Cardi B’s Success Proves Why She Never Needed ‘Love & Hip Hop’

In clinical terms, Love & Hip Hop is a long-running reality franchise about the personal and professional struggles of figures in the music business. In colloquial terms, it’s a ratchet-reality soap opera with around 200 interwoven characters. Many of them exist at the periphery of the music industry; others have won Grammys, gone platinum, and crafted No. 1 records at some point in their career. In nearly every episode, there is an obligatory scene of one or more of them in the studio. But with very few songs released, we need to know: What exactly are they working on?

LHH is the cornerstone of Vh1. In 2017, the network had four of the top 10 unscripted shows on cable, and the Atlanta and New York editions were Nos. 1 and 2, respectively. And shows weren’t measured in “social engagement” before Love & Hip Hop started dominating Twitter each time an episode aired. All this to say, everyone is watching the show. Everyone is talking about the show. But no one is fucking with the music from the show.

In fact, for a program called Love & Hip Hop, only one featured personality from its cast is actually relevant for their current musical output: a former stripper with minimal prior rap experience named Cardi B.

And no one saw her coming.

When Cardi joined Love & Hip Hop’s New York cast in season 6 she was already a social media starlet with over a million followers on Twitter (she now has 2.8M). She was known for her personality, not any musical inclinations, and had retired from the pole two months before the season premiere on December 14, 2015. By that point Cardi had started making a whole living off club appearances. But Vh1 wanted to portray her as a silly exotic dancer languishing in a messy situationship.

“Yo, it’s so crazy, like, them motherfuckers [the producers] really doubted me. It’s like, why would y’all doubt me? Like, I have seven hundred thousand bajillion followers,” she told THE FADER in February 2016. “I’m telling them like, ‘Yo, I have a brand. I’m not even an artist and I fill out clubs. Three thousand, whatever the crap, I fill them shits out!’ But they didn’t care about that. They just wanted to make me look as the stripper, a struggling stripper.”

love & hip hop may help raise an artist’s visibility, but for all the wrong reasons when it comes to their actual artistry.

And indeed, she played her part. In her now-legendary LHH video introduction, Cardi announced, “Hey, America, washpoppin’? You might know me as that annoying dancer on social media that be talking hella crazy, with the long nails and the big ol’ titties, but I’m just a regular, degular, shmegular girl from the Bronx.” We went on to see Cardi’s frustration over Power 105 radio personality DJ Self, whom she slept with occasionally, not playing her music. In her words, he was “the hottest DJ in New York or whatever” and she was willing to deal with him seeing other women so long as he helped get her music played.

See, for most of the show’s history, that was the dynamic: The men were the legitimate figures in the industry, and the women were around to jockey for their assistance or attention. Remember how Stevie J. constantly threatened to send Joseline Hernandez back to the strip club on Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta? Like no character before or after her, Cardi B. was able to flip the script.

To understand how disruptive Cardi was, we should rewind. The show’s earliest iteration, Keeping Up With the Joneses, centered around Dipset rapper Jim Jones, his longsuffering girlfriend Christine Lampkin, and outspoken mother, Nancy “Mama” Jones. But Jimmy became less interested after he released his most successful single, “We Fly High.” To save the show, manager Yandy Smith and her mentor, Violator Management co-founder Mona Scott-Young, bumped Jones down to supporting cast member, and elevated Chrissy and her friends to the main cast. Re-christened Love & Hip Hop, the show was now giving visibility to the women behind famous men in hip-hop.

Cardi B Couch
Image via MTV/TRL/Getty

Now, fast-forward: Cardi B. came on the show with a game plan, and it wasn’t to be behind anybody. Her cunning, singular focus is perhaps what allowed her to become the show’s unlikeliest success story. This theory makes more sense when you consider that Cardi quit after two seasons in order to pursue her music. She paused the shenanigans to go work on her craft, instead of posturing in the studio like many of the men we see every episode. Within months of leaving LHH, she released her second mixtape, signed a multimillion-dollar record deal, then released “Bodak Yellow.” And within a year of her last trip to Vh1, Cardi had a No. 1 record, two Grammy nominations, and multiple pop and hip-hop features dominating the charts.

Given her beloved personality, Cardi could’ve easily joined the likes of LHH mainstays Stevie J., Lil Scrappy, and Yung Joc, bouncing between spinoffs in reality TV purgatory. But unlike them, Cardi didn’t want chasing checks from Mona Scott-Young to be her ceiling.A lot of the n***as on that show are cornballs, but it is what it is,” clairvoyant Cardi said in an interview right before she left the LHH.

