The Source Magazine sat down with two of the stars of VH1’s hit show “Love & Hip-Hop,” Yandy Smith & Rich Dollaz, and they had a lot to say on everything from the direction of the new season to social media’s role in the entertainment industry.
How have you both managed to survive and in many ways thrive on “Love & Hip-Hop”? A show that many past cast members had to leave due to not being able to handle the excessive drama or not being able to draw a line between their lives, careers, and the show.
Yandy: I think it’s about being genuine to who you are and having vulnerable moments. I think people like me, I don’t know if they love me, but they like me because I’m true to who I am and there’s not much that I don’t share with the world. I have vulnerable moments and I have moments when I’m hard and guarded, but for the most part I think people appreciate that.
Rich: I think it’s about being who you are and understanding that in this day and age, with the flicking cameras and the phones and the Instagram and all that other stuff, every moment is here and now. You got to understand that whatever happens today somebody else will do something by Wednesday and your little hiccup or mess-up will be forgotten. And remembering that helps you get through the day, because you know it doesn’t last that long. Remembering that being here is a check and it’s exposure. And with understanding what the world is today, this is important, this helps you build your brand. Whether your opinion of me is good, bad, or indifferent the only thing I don’t want to be is irrelevant. So, with that being said you do what you gotta do. You put your life on blast, but it’s for the good of you ultimately because love and hate are the same emotion. Just don’t not care about me, that’s all I care about.
And both of you worked your way up in the entertainment industry, primarily from the business side of things. How did you make the transition from a more behind-the-scenes role into the limelight?
Yandy: A couple of things. I think putting one foot in front of the other and not turning around, but keep moving forward. Just taking every experience as a learning experience, building relationships and keeping those relationships has been very important for me. Also, I’ve heard many no’s and that hasn’t deterred me from staying focused on my goals. I think that until you get ten no’s, you can’t say “Ok, maybe this is not for me”. And understanding that one no is not enough to stop me, has been great for me.
Rich: I think that, coming from where we come and I can speak to Yandy on this, we come from hard work and dedication. And we come from a place where sleep is forbidden, and you have to turn up and be focused on your goal. And understanding that has made it easier to do this, because you understand what your goal is and I’m not stopping until I meet my goal. So, whatever vehicle comes along over the years or whatever, you hitch a ride as far as it will take you and then you get off and you figure out where your next ride’s going to come from. And I think we’ve both gotten to a level now where we can call our own shots. And that’s huge for someone in this industry, but it didn’t come without having to pay lots and lots of dues. There’s a respect factor and a work factor. And at the end of the day you look at Rich Dollaz or Yandy Smith and you may love me or hate me, but all you can say is “He’s still here, he’s winning, and he works super duper hard-working”. And what more can you ask of people? I think that’s probably why we feel good about where we are right now. It’s always good to get a check from someone else, but it’s even better to be able to cut a check for someone. And that’s where we are.
So, is it fair to say your secret to success has been your ability to adapt and be versatile within the industry?
Rich: Yes, you have to in this day and age, that is what the world has become. Because Yandy and I have been in the industry, we have watched the change in the industry. We’ve watched when people sat in chairs and sang songs, and you love them because the record label threw so much money at them and created these artists into who they wanted them to be. And that was called artist development, it was called promotion, but that doesn’t exist any more, for the most part in music. Now, you promote and market yourself. If you come out with a record, you have to put it on the radio yourself. These are things you have to do internally. So, with all that being said it’s a different day. You have to adjust and if you don’t you’re going to get lost. It’s the Twitter, the Instagram, the 100,000 likes, and people talking to you that makes you popular. All that craziness is what it is in 2013. People laugh at me when I say Erica Mena is a superstar, not because she sings like Mariah Carey, but because she is able to come on “Love & Hip-Hop” and turn it up. That gets her likes, bookings, and hostings and that’s what modern day people are doing. There’s a reason why girls are modeling and everyone’s taking pictures, and that gets them hostings. The reason is, that all that generates income. It doesn’t mean I’m comparing her to Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston. I’m just saying that for 2013 if you have a couple of 100,000 followers, and people care about what you’re doing, and you’re always on Media Takeout or The Source or whoever is writing about you, than you are doing something right. That’s where we are today; it’s called brand building. It’s not about a specific entity anymore; it’s about everything. Rihanna is everything. Katy Perry is everything. Miley Cyrus at this point did what she needed to do to move from Disney to an adult. And if it that means twerking on stage on Robin’s d*ck to sell 300,000 records, than she did what she needed to do, and that’s just where we are.
