There’s never any warning when an era ends, it’s a silent murder silenced by the screaming birth of a new age. Progression isn’t chained to any moment, it doesn’t indulge in the past, it's purely devoted to tomorrow. What once was now only remembered when rendezvousing with nostalgia. It could be a scrap book of photos, binging YouTube videos, or simply reminiscing with a friend that will take you back, suddenly spotting the changes, aware of what was commonplace and now missing.
This weekend a phone call triggered a trip to the early 2000s, a decade that will be remembered for hip-hop’s invasion into mainstream pop culture. The influence was undeniable, jeans were baggy, shirts were tall, and grammar was country. The times were richer, rappers could yawn and obtain plaques of gold. Platinum wasn’t a struggle to obtain. Budgets for videos were worth more than homes in the Valley and Hype Williams was the director that embodied extravagance. He escalated the idea of cinema, cemented the essence of cool, you became a giant if captured in his fisheye lens. What sent me spiraling down the rabbit hole wasn’t the fashion, the rappers, or the directors. It was one term, something I haven’t heard in years, video vixen.
They were the Greek goddesses of my adolescence. When I was 11, 12, 13, these were our fantasy women, the ideals we were afterschooled on by B.E.T and MTV. We found them on the cover of King, when unwrapping eye candy, but it all stemmed from those videos. They gave us a glimpse at women with eyes full of heartbreaking lust and cleavage from heaven. The kind of women that inspire cold showers and skipped heartbeats. I never wanted a Playboy or a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition after seeing Ester Baxter in "Shake Ya Tailfeather." Having gorgeous women entrance an audience wasn’t anything new, 2 Live Crew introduced and perfected the concept in hip-hop in the controversial “Me So Horny” uncut video, but MTV heart couldn’t take the lewd lyrics juxtaposed with gyrating G-strings so another version had to be shot. And so the women were just extras, nameless bodies. By the early 2000s, though, the video girl was a centerpiece, seizing her shine in the spotlight right next to the rappers.
Melyssa Ford is a prime example of the era of vixens and the kind of money and rewards that an acclaimed video model was able to accumulate after achieving recognition. Before becoming a figure that caused men to drool profusely, she was a bartender that was discovered by director X. Through him she entered the industry, during her popularity and the prosperous climate she was making $4,000 per day on two day video shoots. No amount of bartending tips could rival that amount of cash. Not only good money but exotic trips to islands and parties, perks of being included in videos like Sisqo’s seductive “Thong Song,” Jay’s black casted Titanic “Big Pimpin” and Usher’s immortal hit “Yeah.” She was only featured in 20 videos throughout a five year span. There wasn’t any pressure to work, she could live lavishly without worry, she was a household name. It was good money then, a lifestyle, one not experienced by men. I can't find exact figures, but models like Vida Gerra, Stacy Dash, Esther Baxter, Buffy The Body and Lauren London likely made a nice amount. They were all are women you saw regularly, rotating through seemingly every video, leading ladies, “it” girls that weren’t easily replaced.
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No video vixen did it quite like Karrine Steffans, better known as Superhead. The former wife of Kool G Rap was the one vixen that the industry wasn’t ready for. She got her break in Jay’s “Hey Papi” back in 1999, two years after Melyssa Ford. She was only 21, stunning, and living within a bacchanal bubble of money, drugs, sex and celebrities. No one expected her to turn her debauchery into a media takeout novel that detailed her wildest encounters. It was snapshots of the rich and famous that was never supposed to leave the bedroom, easily one of the biggest scandals to ever shake the culture. Her name was dragged through the mud, but she was unphased. The book was her ticket out of one industry into another, a true hustler whose talons would pierce any heart to reach the mountain top. It feels like this was where the perception started to change, they were no longer models, but video hoes that were sleeping with rappers to begin careers. Modeling and acting were opportunities that opened for vixens but now the public was questioning why.
While the early 2000s were the Golden Era for video vixens, in retrospect the end of the decade was the closing bell. The internet and the recession hit the industry like the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. It changed the landscape, killing the old regime, and adjustments had to be made. Music video budgets were slashed like the tires of any man that cheated on Jasmin Sullivan. Hype Williams went from exotic islands to green screen studios. Dented pockets couldn’t afford the luxury of paying high profile models their outrageous fees. It opened the door for the lesser known to steal some spotlight for half the price. It’s like many creative fields, there’s always someone willing to do more for less. I wouldn’t be surprised if “exposure” was offered instead of currency. The image of video vixens was once again tarnished when Game slung mud on his “Never Get Far” single. It’s as if he channeled Karrine’s petty and went rampant. Never afraid to name drop, everyone from Vida to Hoopz caught a vocal bullet. The golden trophies of the rap industry were melted down and reveled as bronze welcome mates to be stepped on. If we can point to any one moment as the end of an era, this is it.
The last big video vixen powwow is likely Drake’s “Best I Ever Had.” Kanye’s directorial debut with another artist, Drake’s breakout hit, expectations were high enough to become a star constellation. I believe this video was an attempt to visually capture Sports Illustrated meets King Magazine. He created a basketball team with the skimpiest jerseys and chose Rosa Acosta, Sofia Marie, Shakur, Ms. Cat, and Xtine Noel to be his starting five. A majority of the video is sweaty stretching and promiscuous poses. Rosa does a spilt that will give your grandfather more life than a Viagra pill. The backlash was immense, Drake didn’t slide a credit card through any butt cracks, but he might as well. All those high profile video girls, and for what? We were in a new era. Instead of bodacious beauties in music videos the new infatuation became Tumblr girls and Instagram models. The Twerk Team created a following without a big budget set, Taz Angels stole hearts with selfies, and Kim Kardashian is doing whatever she does that causes men to holler. The oogling has been spread across the internet; in 2015 using rap videos as your main source of eye candy is like using actual maps as your main source of navigation.
There hasn’t been an “It” girl in a while, that face you recognize that’s a must have for all the big hits. The girls are still gorgeous, but they don’t have that same charisma, show stealers, they tend to fall into the background. Draya Michele might be the last video vixen to break through into the mainstream. She came into music videos (Pleasure P’s “Under,” The-Dream’s “Walking On The Moon,” Fabulous’ “When The Money Goes”) in early 2009 and somehow has finessed her way onto BasketBall Wives LA, a reality show that did more for her than standing next to any rapper.
It’s the end of an era. When the budget fell and the scandal rose the girls suffered. Who wants to be underpaid and underappreciated in a rap video when you can be famous without leaving your home? There’s more money in social media than what could be made on set, serious product endorsement dollars earned without ever stepping foot on a music video set. The smartest and most ambitious vixens parlayed their rap appearances into bigger and better lives, but for many it was a pinnacle, an ultimate achievement for those looking to bring in dollars via a bat of the eyelashes and a shake of the tailfeathers. Better than porn, less dirty than stripping, and probably more rewarding than a weekly shift at Hooters, the allure of fame. The women were the added allure that made the music videos look like fantasies. They were in an alternate reality that could only be reached with a record deal, a reward to be hung on the wall next to a platinum plague. Now, the girl I follow on Instagram might be in the next JAY Z video - I probably won’t recognize her without the filter.
The older me doesn't know if this is a step forward or backward, but I do know the era that raised me, BET video surveillance hoping to catch a glimpse of Melyssa Ford, is dead and buried, and I'm only just now realizing I missed the funeral. Consider this a belated eulogy then, given for the golden age of the video vixen. R.I.P.
[By Yoh, aka Yohlissa Ford, aka @Yoh31]