Mona Scott-Young has a story to tell. A few in fact; from how she stumbled into working in entertainment to her love for her Haitian roots, she’s sharing all the details on her journey to music and TV icon status in the latest episode of TV One’s UNCENSORED. It’s a side of the TV producer and entrepreneur that many don’t get to hear about because when people think of the mogul, they think of Love and Hip Hop. It’s the series, her series, which has grown into four franchises, a handful of spinoffs, and a lot of success. It has also come with a lot of criticism for Scott-Young, whose shows, in the early days especially, were seen as unfavorable representations of Black women and men. But she says the show has been a launching pad for cast members to go after their dreams and create thriving businesses.
“Seeing them have the means to realize the things they wanted to do, that’s what the platform was intended for,” she says. “That’s always a gratifying feeling.”
So going into her UNCENSORED episode, she’s looking forward to reminding people there’s a lot more to her than the reality shows attached to her name. She’s excited to share her humble beginnings, her entry into the world of hip-hop and work with legends like Missy Elliott (whom she still manages), and her grind to becoming one of the few Black women to own a production company in Monami.
“I feel good! It was a great conversation. It was good to be able to tell my story, so I’m excited to see how it’s received,” she says. “Hopefully somebody hears something that inspires them in some way.”
We talked with her about that inspiring story, how she came up with the idea for Love and Hip Hop, what went wrong with Tamar Braxton: Get Ya Life, and why she still stands firm on the idea that the cast of her shows are examples of Black excellence, critics be damned.
MadameNoire: Did you ever envision the career that you’ve had back when you were working a 9-to-5 at a developing firm? I know you had no background at that time in entertainment, specifically in music, but then you end up getting in artist management, starting Violator, and then getting into TV. Could you have foreseen the trajectory that you were going to be on?
Mona Scott-Young: No! I could say that without even thinking twice. Most times I just keep my eyes straight ahead and my nose to the grindstone. I don’t often look up and go, “Oh my goodness!” But definitely, very, very grateful when I think back on the amazing experiences that I had working with a lot of the iconic artists that I had the incredible benefit and blessing to be a part of. When I think back on the beginnings of even my career in television, I never would have guessed that it would lead to where I am today. But I’m definitely very grateful. Still got the fire in the belly so every day is like the first day and I just continue to grind it out.
Love and Hip Hop has become a juggernaut in the culture, of course. How did you decide to take the initial concept, which I read was “Let’s follow Jim Jones,” to “let’s follow his girlfriend and her friends and these women who work in the hip-hop industry” and know it would be a hit in its current format?
I don’t know that I knew that it was going to be a hit, but we knew their world was fascinating, there really was no one focusing in on that space on television. Hip-hop, although it was global, had never really gotten that kind of opportunity to pull back the curtain and show the lives and dive into the journies and the struggles of artists in the business and what those relationships are like. We were seeing all these ensemble cast shows that showed women who were the girlfriends of and the wives of and this was a world that people were fascinated by. I don’t think any of us anticipated the success of it, but we knew that it was definitely a fascinating world and an exciting world to showcase.
What I found is, women-led reality TV can be controversial and the women behind it can be criticized if there is fighting and cattiness. I’ve noticed that more than someone, for example, going after a Carlos King when he used to produce Real Housewives of Atlanta. So how have you dealt with the criticism that comes with your shows, and have you ever thought that not only was it kind of unfair but also sexist in a way?
Absolutely! Absolutely. You look at Andy Cohen, you look at Carlos King — Carlos actually worked on the Love and Hip Hop franchise. But they’ve never been pinpointed in the same way. But I think it’s a little bit of the cross that we bear as women in any business we’re in. We’re held to a different standard. We’re scrutinized very differently. I don’t think anyone stops to think about how difficult it is to be competitive in this space. I’m one of the few Black women who own a physical production company. That in itself is an accomplishment I don’t think many people stop to credit and understand that it isn’t easy. And the whole idea that there’s something wrong with what we do by showcasing the lives of the women in this culture for me is something I’ll defend every single day because I feel like we should have the opportunity to tell all the stories, right? And hip-hop and the story of women in hip-hop is one set of stories of Black women and that story has as much of a reason to be told as any of the other stories that should, and will, and are being told. But yes, I definitely think there’s a different standard. It’s hard sometimes to listen to the things that people who don’t know me are saying, but for the most part, I have to be clear about what my intentions are. I have to be clear about who I am and not allow those things to distract me.
And how do you go about looking for cast members for this show? What does it take and what type of personality does it take to stand out to you and your team when looking for cast members?
