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Confessions Of a Video Vixen

Is an ex-groupie's memoir of her hip-hop days empowering for black youth -- or just delusional?
 
 
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It's easy to dismiss Confessions of a Video Vixen, a book by ex-groupie turned 15-minute-fame-purveyor Karrine Steffans, which is rocking the hip-hop world.

Although Steffans -- whose tell-all remains on The New York Times bestseller list -- bills her story as a cautionary tale to young girls aspiring to be the next hottie in a hip-hop video, she lacks the necessary introspection and self-criticism, and she has an inflated view of herself and the goldilocks weave she sports.

So what if Steffans drank and did lots of drugs with A-list rappers and athletes? Her sexual diary includes romps with Jay-Z, Ja Rule, Damon Dash, DMX, Dr. Dre, Shaquille O'Neal, Irv Gotti, P. Diddy, Ice-T, and Fred Durst. Rappers passed her along to friends like bottom-shelf champagne.

Still, there is something to her story. Women's voices in hip-hop are muted, and Steffans' book comes along at a curious time. Essence magazine is attempting a campaign to take back the music, protesting vile video images degrading black women. Hip-hop feminist conferences are sprouting up across the country.

Meanwhile, the "video vixens" subculture is a be-seen-and-not-heard paradigm. Indeed, though Steffans' voice shouldn't be elevated as an emblematic one, in a fair critique of the video industry, accounts like hers need to be included. While Steffans has bought into the hegemony of her fate, she is offering a narrative in a genre that essentially relegates women to visual eye candy. Despite her poor choices, Steffans' tale has the potential to at least advance the debate.

"You would like to think [that] maybe these men who are exploiting women in hip-hop videos…will think twice, because you could be named or called out," says Gwendolyn Pough, a professor at Syracuse University and author of Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere.

Pough says young girls who read Confessions need to understand how Steffans was objectified. "The story she ends up sharing, for people who want to help younger black women, knowing about those kinds of pitfalls and traps out there is helpful on that level."

Steffans, a former stripper, would sidle up to rappers on the set. After working a day on Jay-Z's "Hey Papi" video, the two took a beach drive that ended with him whipping out a condom and placing his hand on the back of her neck. When Irv Gotti wanted to kick her off the set of Ja Rule's "Between Me and You," Steffans, um, convinced him orally.

"She's very smart when it came to thinking about something to market. That, to me, is genius," says Whyte Chocolate, the Atlanta video dancer who stirred controversy last year by having her rear end swiped with a credit card by Nelly in "Tip Drill." But the veteran of 30 videos adds that Steffans is more groupie than video dancer, given that her portfolio is only a handful. "If she's a video vixen, then what the hell am I -- a video queen? This book was a disappointment. It could've been more exciting. What she said was true -- the artists wanting to fuck and get their dicks sucked. But it's not for everybody. She portrayed herself as a ho…You are only as good as your reputation. I built mine. Don't stereotype me. You earn the respect you demand."

Steffans is promoting herself with the aplomb of an ex-reality television star, appearing on urban radio shows, giving book signings and interviews. Her book caused so much stir in New York that she had to hire a bodyguard, and endure the wrath of emcees' wives calling radio stations, incensed at her accusations and pluck.

And some wonder if her narrative is giving ammunition to feminists -- or setting back women in hip-hop. "She's clearly an opportunist, and her perspective is sort of delusional. Her take on a lot of her 'relationships' are romantic when it's obvious to me…that the [rappers] really didn't see her as a romance. They saw her as sex. She sort of glamorizes this idea that she's having sex with these people. I don't see where there was a relationship or a bond there," says Tunesia Turner, of the Detroit-based hip-hop/soul group Black Bottom Collective.

Steffans tries to justify her reasoning -- she grew up in a household rife with emotional and physical abuse. Her baby-daddy is rap pioneer Kool G Rap, a man she hooked up with at age 17 and whom she claims beat her and forced her to perform oral sex until her nose bled.

She escaped his thumb, venturing to Los Angeles and immersing herself in the glamorous hip-hop world of parties, VIPs, and decadence. "The top reason a woman finds herself in a rap video, sprawled undressed over a luxury car while a rapper is saying lewd things about her, is a lack of self-esteem. I know it sounds like a cliché, but no one who values, loves, or knows herself would allow herself to be placed in such a degrading position," Steffans writes in the introduction.

But after she finishes her underbelly tour and learns that people like Shaq won't break her off any significant loot after she crumbles, Steffans veers back into her old ways. She trademarks the name "Superhead," a sexual nickname that stuck like ear wax. Steffans also writes that she can't wait for her son to read the book, and concludes by saying that she would do it all again.

Natalie Y. Moore is a freelance journalist and adjunct professor at Wayne State University. She is co-writing a book on black masculinity in the hip-hop generation. (Cleis Press, 2006)