Beautiful women have been a mainstay in classic Hip-Hop videos, from the bikini-clad groovers in “Rumpshaker” by Wreckx-N-Effect to the party girls in Nelly’s notorious “Tip Drill.” But only a handful of those women have gone on to become major names in the industry. These are the women who helped define the Video Vixen, while also shattering whatever preconceived notions we may have had about what that represents. They set the standard and broke the mold. These women stepped into a man’s world and managed to change the game, blazing a trail that only a few could follow.
Leslie ‘Big Lez’ Segar
Prior to the mid-1990s, beautiful women in rap videos tended to be window dressing, treated as ornaments to the rap star flexing at the center of attention. That all started to change with Big Lez. The brown-skinned beauty was a fixture in early-’90s Hip-Hop and R&B videos — you could spot her in LL’s “Around the Way Girl,” Heavy D’s “Black Coffee” and countless vids by stars like Mary J. Blige and Salt-N-Pepa. She was also prominently featured in the opening credits for Fox’s hit sitcom Living Single. Lez became a household name among Hip-Hop fans in 1994, when she made the leap from dancer to media personality as co-host of BETs hit Rap City. LL remembers giving Lez her big break in his video.
“One thing I’ve always tried to do is give these young ladies respect and love and try to put them in the position to rock,” LL COOL J recalls about casting Lez to dance in the “Around the Way Girl” vid. “She’s always been a talented chick and she went on to do some iconic shit. She took it to another level.”
Lez stood out: Her fit physique and dimpled smile made her the epitome of an around-the-way chanteuse, and her fame was only bolstered by her time on Rap City. But even as she became a sex symbol to a generation of fans, Segar had to battle colorism as a dancer and a host. Even at BET, she was made to feel like she didn’t meet a standard.
“I made the adaptations, but thank God for my skill set,” she said in 2019. “When I got to television, to BET, the producers that wanted me for Rap City had to fight with the executives and Bob Johnson because I wasn’t the girl that made Bob Johnson’s d— hard. At some point, he said it to my face, that I’m not what men want to see on television.”
Despite Johnson’s apparent misgivings, Big Lez became one of BET’s most beloved VJs. Segar is still in media, co-hosting Tha Spin Room on Dash Radio and showcasing her fitness routine on Instagram.
She rewrote the rules for dancers turned actresses turned pop stars. “Jenny From the Block” got her big break as one of the legendary Fly Girls on In Living Color. The Bronx bombshell also appeared in videos alongside music stars from EPMD (“Rampage”) to Janet Jackson (“That’s the Way Love Goes”).
Of course, we all know what happened from there. Lopez’s star exploded after she landed the role of Selena in the 1997 biopic of the late Tejano singer. She went on to become one of the most bankable actresses in Hollywood, with box-office hits like Out of Sight and The Cell, not to mention taking the music world by storm following the release of On the 6 in 1999. Today she’s a triple-threat superstar diva of the highest order.
“I feel like I haven’t even started yet,” she told Rolling Stone in 2001, just after becoming the highest-paid Latina actress in Hollywood. “I’m looking forward to the ninth album, the 30th movie. I want to write more songs, tour, find the right roles, have my own family. That’s why I have so much energy. I know what lies ahead.”
You can’t front on Jenny From the Block.
Jossie Harris Thacker
With the notable exception of Big Lez, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more visible early-’90s video vixen than Jossie Harris Thacker. Her trademark dimples and braids turned up in Boyz II Men videos, Shabba Ranks videos, and everywhere in between. She came to prominence, like J. Lo, as one of In Living Color’s Fly Girls during that hit show’s heyday. Harris was also a fixture alongside Janet Jackson during the pop superstar’s Janet era, which saw the singer reinvent herself with round-the-way relatability to star in John Singleton’s coming-of-age drama Poetic Justice. Some claimed Janet’s 1993 homegirl-friendly image was directly inspired by Jossie’s look and style.
She became a hot commodity on ebony calendars and magazines throughout the ’90s and early 2000s but has since moved on to a very rewarding career as an actress and acting coach in Los Angeles. In 2009 she became the first African-American, Latina woman ever to win in the Best Supporting Actress category at the Chicago International Film Festival for her role in Mississippi Damned.
“I have always been a people person,” she shared in 2019. “I love to make people smile and laugh. I love dancing, acting, and singing, although I can’t sing to save my life. My dream day is sitting in my backyard reading books all day. I love being a mom to my two boys, Elijah (12) and Jonah (10), and I love motivating and inspiring people to actualize their dreams. My motto is ‘hard work + immovable faith = dreams actualized.’ I love doing philanthropic work and hope to leave a legacy before I pass.”
