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Mona Scott-Young, the Brains Behind VH1's 'Love & Hip Hop,' Sounds Off on Sexism, Reality TV and Missy Elliott's Next Album

Mona  Scott-Young
Rich Gilligan

“People are fascinated by the entertainment world, but when you pull the curtain back, you see that all that glitters isn’t necessarily gold,” says Scott-Young, photographed March 17 at Monami Entertainment in New York. “[Love & Hip Hop] is a precautionary tale as well.”

Since the docu-series Love & Hip Hop debuted on VH1 in 2011, it has been described as both ratchet and riveting. Laced with ­profanity and ultra-revealing outfits, the show centers on women who are the wives or girlfriends of rappers and producers -- or are artists and business entrepreneurs themselves -- intent on finding their own identities and respect in hip-hop's male-dominated culture. For its creator, Monami Entertainment CEO Mona Scott-Young, and her partners, the aim was simple: to tell compelling stories.

Mission accomplished. The New York mothership -- averaging 2.7 million ­viewers (according to Nielsen) in its sixth season ending March 28 -- has had four equally popular spinoffs: Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta (its fifth season premieres April 4), Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood, K. Michelle: My Life and Stevie J & Joseline: Go Hollywood.

Scott-Young, 49, established New York-based Monami Entertainment in 2008 after co-founding Violator Management with the late Chris Lighty. An industry powerhouse from the late '90s into the early 2000s, the firm boasted a roster that included LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliott, the last of whom Scott-Young continues to manage from Monami's third-floor office overlooking the Hudson River and New Jersey in Chelsea's Terminal Warehouse Building.

 

With her largely female 15-person staff, the married mother of two is ramping up a new WE tv show about female attorneys tentatively titled Ladies of Law. Aside from TV, Scott is establishing Monami Books in partnership with Zola Books and a ­jewelry collection of "statement pieces" called MPowerings with Simone Smith, wife of LL Cool J.

Was Love & Hip Hop a tipping point for VH1's shift away from music?

There was an effort to develop more docu-series. VH1 was already in business with rapper Jim Jones and looking to develop a show around him, his girlfriend Chrissy Lampkin and his mom. My partners [Stefan Springman and Toby Barraud of Eastern and Monami's Stephanie Gayle] and I broadened the cast, ­creating more of an ensemble group of women ­navigating life and love against the ­backdrop of hip-hop. I don't think any of us had any idea that it would become such a part of the culture and lexicon.

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Critics might point to an abundance of cleavage and male incarceration as the criteria for casting.

You've been to rap concerts, seen the music videos, seen the girlfriends and wives: This is how they feel they want to look. We don't have stylists. We're not ­saying, "Hey, wear this, don't wear that, let's get a little bit more cleavage." We're casting women who navigate a specific subset of the hip-hop culture; this is what they subscribe to. As far as the men being incarcerated, again, these are their lives. We're not specifically looking for ­somebody who's on their way to jail.

 

What is your perspective on ­#OscarSoWhite? Can the film ­industry learn something from TV about achieving diversity?

I always say that viewership is the driver. Viewers lead to advertising dollars, and that's where it begins and ends for all of these companies, film or TV. The more we support the films that are out there, the more there will be a demand for them and the more the industry will have to shift to meet that demand.

You've succeeded in two male-­dominated industries, music and TV. How much has sexism been an issue?

I'd be naive to say that I haven't had my own experiences where I felt that my work should have been valued or ­quantified differently. I've watched my male ­counterparts benefit, be compensated or be elevated in a much different way. Have I been deterred by that? Absolutely not. A lot of times, we impose restrictions on ourselves, worrying about whether we can do something or if we're good enough. I try not to subscribe or succumb to it because I have enough hurdles.

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Were you with Missy at South by Southwest on March 16 for Michelle Obama's "Let Girls Learn" session?

I couldn't make it, but Missy kept me abreast on a minute-by-minute basis. (Laughs.) That was life-changing. At Billboard's Women in Music event in December, Missy and I spent some time with Diane Warren [who wrote the ­campaign's anthem, "This Is for My Girls"]. Diane called later and said she thought Missy would be great for this song. That's where it all began.

Can we expect a Missy album and tour in 2016?

Missy is creating the most epic work of art. Over the years, people have asked me that and I go, "Oh, when she's ready." She has never left music, but she certainly has more momentum in terms of her own music now than she has in a while. So, yes, we hope there will be a record very soon.

 

What is Monami's global strategy?

I have been talking to folks in the U.K. and Germany about not only licensing shows [for Europe] but bringing shows from there to the U.S. I want to conceptualize the perfect format that can be licensed all over the world. Because that, my friend, is the retirement money. (Laughs.) Let me get one good Survivor or Amazing Race under my belt and it's a wrap.

It has been reported that you're worth $30 million. Is that accurate?

Another major publication used that as a headline. It's irresponsible. As much as I've enjoyed this conversation, if I was the $30 million woman, we'd be doing this on my private island while sipping mai tais.

This article was originally published in the April 2 issue of Billboard.


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