed as a sell out who put a negative connotation on an entire career. But there’s two things that cannot be denied as it relates to her:
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.
Amber Rose Annual SlutWalk
The final part of the documentary exploring Confessions of a Video Vixen brings to light the idea that the book could have been ahead of its time. We are in a time now where the black sexual feminist movement is on full display. With Amber Rose’s Annual SlutWalk using one’s sexuality and free choices as power and the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements where women, black and white, are speaking out against their alleged abusers, maybe Karrine would have been celebrated versus looked down upon. And, as a result, the association with video modeling, or being a Vixen, would not have been affected.
Regardless, I think it’s an interesting discussion. Because, prior to the book, although there were some videos who pushed the envelope with the clothing and dancing featured, women were not grouped together as all being one in the same. In fact, many of our favorite celebs started out as video models and were able to jumpstart their acting careers and more, think Claudia Jordan with her success in radio, and even some of our favorite men like Omari Hardwick who is now known most as Ghost on Power. Videos are not as common now, but the outcome could have been different had the world not assumed that every video model’s story coincided with Karrines. Not to mention that it was later discovered many of the recollections in her book were exaggerated and some flat out lies. It was unfair and unfortunate. However, what the documentary did succeed at showing was the many success stories of those who chose to go beyond being eye candy. Because as we know, physical beauty fades.
Watch it right here!
What do you think about the docu-series’ exploration of video modeling?