Yandy: I completely agree. What’s been the key to my success has been branding and knowing who I am and seeing the end goal. For me, branding has been creating the Yandy brand, branding the EGL (Everything Girls Love), even branding me being a mom. I look at every opportunity as a way to generate income and also put my brand out there in the light I want it to be in. So, now that I’m a mom I’m doing a cookbook on quick meals for moms. And on TV I started the Everything Girls Love brand, which is like a one stop shop for women; women can get their accessories and clothing, while also reading about “What to Say on Your First Date”, “What to Wear”, “What to Cook”, “What’s Going on In Politics”, “What’s Going on In Sports”. And those are all things that make me a better businesswoman, because people can look at me as a total package when it comes to a brand. Now I can go out and be an ambassador for something because people know what I stand for. I can go out and walk into a business meeting, because I have a brand they know they can stand behind.
How do you deal with this new generation of fans and their need to know so many intimate details about the stars and idols they watch or listen to? Fans want you on Twitter and in the show; is there a part that you keep for yourselves?
Yandy: You know what you can live with being out there and what you can’t live with. Sometimes with Instagram and Twitter you have no control over what is captured, whether it is some of your worst moments or some of your best moments. What you can control is how you address certain situations, what you say about it, how you clear things up. And I think now we are in a culture, and Hip-Hop played a big part in this, it’s no longer just the lyrics or the song, but it’s how you dress, what you wear, who you align yourself with, who you stand next to at a party. And now television is following the trend that hip-hop culture set up; now TV wants to know what you’re wearing, how you talk, who are your friends, and things like that. And that came with the success of hip-hop and now tv is falling in line.
Rich: The thing about me and Yandy is that we parallel. We have been managers for so long that are stories are almost the same, because we’ve watched from the background, and we knew what we wanted our artist to do and knew what our artist needed to do to succeed. We sat from a coaching position wishing that they would do certain things. So, now it’s like we are going into the game knowing how it’s played. We are cheating right now, because I’ve had so much practice watching from the outside in saying “You need to do this” or “You need to do that”. So, to answer your question you give and you get. When you sign up for this you must understand what you are signing up for, so don’t get mad when people want to take pictures on the street or when people tweet you nasty things, because this is what you wanted and this is what you asked for. When you want to go get 10 or 15 grand to host a party, this is what happens. When people care enough to pay to drink or party with you, they also care enough to talk sh*t about you on Twitter and Instagram. As long as you’re talking about me I’m good and I’ve learned to embrace that. A lot of artists get caught up in the “Donkey of the Day” or this and that. But, at the end of the day everything you say about me is going to contribute to my check. Miley Cyrus twerking was horrible for people and they went ham, but she also came out to 270,000 records in the first week and she is on every magazine. So, with the good comes the bad. Love and hate is the same damn thing.
With all that being said, what are the major differences between Seasons 2 & 3 of “Love & Hip-Hop”?
Yandy: The transition is very evident. Season 2, I was all about the business. I was Jimmy’s manager and I was dealing with all of that. I was dealing with his Mom, dealing with his woman, dealing with him being a rapper. I had to learn that there is definitely a separation between business and friends. And I think that made for a huge transition, because now I’m not Jimmy’s manager anymore and I’ve gotten a lot more personal with the things I let the world know. I brought my relationship on camera and than my children on camera. I’ve grown as a persona and a businesswoman and you see that.
