Black reality TV has a bad rap. Known for being messy, with tons of fighting, drink and wig-throwing, its characters certainly made their way into mainstream culture by way of GIFs, memes and spin-off shows.
VH1’s Love & Hip Hop series, produced by Mona Scott-Young, is known for all of the above (and it’s where Cardi B rose to fame). The show, which started in 2011, is about new, emerging and established rappers, singers and songwriters trying to find love, build connections and make it as artists in their city (there are three to 10 seasons for Miami, Atlanta, Hollywood and New York). But their journeys aren’t without a whole lot of drama: Relationship drama, music industry drama, friendship drama and baby-mama-and-daddy drama.
There’s much to say about how these representations of Black culture contribute to the legacy of stereotypes against Black people; after all, digital blackface—the use of reaction GIFs and memes by non-Black people of Black people’s overexaggerated expressions—is rife in our daily communications. But I don’t think Love & Hip Hop has been given enough credit in the ways it resists these stereotypes.
I love the series. The cast is hilarious, petty and knows what’s up: The more messy, the more exposure. And now that I have nothing else to do but rewatch it, I’ve noticed that the show has toned down its infighting and focused more on issues that affect Black communities: Mass incarceration and state violence, mental health (and the show’s problematic portrayal of it), gun violence and community gathering and Black love—especially in more recent seasons.
One of the most surprising issues it tackles is queerness. The Black community has long been typecast as less accepting of the LGBTQ2 community—though a recent study by Black Futures Lab has proven differently. The first study of Black Americans in 150 years, it found that Black people are actually very supportive of same-sex marriage.
I hadn’t realized just how queer this show is! And its queerness isn’t turned into a trashy display or desperate attempt at appearing woke or inclusive. Rather, it’s something that is normalized and celebrated. The majority of the cast members are sexually fluid, bisexual (my tender bi heart!) gay and questioning, and more trans artists have entered the mix in recent years. It is SO queer, in fact, that the series shows up multiple times in a Wikipedia-compiled list of LGBTQ2-identified reality TV cast members. Of all the shows I’ve seen, scripted or not, L&HH takes the crown for LGBTQ2 representation.
Here are just a *few* of the series’ queer and trans cast members (and be warned: Breaking this down is messy AF).
The 32-year-old bisexual, Bronx-born, video-vixen-turned-singer (take a breath now) joined the cast after her failed engagement to Bow Wow (whom she shares a son) in the hopes of starting her music career (which is off to a rocky start with her manager Rich Dollaz). In Season 4 she fell in love with Cyn Santana, and the two had a tumultuous, passionate relationship that was a fan favourite—until their break up in Season 5, where Erica physically hit Cyn. Erica is now on the most recent season of Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta where we see her get married to Safaree Samuels (Nicki Minaj’s ex boyfriend) and give birth to their daughter.
Manhattan-born model and video vixen Cyn fell in love with Erica, the first woman she’d been with. But Cyn grew tired of Erica’s inability to remain loyal, and their violent, dramatic break up on national television in Season 5 was one of the saddest/craziest/heartbreaking things I’ve witnessed. After a four-year hiatus, Cyn returned in Season 9 and we see her with her fiancé, and father of her son, rapper and podcaster Joe Budden. Cyn and Erica reluctantly reunite because, guess what? Their boyfriends are homies!
Small but mighty, Mariahlynn is a ride-or-die for the people in her life, including her mother—who struggles with addiction—and her baby sister, who she is raising. She’s known for her sex-positive anthem “Once Upon a Time.” Mariahlynn is openly bisexual.
Jonathan is a consultant, stylist and makeup artist from New York whose romantic storyline involves accusing his boyfriend Trent Crews of cheating, but then is shook when Trent exposes that Jonathan is still married (!!). But it’s not all messy: Jonathan bravely talks about being a survivor of conversion therapy back in the Dominican Republic, and we see him share his experience with his cast members and his family.
Felicia “Snoop” Pearson
Felicia is best known for playing “Snoop” Pearson on The Wire, but she became a main member on Seasons 7 and 8 of Love & Hip Hop: New York. Snoop is trying to launch her own record label Gorgeous Gangster Records while in a messy relationship with girlfriend J. Adrienne, who insists she’s straight and “only gay for Snoop.” Of course they break up, and though Snoop is credited as a main character in Season 8, she’s virtually non-existent.
The self-proclaimed “Baddest transgender female” Chicagoan made her debut on Season 9, and her rapping skills impressed the top music producers in the city—including cast member and producer Rich Dollaz. “As a trans woman trying to make it in the hip-hop game, I’ve been turned down so many times,” she shared on-screen. Her vulnerability, plus her over-the-top personality (she made news in 2010 for claiming to have dated “Right Thurr” rapper Chingy, which she then admitted she lied about for clout!) make her a staple of the season.
