It was 2011 when we were first introduced to Love and Hip Hop, the VH1 hit show that many would say changed both reality TV and Hip Hop culture forever. Up until that point we had seen and experienced Hip Hop in a very polished, scripted, television or radio-ready way, and everything and everyone appeared untouchable. Some of the biggest names in Hip Hop were people that we revered and respected, partly because all we knew of them was within their music. With the exception of a few interviews where we got to see their expensive homes or find out their favorite foods, their private life was just that - private. And for many decades that was enough. We loved and respected their music, so for the most part we didn’t need to know who they were dating and what they were dealing with within their personal lives to the extent that we want to now. Any beefs they had were usually played out in their music. But what about the behind the scenes? As it relates to the artists, what about that time period when they were working on their next project or in-between hit records? What’s life like when they aren’t on top anymore, or when they’re trying to get to the next level? Generally, we wouldn’t hear from these artists until their next album hit the charts, which sometimes meant never again. Of course one of the perspectives centered around reality television is that the only people who appeared on these shows were has-beens whose careers were over and who needed to be part of drama to remain relevant. But why criticize someone, an artist who has paid their dues and who has not been able to move smoothly into today’s scene, who uses this platform that is viewed all over the world to revive their career and reconnect with people? That’s not fair. And then you have the women in their lives. Their wives, their girlfriends, and their not-so-girlfriends. When have we ever been able to hear from them? The so called “video vixens” were simply a tease to the men who viewed them in passing. Half of the time, we didn’t even know what they sounded like or their names, but they played an extremely important role in Hip Hop culture not just from a visual aspect, but because there was always this unspoken code when it came to rappers. The notion has always been that rappers deal with a lot of women. But these women were never heavily interviewed, etc. We only imagined the juicy stories they had to share. We finally got a glimpse into “their world” from Confessions of a Video Vixen, but that book didn’t quite put women who dealt with rappers in the best of light. Many argue that it didn’t touch on the purpose behind them doing what they did as much as it could of, and it certainly didn’t fully explore their dreams and their aspirations. Next you have the ride-or-dies. The women in these rapper’s lives who have held them down, but no one knows about them. They aren’t officially wives, but they certainly are an important part of these rappers’ lives. We often didn’t hear from these women because back then no one wanted to hear from someone who wasn’t an actual wife. That’s just the way it was. Then you have the actual wives. Often, they’ve dedicated their whole lives to supporting these men and have usually taken a backseat to their own success. Many of them actually have their own businesses, initiatives, etc. and for once through reality TV they would finally have a chance to shine. After you explore the lives of these artists and the people in their lives, there are even more stories to tell - the stories of the people on the business end. We are finally let inside of the life of the managers, promoters, etc. that are behind the success of these artists in a really big way. We see what it takes to be successful within the music industry when you aren’t the artist. And if you’re smart, you learn from that business aspect. Lastly, you have the upcoming artist who is trying to get on. We are introduced to them, we see their struggles as they try to make it, and they only have a little bit of time to make an impression on the world. What other opportunities are like that? The lack of transparency in the music business has made it hard for anyone to make it unless you meet the right people at the right time. This platform allows you to create your own way, and build your own following - and as we’ve seen recently with cast members topping the charts, it works. In essence, we get to see what everyone’s life looks like on the inside. What their meals look like, how they dress, how they talk, what they do for fun. Over time I bet there’s been at least one person you could identify with. Some would even say...reality TV is inspiring. Of course, the biggest problem people seem to have with reality TV is that they feel it exploits these individuals and promotes negativity and violence amongst a certain demographic. But if it was all love it would be boring, right? So of course you need the conflict to take you through the emotional rollercoaster of what it means to be in the business. The fact of the matter is that reality TV has become bigger than ever imagined and while you're on it, you are relevant. We have seen people go from no voice to being heard, from not being seen to being visible, from being disrespected to respected, from no music success to the top of the charts, from no or little money to millions of dollars, and from forgotten to made relevant again...all within a few episodes. Say what you want, but that is monumental enough to respect it. We get to see how these people love, how they talk in the most intimate and vulnerable way, how they relate to each other, and how they deal with the struggle of being inside of one of the biggest selling genres on the planet...Hip Hop. For some, reality TV is the difference between someone not knowing who you are, and everyone knowing who you are. Sure, you may argue that it’s nonsense, but through reality TV we are able to connect with these people that are in many ways, just like us. We learn what it takes to brand yourself, connect with the right people, show your personality, remain hungry and passionate, and earn the lifestyle that comes as a result of being successful and subsequently, making it.
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