Rich: I think Yandy and I parallel. When I originally came on the show I was Olivia’s manager, that’s what people knew me as, so my storyline was based off of Olivia’s storyline. But, over the last three seasons it’s changed. Obviously, Olivia’s not on the show anymore and I think last year was my coming out party, as far as being able to open up and give you Rich Dollaz. Whether you liked it or not, it was me. Over the three years, I’ve gone from being a supporting character to now being in the forefront. It’s cool. I like it. What you give is what you get.
So, what can we expect on the new season?
Yandy: (Pointing to Rich and laughing) This fool acting crazy. There’s a lot that’s going to happen that the fans won’t expect. I think everyone has grown. Some of us have grown into more of an a**hole, some of us have grown into more of a businesswoman, but everything is new. There are a lot of new cast members like K. Michelle who brings a whole new energy. There’s Tara Wallace, Peter Gunz, and Erica Mena who bring a whole new love triangle that you’ve never seen. And even Erica, Rich, and her girlfriend bring a different love triangle. There’s just a lot you have to tune in and see. Don’t miss an episode.
Rich: This season is gonna be really really good. I think last year we brought people on who didn’t really know what they were getting themselves into, so I think they maybe shied away from it a little bit. This year people embraced the craziness. I’m excited because this year. Yandy and I get to start our new venture and it’s nationally televised, so that’s always good for promotion. My modeling agency is gonna be hot for me. And like Yandy said, you will see Erica, Peter Gunz, and another new aspect of Yandy. She’s the same strong black woman that you’ve seen, but with kids and balancing home life. I think I’m a bit cleaner this year, at least the beginning before it goes back into “Richy Mode”. But, it wouldn’t be me without that part. But, I’m here man and we like it. Me and Yandy just got our label, we got our label, we got our label, we got our label. Make sure you get that (chuckling).
Yandy: And with this label that we have, we are coming to a state near you. We are taking our national search for talent on the road. We plan on going all over, next stop probably being Atlanta or Chicago.
Let’s talk about the label. while we are on the subject, because that is the new project for the both of you. What is the label called and what is the movement or goal of it?
Yandy: It’s called Lennox Ave Records. Rich and I are both from Harlem and when you think of Harlem, you think of the Harlem Renaissance, and the talent, and that old school pure music, and we want to bring that back. So, we call it Lennox Avenue Records and we aren’t playing any games. I’m not taking any shortcuts, I’m not letting Rich find any pretty faces, because they are pretty faces. We want real talent and we have a lot of people that we work with like one of my mentors Missy Elliott, and I’m gonna go to her for advice all the time. And Rich has worked with some of the greats, Diddy to just name one. We are going to the people that we know have done this to get advice, so we aren’t stepping out on a limb. We are really going to try to take this to the next level.
Rich: I’m excited. Yandy and I have been talking about this for a while. You take your managerial skills and you take your past work in a label and then you take your independent talents, like Yandy who has always done marketing, promotion, A&R, and she has an ear, and I feel I bring the same thing to the table. And when you take everything and put it in a pot and mix it up, we are just ready to get out here and find the next big thing. Self-contained distribution real soon. Some big names are gonna rock with us, so that’s exciting.
Lastly, what advice can you give to new artist interested in breaking into the industry?
Yandy: Be true to who you are and be the first one to do something. When Missy Elliott came out in a big plastic bag talking that “Yi-yi-yi-yah”, no one knew what she was gonna be. But 10 years later she’s a legend. Come out and be unique. Drake came out singing on the track, a rapper that sings, and now everyone wants to sing. But, he was so successful because he was different.
Rich: And don’t be afraid to fail. Be different and be who you are. Put it out there for the world to see. It’s not about hiding behind a hit-record. Like you said, they want to know who you are, so understand what you are signing up for and embrace it.