In Season 1, we’re introduced to Mimi as the timid, reserved girlfriend who puts up with infamous record producer Stevie J’s infidelities. But by Season 2, she breaks up with Stevie, gets with Nikko London—with whom she makes a viral sex tape (and increased the sales of shower rods across America)—and later comes out as sexually fluid. In Season 5, Mimi dates Christian Gould, who is genderqueer (and who is constantly misgendered as Mimi’s “girlfriend” throughout the show). The two break up and Christian later reveals his plans to seek top surgery. Mimi is currently dating basketball player Ty Young.
The “Puerto Rican Princess” took the Atlanta rap and social scene by storm with her no-nonsense attitude, non-stop feuding and involvement with her manager Stevie J, which breaks up his marriage to Mimi Faust—but not before the three of them are engaged in a love triangle that included a threesome, despite hating each other intensely (which birthed the infamous “Hey Maid” comment). Joseline has a child with Stevie named Bonnie, and after a tornado of a relationship, they broke up and she left Atlanta and quit the show. Joseline is now a regular cast member on Love & Hip Hop: Miami, engaged to Ballistic Beats (the couple has been featured on Marriage Boot Camp). Joseline’s storyline has included her bisexual identity, something she is proud of. Throughout the series, we see her date fellow cast members Tommie Lee, Jessica Dime and Nikki Mudarris.
Margo “Margeaux” Elaine Simms
Known as Margeaux, the singer-songwriter is originally from Toronto, Ontario. She is still legally married to Mimi’s boo Nikko; when Mimi finds out, she breaks them up in Season 3. Later in the season, Margeaux talks about her interest in women and dates model Merika Palmiste. Margeaux was fired in Season 5, and went on to appear with Nikko and Merika as a throuple on We TV‘s Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars 6.
Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Hicks is a socialite and the wife of music producer Hiriam Hicks. She is openly bisexual and she and her husband have an open marriage, which becomes a main theme in Season 8 when she ignites a massive feud with former friend Karlie Redd over whether Redd had a threesome with the couple (Redd denies this, while Hicks doesn’t). What ensues is lots of crying, inconclusive lie detector tests, poopy animal-print sheets and diaper-throwing.
Miami-born, Grammy award–winner D. Smith became the first openly trans woman on the series when she joined in Season 5. And despite all her accomplishments in the industry, she still had to defend herself against transphobic comments from fellow cast members Scrappy and rapper Waka Flocka Flame—and then called Scrappy’s cis, straight girlfriend Bambi a trans woman as an insult (huh?!). Unfortunately, D. decided to leave the show before the reunion taping.
Born in Homestead, Florida, Bobby is the first cousin of self-proclaimed “Baddest Bitch” rapper Trina. An aspiring rapper himself, Bobby is the franchise’s first openly gay main cast member. We see him dealing with homophobia in the hip-hop industry as well as struggling in his relationship with his boyfriend Jeffrey, who Bobby learns is cheating on him with his ex Malik.
Originally from Long Island, New York, Tip (formally known as Tip Drill) is a stripper-turned-rapper who got into music after a devastating accident while dancing left her with severe, debilitating injuries. A friend of Bobby, Tip is openly bisexual. One of my favourite moments of the season is when her ex-boyfriend Gunplay starts dating Keyara, causing instant animosity between the women—which quickly dissipates when Tip tells her she’s sexually interested in her instead! Miami Tip clashes with her friend Saucy Santana, an openly gay rapper, who was shot in a drive-by last December which he believes was a hate crime. Tip, on the other hand, has her own version of why he was shot.
Openly-bisexual ZellSwag is a stylist from Ohio, and a major instigator of drama and gossip on this season, but well-loved for his wittiness and humour. Zell was rumoured to be temporarily fired after the Season 4’s reunion episode, after he got violent with Misster Ray, another cast member, over Zell’s ex-boyfriend, who Ray accuses Zell of trying to steal back (you got all that?).
Moniece, an L.A.-born singer-songwriter (who sang the original theme of America’s Next Top Model!) has been on L&HH New York, Atlanta and, more recently, Hollywood. She struggles to co-parent her 10-year-old son with B2K band member Lil‘ Fizz (things are a little Bump Bump Bump-y—sorry, I had to). In Season 4, she starts to date Puerto Rican-Italian business owner AD Diggs (who now has a genderless clothing line), and comes out as bisexual (which causes her father to disown her). Throughout the series, we see Mo work through her struggles with mental health, which she hopes to shed light on in the series, and during last season, we see her finally considering an in-patient program to deal with her depression.
Billboard topper K. Michelle is an R&B/Soul singer-songwriter, originally from Memphis, Tennessee known for her single “Can’t Raise A Man.” K. Michelle, who is openly bisexual, comes out in Season 6 of Atlanta. She tries to set up her ex-girlfriend Melisia with P. London, which ends up with Melisia talking non-stop about her. In the most recent season of Hollywood, K. Michelle is seen expanding her family by surrogacy.