That about sums up why no one who continues to appear on the show is likely to break through on the charts any time soon. LHH may help raise an artist’s visibility, but for all the wrong reasons when it comes to their actual artistry. We all agreed amongst ourselves that the franchise was fake, but it was a juicy lie that we enjoyed pretending to believe. Cardi’s contrasting authenticity made us step into the light.

Cardi could’ve easily joined the likes of LHH mainstays Stevie J., Lil Scrappy, and Yung Joc, bouncing between spinoffs in reality TV purgatory. But Cardi didn’t want chasing checks from Mona Scott-Young to be her ceiling.

Millions of people rallied behind her as a person—she could have sold us anything she wanted after that, lip kits or weave—but she chose to sling hits. Cardi didn’t blow up the day after she left, no. But she was persistent and converted momentum into clout. Some of the credible artists remaining on LHH, like Remy Ma and Trina, haven’t been able to figure this part out yet—even though both have albums on the way and purposefully steer clear of the drama by limiting their camera time. There appears to still be an understanding of their brand equity, which is something many of their peers seem to lack, but the reality of reality TV is that it’s a means to an end.  

As we sit here in the afterglow of Cardi’s soon-to-be-crowned No. 1 debut album, her feature on Saturday Night Live, and third appearance on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, we have to respect what she’s achieved. Cardi was an underestimated woman whose role on LHH was to orbit the “powerful” men, but yet she launched past them all. As a soon-to-be mother engaged to one of the hottest artists in the industry, she’s basically secured the love and the hip-hop without the cameras. It’s doubtful anyone else on the franchise can replicate those shmoney moves.

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Azealia Banks Reveals Massive Label Deal: ‘I Have a Home Again’

After being without a major label home since 2015, rapper Azealia Banks recently revealed that she signed a brand new million dollar deal with Toronto-based eOne Music.

“I HAVE A HOME AGAIN… I’m crying,” she wrote in her Instagram caption, expressing her gratitude for the opportunity to make music with a label again. “Thank you guys so freaking much you don’t know how much this means to me,” tagging eOne and its VP of A&R, William Robillard-Cole.

While Banks is undoubtedly talented, she's consistently been in the news more for her behavior on- and offline than for her music. From inflammatory tweets, bizarre live stream rants, and famous feuds with everyone from Iggy Azalea and Cardi B to Pharrell and Remy Ma, the Harlem rapper's music has been sitting on the back burner since 2016. Just a few days ago, she shared a preview of a new song that will likely end up her upcoming project Fantasea II: The Second Wave, reportedly dropping in March.

With the FII release date fast approaching, Banks has already chosen “Anna Wintour” as its first single. Snippets of the track have been floating around since last year, but she now wants to revamp it with features from Nicki Minaj and everyone's favorite Spice Girl, Mel B.

Banks parted ways with her last label, Prospect Park Records, in 2015 and would go on to release her Slay-Z mixtape independently, so we may have to wait and see how this new partnership pans out.

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New Yorkers Weigh In On Their Favorite Rap Beefs of 2017

How do you end an incredible year for rap music? By talking about beef.

Rap beefs in 2017 ran the gamut from hilarity to curiosity. Remy Ma came out of nowhere with “ShETHER,” challenging Nicki Minaj and her status in the game. Young Dolph and Yo Gotti, two Memphis heavyweights, have moved past their beef and thankfully so; it escalated to Dolph getting shot earlier this year. And for East Coast rap heads, the idea of Cam’ron and Mase exchanging diss tracks in 2017 is a dream match-up come true.

More recently, there have been tensions brewing between former friends XXXTentacion and Ski Mask the Slump God. Azealia Banks is always out here doing the most on social media and reigniting beefs. Then there’s Drake and Meek Mill, but the 6 God decided to officially end their feud in a freestyle over Jay-Z’s “Family Feud.” Just when you think the year will start off calm and friendly, rappers always seem to have something to settle.

So, which one was your favorite? We asked New Yorkers to tell us theirs and you’ll be surprised to hear some of their answers.

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#LifeAtComplex is a daily vlog that offers an inside look at Complex. Watch as Tony Mui takes viewers behind-the-scenes in the office—you never know who or what will pop up. 

 On today's episode Tony gets his hands on a pair of Air Jordan 1 Union Los Angeles “Gold Top 3”. Later on Lil Tony, “The Understudy” Al, and JT break down the Thursday Night football game, the Seattle Seahawks vs the Arizona Cardinals. Stick around because a special limited edition Michael Jordan memorabilia arrives in the mail, and by limited we mean only 23 in the world! 

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Fat Joe, Remy Ma, and More Contribute to Tidal’s Hurricane Relief Efforts

Some of hip-hop’s biggest names came together Saturday to help the millions of people suffering in Puerto Rico.

