There are dozens of specials for Black History Month and VH1’s reality stars of the Love & Hip Hop and Black Ink Crew franchises are taking part. They’ve joined forces for a two-part special, Love & Hip Hop: Lineage to Legacy, where they explore their African ancestry. It’s the first special of its kind.
Hosted by MTV News’ Dometi Pongo, the popular reality stars work with experts to examine the harsh effects of slavery and challenge stereotypes with Black culture, while also celebrating Africa’s rich history, music, craftsmanship, style, dance and food. The special premiered on Monday, February 7th at 9PM ET/PT, with its follow-up airing at the same time on Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14)
Participants include Remy Ma, Papoose, Yandy Smith-Harris, Rich Dollaz, Tokyo Vanity, Paris Phillips, Karlie Redd and Momma Dee along with DNA Identity Expert Dr. Gina Paige, co-founder of AfricanAncestry.com, as they take the only DNA test designed to reveal their African ethnic group and country of origin. Black Ink Crew cast members Ceaser Emanuel, Katrina ‘Kat Tat’ Jackson, and Krystal Kill_lustrator commemorate the Love & Hip Hop cast member’s findings by creating and designing a one-of-a-kind tattoo inspired by their ancestral history, forever bonding them to their lineage.
S&A spoke with Smith-Harris, Dollaz, Redd and Phillips on the life-changing experience. Watch the full interview to delve into what they learned, what they want viewers to see and why the special is important.
Smith-Harris takes the most pride in learning about the real Africa
Images of the motherland will leave one to believe that it’s a third world country. But upon visiting, Smith-Harris and her co-stars learned the beautiful truth that the country has to offer not just the scenery, but in history and energy. She says a place that all people, specifically people of color, should visit.
“I realized that that country was rich in resources, rich and natural resources, and they live with an abundance of everything food, art, beauty of the land,” she said, adding that through the ancestry test, she discovered she was from Cameroon, which she says the similarities of the people of Cameroon are steeped deep within her.
“Actually understanding that I was from Cameroon and learning about the people – I’m a part of the Fulani people – and they lived life to the fullest,” she gushed. “And so much about those people connect with who I am. You know, they were entrepreneurs, they were marketers. They love to travel. Some of them were nomads. And that is completely who I am. So I realized that DNA has memory and it’s been an amazing experience. I’m so happy that I did it.”
The experience made Dollaz more enlightened as well
Dollaz says the once-in-a-lifetime chance to learn his roots is unmatched. “As a man, you get to bask in the glory of who you are and know exactly who you are and the self-awareness that brings is great,” he explained.
Dollaz says being a Black American has its cons as many are unaware of where they come from. “The United States has done us a disservice in not allowing us to discover and know who we are,” he said.
Both Redd and Phillips look forward to visiting
Redd and Phillips have yet to visit Africa, with Phillips noting the country wasn’t on her bucket list of travel dreams, until now. “I feel like now I have a different perspective on Africa,” Phillips said, noting she’s been in touch with family members regarding her experience. Since taking part in the experiment, it’s the first place on their list.
They also encourage others to do an ancestry exam if ever afforded the opportunity. For Redd, it provided more clarity than expected. “I thought I was from Trinidad because my mother was born in Trinidad and come to find out I’m actually from Nigeria once I did the DNA test,” she said.
Smith-Harris gives her perspective on naysayers who may not want to watch due to certain behaviors the cast has exhibited on their respective shows
Many are quick to write off specials like this with this specific cast as there’s such a stigma of Black reality television. The genre has been widely criticized for putting a negative spotlight on the Black experience, but Smith-Harris disagrees. She explained in part:
“Shows like this stay on for 12 years as we have because you watch it. If it was something that was so detrimental, it was so harmful and you didn’t tune in, there would be no more Love & Hip Hop. There would be no more Mob Wives. People are so quick to say what it’s doing to the Black community. But what did Mob Wives do to their community? What did the Housewives of Beverly Hills do to their community? We are so judgmental and so critical about our own people that we don’t take a moment to really look and see things in a whole picture. And I think if you look at things in a whole picture, Love & Hip Hop, for one, was the first to really delve into the world of mass incarceration. It was the first to delve into the world of, you know, sexual identity and being in relationships and trying to figure out who and what you want to be. You know, I think that if we really start to take off the blinders and look at things, but what they are, we were the trailblazers in so many different forms in fashion that this show. This special is right up our alley because we’ve set the pace and set the tone for being the first in every aspect of reality TV.”
Watch the full interview below: