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It seems like everyone has something to say about Yandy Smith-Harris, but by this point she’s heard it all.
“I have been called so many different things,” she tells me, “And by so many people that have never sat down and had a conversation with me. So the bottom line is that if I don’t know you personally, I will not take what you say about me personally.”
Depending on your knowledge level of the hip hop scene, you might know Yandy from her work with major musicians Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes. Otherwise, you’ll probably recognize her as a main cast member in VH1’s reality drama Love & Hip Hop. As a result, nearly every aspect of Yandy’s life has found its way onto the small screen and been reblogged and rehashed via social media, including her less-than-glamorous struggles to maintain a home and care for her children family while her partner, Mendeecees Harris, serves time in prison on drug charges. Not all of the opinions have been kind, but Yandy is an expert in not letting the haters get to her.
She feels like there are really two ways to deal with being in the spotlight: you can try to close off parts of your life to the public and maintain a semblance of privacy, or you can try to use the attention to your advantage.
“I really try to keep some things private,” she says, “But they’re not private. It just never works. You have to figure that they’re going to find out anyway. So I use it to tell a story. All this stuff that I’ve gone through with my husband and with my family, I could have tried to keep it secret. But instead I let the world in. I use my life experiences and the things that I would’ve kept private to tell other people that I’m not perfect, that I’m human. And I go through a lot of the same things you go through as well.”
When I ask her to share some of the lessons she’s learned after being on reality television for such a long time (Love & Hip Hop aired its ninth season in 2019), Yandy tells me that it all comes back to finding a way to use her celebrity to do good in the world.
“It’s been really good for me to have had my awakening on television,” she says. “I went through something publicly, and I realized that this is where my passion comes into play. You have to mix your work ethic with your passion, and you figure out what you love. You find your part of it. And there were so many people affected by my story. So many mothers and wives and sisters that had to say goodbye to loved ones. TV was able to capture the hurt and the pain of that. And I started really thinking about bringing healing to a lot of the women and the mothers and the wives, and that is when I realized this is my purpose. This is what I’m here for. I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t go through those trials. I would not have felt it important to reach back out in that way. And that’s kind of what has led me to do so many other things in communities,” Yandy says. “Right now I’m a single mom and that is not something that is easy. So I really cater to a lot of women, to single moms. I cater to inner city youth because I understand the struggles of a lot of these kids, who are turning to being drug dealers because they have to make money for their family. Because I was able to get this exposure and I have this huge voice, I need to use it to do something. Television gave me the chance to really get out there in a big way and help heal, and help spread awareness and also to help create opportunities for people to make money.”
Yandy isn’t just posturing when she talks about giving back to the community. As we’re doing this interview, she’s in the car with her children on the way home from a school fundraiser in Harlem, organized to help inner-city children afford school supplies. She believes that getting involved with schools is one of the best ways to really make a difference. “Over the past two or three years,” she says, “I’ve been working with teachers and students in an inner-city community as well as an alternative school. With a lot of these kids, their main concern is how they can generate income. They don’t necessarily believe that American History class or Calculus III is really going to help them be productive in their community. We offer them additional education and hands-on experience from professionals. They’re learning entrepreneurship, learning hair weaving, learning to tattoo, learning cosmetology, even factory work learning how to create their own t-shirts, backpacks, hats. For young men, it’s teaching them how to really grow up and develop in this community. And Think Like a Boss is a class for women, and it’s just teaching women how to be leaders. We’ve done it so far in seven schools, and I have eleven new contracts for high schools. So this school year, I’m trying to figure out how to do it all. I really want to leave a legacy of paying it forward. I think that will help save the world.”
As a manager and a producer, Yandy puts the same level of thought into making sure she’s contributing to something that’s going to make an impact on the world. It’s one of the most important things she looks for when choosing artists to worth with. “What’s really important to me, after working with greats like Missy Elliot or Busta Rhymes, or even 50 Cent, is always looking for someone that wants to disrupt the market,” she says. “Someone that is different, someone that is new, something that doesn’t sound like everything else on the radio. That’s who I want to work with. We really want you to be different. I love ideas that are out of the box and that don’t look like everyone else.”
Currently, she’s really excited about an independent R&B act called Ar’mon and Trey, two brothers working out of Atlanta. Yandy gushes about how incredible they are and how she’s excited to start on a new project with them. She also tells me to look out for their new single with Chris Brown, who she mentions is one of her favorite artists.
“Do you ever get any flack about that?” I ask. “Chris Brown is kind of a controversial figure, right?”
“He is,” Yandy agrees. “But I think that a lot of the artists that have ever gone out and been successful have been controversial. I think that they’re always a spectacle. Sometimes with creativity, when you’re a genius there are other areas where you may be flawed. All of us, really,” she adds. “But creative people, you know, there’s always that one thing with creative people that’s a little off. I think that Chris Brown is an amazing artist. I think that he has really become our modern-day Michael Jackson to some extent. He’s incredible. I hate all that trails his name, but I do believe in second chances. I’m hoping that whatever it is that he’s done, that he’s gotten the help he needs and can continue to be an amazing creative.”
“It’s probably impossible to avoid drama in the entertainment industry,” I say. “Is that something you agree with?”
“Absolutely,” she says. “Absolutely. As human beings we’re multidimensional. We can go to church on Sunday and then have anger issues, or drug or substance abuse problems that we’re able to keep closeted. But when you are an entertainer, you constantly have people around you that unfortunately are looking to expose these different things. Sometimes you have to deal with your ailments publicly. And I think every single human being has things that they need to work on, things in our character, things morally, things in our families that we would like the world not to know. But unfortunately when you’re a celebrity everything is up for grabs. People really get off on exposing celebrities and their hard times, their trials, all of that. Because it’s my pain, your pleasure, and that’s just the way it is. I think that’s why reality television is so successful.”
Yandy shares some simple but powerful advice for others wanting to get into the entertainment industry in any capacity, not just reality television. “Hold fast. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. As long as you’re given another day to breathe, that’s another day to be successful. It’s another day to help someone. It’s another day to breathe life into someone else.”
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