The initiative was launched by Tidal earlier this week, after it announced plans to send 200,000 pounds of supplies to the hurricane-stricken island. The streaming service set up 19 drop-off locations around New York, where people could donate necessities like cases of water, non-perishable food, batteries, new and gently used clothing, hygiene products, diapers, and more.

“Tidal, in partnership with [New York] Governor Andrew Cuomo's Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort, has announced the start of the TIDAL X: Puerto Rico initiative with the charter of a cargo plane that will bring much needed supplies to aid in the recovery and relief in Puerto Rico,” the company wrote in statement.

Artists like Fat Joe, Remy Ma, Jadakiss, and Romeo Santos stopped by the drop-off locations Saturday to help collect, sort, and package the supplies. 

“As the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico grows, our brothers and sisters are desperate for our help. Please join myself, TIDAL, Governor Cuomo, and Ruben Diaz Jr. as we collect and transport much-needed supplies to the island,” Fat Joe said in a video earlier this week. “I thank you all from the bottom of my heart and I promise all these items will be delivered by ME personally to Puerto Rico. God bless.”

You can check out photos from the drop-off locations as well as PSA from participating artists below. To learn more about Tidal's relief efforts and how to donate, go to tidal.com/puertorico

Hot 97 helped organize an event for the community in The Bronx to bring supplies for Puerto Rico and Mexico as well.

 

NYC for Puerto Rico @revolttv love

A post shared by NOREAGA/DRINKCHAMPS (@therealnoreaga) on Sep 30, 2017 at 1:26pm PDT

 

The trucks are filling up! #PuertoRico #Mexico #helppuertorico #helpmexico #helpusvi

A post shared by HOT 97 (@hot97) on Sep 30, 2017 at 12:05pm PDT

 

@djcamilo x @blendonthewater #PUERTORICO HURRICANE MARIA RELIEF 🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽

A post shared by HOT 97 (@hot97) on Sep 30, 2017 at 5:28pm PDT

Proceeds from this year’s TIDAL X: BROOKLYN benefit concert will go toward organizations that support recovery from Puerto Rico. The concert will take place Oct. 17, and will include performances by Jay Z, Jennifer Lopez, Cardi B, DJ Khaled, and Fifth Harmony.

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Memo Reminds NBA Players Must Stand During National Anthem, Outlines Ways Players Can Effect Change

NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum sent out a memo to all 30 teams Friday instructing players and coaches to stand during the national anthem. Although there was no mention of punishment should players choose to kneel, he expressed that the league has a rule in place disallowing players from sitting or kneeling during the anthem. 

In the memo, obtained by Complex Sports, Tatum asked that teams use their season openers “to demonstrate your commitment to the NBA’s core values of equality, diversity, inclusion and serve as a unifying force in the community.” The memo continued: 

If you have not done so already, we suggest organizing discussions between players, coaches, general managers and ownership to hear the players’ perspectives.

One approach would be for team leadership to review existing team and league initiatives and encourage players to share their thoughts and ideas about them. Following those conversations, teams could develop plans prior to the start of the regular season for initiatives that players and senior leadership could participate in, such as:

  • Hosting Community Conversations with youth, parents, community leaders and law enforcement about the challenges we face and our shared responsibility to create positive change.
  • Creating “Building Bridges Through Basketball” programs that use the game of basketball to bring people together and deepen important bonds of trust and respect between young people, mentors, community leaders, law enforcement and other first responders.
  • Highlighting the importance of mentoring with the goal of adding 50,000 new mentors to support young people through our PSA campaign.
  • Engaging thought leaders and partners.  A variety of experts, speakers and partner organizations are available to players and teams as you continue these conversations and develop programming.
  • Establishing new and/or enhancing ongoing team initiatives and partnerships in the areas of criminal justice reform, economic empowerment and civic engagement.

Teams are urged to show videos prior to tip-off in their efforts to exemplify unity. It was also recommended that a player or coach address fans directly if a message is to be conveyed. 

Earlier this month, NFL players across the country took a knee during the anthem in protest of police brutality and in honor of Colin Kaepernick's decision to spearhead the gesture. This collective demonstration roused a response from the president, causing something of a sociopolitical tidal wave. NBA players Lebron James and Steph Curry both spoke out in support of NFL players’ decision to take a knee, and publicly criticized Donald Trump for claiming they should be fired for doing so. 

More likely than not, individual NBA players or entire teams are going to express their solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement (something their counterparts in the WNBA have been at the forefront of), whether that be in the form of kneeling during the anthem or not. And it's not because they don't have respect for the NBA or the white men who run it. It's because they should have the right to take a stand against the bigotry and racism that continues to plague this country. 

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