Usually I save the Lord’s Day for sports and general laying around in my stank. I try my best to stay far away from Sunday Night TV and all its wretchedness. If you turn on VH1 anytime after sundown you’re liable to see group of women hissing and spitting at each other from behind inflatable chests as if someone just let them loose from the Bronx Zoo. Most of the time I get super sensitive about women acting so ridiculous in front of millions of people, but my newest guilty pleasure has to be Love & Hip Hop. Maybe I’m more tolerant because it comes on Monday nights. The show follows around R&B singer Olivia, Jim Jones‘ longtime girlfriend Chrissy Lampkin, rapper Fabolous‘ girlfriend/baby mama/stylist Emily Bustamente, up-and-coming rapper Somaya Reese and briefly Swizz Beats‘ ex-wife Mashonda– is in some ways just another heavily edited and heavily censored snipefest but I think it showcases a HUGE point about today’s music industry: The music is no longer enough.
In one episode, Jim Jones is counseling Somaya Reese and says something very poignant: “It’s not enough to just have music. You have to sell, sell, sell.” This line could be the theme of the entire show as two of the main characters Olivia and Somaya are currently facing obstacles and stagnant careers. Olivia, once the queen of G-Unit and poised to have all that she dreamed of was unceremoniously booted from the label by 50 Cent and publicly humiliated. Nowadays a R&B singer’s career lasts about as long as a sitcom episode. The audience for the genre is fading and with new, more experimental music on the market it’s not enough to put out an album singing the same old love songs. The solution to this problem is now to repackage the artist as part of a lifestyle. With a reality TV show, the audience can connect with them on a more personal level and maybe through that connection be persuaded to actually purchase or even listen to their music, which, unfortunately, usually takes a backseat. People would rather know about Olivia’s relationship with New York Jets star Darelle Revis than listen to any single she’s trying to put out. Think about how many faces you make whenever a singer on a reality TV show says: ‘I’m currently working on my new album”. Personally, I windmill side eye to the left but I’m sure most of you just scrunch your faces up like John Boehner when he sees kittens.
Another reason I’m into the show is the relationship of R&B with hip hop. As far as I can see Olivia and Somaya are facing the same problem even if technically they’re not trying to have the same career. Olivia may have had previous experience and success but at this point she’s starting from scratch sound wise and support wise. The packaging of R&B and hip hop never ceases to surprise me because the success of both genres comes from the 90s-era blurring of the lines between the two. Hip Hop remixes and R&B hooks are the stuff of our memories from back when people still paid for music, what we lived for. Fabolous’ career is full of some of the best of those match-ups. When the show focuses on music industry issues, we’re once again reminded that the circle is bigger than we think and all inclusive. Olivia was the ONLY one in G-Unit not rapping. When she was on top she gave 50′s pack some credibility that they were more than just a gangsta rap conglomerate and she of course was given the pleasure of being their princess, queen, whatever they call it. The symbiotic relationship between the two genres is definitely showcased—in between screams of “Bitch what?”—giving the sense that for now at least the two are forever linked.
I’m not against this new way of collecting dollars–if anything I’m all for it. In this time of the internet and tweeter you can know everything about your favorite artists down to whether or not he wipes himself in the bathroom. The fans have so much more access to their celebrities and they are not interested in the usual media trained answer of, “This album was super personal.” They want to know exactly what situation you were referring to when you said your lover cheated and exactly who was rubbing smooth cocoa oils all over your body. Whether they have a right to that is no longer a concern, as an entertainer you have to cater to them because they are in essence the ones that sign your check. Many R&B singers are seeking comebacks through reality TV and its easy to see why– Television is easy and great press. You’re all the talk of twitter, blogs and even print after a successful show. Even Diddy is in on the cash cow but when is he not? In the end you may never even have to release an album to see your pay day. A reality TV show is like the best behind the scenes video and we are always ready to tune in. So yes I will be watching. And while they may never earn my respect, Mama Jones has definitely earned my homage and praise.