I think in any reality show the criteria is the same. You need people who are willing to be honest and open about their lives. People who have a story to share, a story to tell. A great personality helps, especially if they have things about them that make them different, unusual, funny, dynamic because of course people want to be entertained as they’re watching these stories get told. There’s a great team that’s behind the franchise that is casting and always has their eye out for folks who check those boxes. A lot of times it just comes from a combination of the casting team, referrals from other cast members, people in the business who know people. But it’s really about finding great personalities with great stories and people who are just open and willing to tell them.
What was it about Cardi B’s personality that you knew would work for TV? Obviously, she had a bit of a following on social media and she’s colorful, but how did you guys know, “We’ve got to get her on New York”?
It was exactly that. It’s exactly what you’re saying. She had a following, she was poppin’ on social media, she’s funny, definitely unfiltered in a way that’s great. She says the things that you’re thinking but she says them in a funny way. She definitely had this uniqueness about who she was as a person, nevermind as a rapper or an artist, just who she was and the way that she thought. She had that intangible factor and when you met her you got a sense of her personality. People just liked her. Everyone liked her. When you look at some of the great cast members we’ve had, it is that same quality you can’t put your finger on, dating back to Chrissy Lampkin. She was just the girl’s girl in a way that you just loved her and she was unfiltered and she said it like it was. Women loved her, men loved her. She was beautiful but she was smart and she was funny. So all of those things combined make for great qualities.
I did want to ask, are there any shows or show moments where you look back and wonder if things could have been different? Obviously, you worked on the short-lived TV show that Tamar [Braxton] had and she had her feelings about WE tv before and after the fact. Was that a situation or time where you felt like, “okay, maybe she wasn’t ready to have the cameras in her face”? Where do you stand on that situation?
I don’t think I would have said it could have been done differently. It certainly was executed exactly as we discussed. It didn’t turn out the way we set out to mainly because she was just not in a good space for that show at that time in her life. I think the history that she had with the network prevented her from fully embracing the concept that we set out to accomplish, but it certainly was exactly what she had expressed wanting to do and we talked about just allowing the cameras to capture her in this phase of her life as she really tried to address a lot of the things she felt she wanted to see done differently in her life and that’s exactly what happened. There was no manipulation. I think she didn’t like the way a lot of things turned out but it certainly wasn’t because any of it was manipulated. I think it was just a case of not the right time for her. Not the right time in her life.
For your upcoming UNCENSORED, what are some things we’ll get to learn about you and learn more about your story?
I think my thought process and how I’ve gone about tackling life, tackling the challenges that life has presented. How I grew up and how that factored heavily into who I am today, so giving that kind of insight. I talk about my relationship with my partner, my late partner Chris Lighty and what we built and that legacy and that history that certainly influenced and factored into what I was able to do with Love and Hip Hop, because that was my entry into the world of hip-hop. And also just the idea that absolutely anything is possible. You don’t necessarily have to have a clear plan or a clear path, but you have to commit yourself and you have to be ready to roll up your sleeves and put in the work for whatever it is you decide to do. So again, I talk about my life and I talk about my journey and hopefully, there’s a takeaway there that helps someone in their own journey.
That’s great advice. I was just about to ask you what advice you would give to women looking to take their ideas or careers to the next level.
I say all of the time, take the time to learn the business that you’re in, whatever that business may be. Educate yourself so that you can not only command the respect of your peers and your colleagues but you can do the best job by whatever you’re doing whether it’s management, or promotions, or production. You really have to know your business in order to execute it effectively and successfully.
Lastly, you were on The Wendy Williams Show and you said you felt like Love and Hip Hop displays a level of Black excellence in its cast. Wendy being Wendy she’s like, “Really!?” It can be said that people only want to see certain kinds of folks on TV representing Black people, but why do you stand firm and say, “No, these people are Black excellence, too”?
I mean, if you think about what they’ve accomplished; it’s not only the ability to come on and tell their stories but to really pursue their dreams. It isn’t easy out there for anyone, especially an aspiring artist, a female artist in a male-dominated, misogynistic, hard-to-break-through industry. They’re out there fighting for their careers, earning an income, and supporting their families. Look at how many businesses have been built and successfully launched coming off of the show. The ability to have a level of financial independence that allows you to invest in yourself, to invest in your career, and not have to sit back and wait for someone else to make something happen. Karlie, Rasheeda, Yandy, K. Michelle, Nikki Baby, there’s so many businesses that have been launched. Bambi with her hair brand. These are entrepreneurial women who maybe don’t fit the mold of what someone else may consider an entrepreneur but it doesn’t change the success level, the grind, and the accomplishments that they’ve had. You have to give those props. You have to acknowledge, you have to respect that they are out here with real legitimate businesses that they’ve built, and for some of them it came as a result of having the opportunities that came from being on the show.
Mona Scott-Young’s episode of UNCENSORED airs on Sunday, March 28 at 10pm ET/9c on TV One.