She inspired an R&B classic and was the love of two icons in urban music. Al B. Sure wrote the Jodeci hit “Forever My Lady” with Porter in mind back in 1991, when she was pregnant with his son, Quincy. “I remember they were working on the song and they couldn’t come up with the lyrics and Al looked at me and he was like, ‘So you’re having my baby.’ And I was like, ‘Ohhhh!’” Porter said in an episode of Unsung in 2015.
Porter appeared as the estranged love interest in the video for Heavy D’s 1993 single “Truthful,” and her star turn in his “Nuttin’ But Love” clip in 1994 made her one of the most sought-after urban models of the 1990s.
She would later become known for her longtime relationship with Sean “Diddy” Combs. The couple had two kids before officially calling it quits in 2009. Despite their split, they remained close co-parents and friends. Upon Porter’s tragic death in 2018, Diddy made sure to let the world know how much she’d always meant to him.
“We were more than best friends, we were more than soul mates,” he wrote on IG. “WE WERE ON SOME OTHER SH*T… And I miss you so much. Super Black Love.”
Before her reality-show fame and now-defunct marriage to NFL legend Deion Sanders, Pilar Biggers was the sultry siren in LL COOL J’s hit video for his 1996 smash “Doin’ It.” The song was one of Uncle L’s lustiest hits and it made Pilar a fixture on MTV and BET circa 1995.
“The craziest moment had to be in the video when she grabbed my junk and all that and I ain’t expect it!” he remembers, laughing. “In the video, if you look, when I’m sitting there in the Range and she grabs my joint, I look stunned! It was all fun and playful and just a great time and good energy.”
Of course, even bigger infamy would come Pilar’s way in the reality-obsessed 2000s, when she and Neon Deion, one of the NFL’s most ostentatious stars, got together.
She married the Super Bowl-winning cornerback in 1999 and the two would have three children. Pilar co-starred with Deion on the OWN reality series Deion & Pilar: Prime Time Love before the marriage fell apart. As messy as the gossip may have been, the subsequent divorce was famously ugly.
Sanders sued her for defamation and in 2015 Pilar was forced to pay him $2.2 million.
“Sooner or later the truth comes out. Never stop fighting for what you believe to be true,” she said at the time. “Don’t give up on what’s right and what’s true.”
The Bay Area-born Arcieri was crowned Miss San Francisco 1997 en route to becoming one of the most sought-after beauties in Hollywood in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She started out doing 1-800-COLLECT commercials before appearing in music videos for the likes of Montell Jordan and Boyz II Men.
But it was a memorable appearance in Q-Tip’s “Vivrant Thing” video that cemented her place in vixen lore. The vid remains one of the most memorable of the era, with Tip announcing his solo career in flossy fashion, with a bevy of head-bobbing beauties.
Arcieri landed on the Maxim Hot 100 in 2005. She famously co-starred on early FX original series Son of the Beach in the early 2000s; her film appearances include the steamy sequel Wild Things 2, box office hit XXX and comedy caper King’s Ransom. She was featured on the cover of KING magazine in 2002, and a friendship/relationship with Jamie Foxx made her something of a gossip-page fixture.
She moved on from the entertainment industry in the 2010s and focused on her own business, having founded STIR Sweetener in 2013.
Discovered by director Little X while she was working as a bartender in Toronto, the model once known as “Jessica Rabbit” for her amazing curves would become a favorite vixen among Hip-Hop fans in the early 2000s. An alumnus of JAY-Z’s “Big Pimpin’” video as well as other classic clips (Ghostface’s “Cherchez La Ghost”; Usher’s “Yeah!”), Ford carved out an enviable career as a video model but never seemed wholly comfortable with the lifestyle or the image.
“It is a really big paycheck,” she told CNN in 2008. “Not very many people that are going to throw away that opportunity based on, you know, having such a strict moral code.
“A common question I found myself asking every time I would take on a project [was] am I perpetuating a negative stereotype?”
Over time she would move on from vixen-dom, pursuing a career as a realtor and becoming co-host of Hollywood Unlocked, a Hip-Hop and pop culture radio show. Ford survived a serious car accident in 2018 and subsequently shared her recovery journey with fans.
She wrote on Instagram: “It’s taken a while to get back to some semblance of normalcy; some things I’ve had to accept as ‘my new normal’ after the car crash. But every time I thought about giving up, I thought about the strong women, both in my life & those I’ve admired from afar, and the perseverance I’ve witnessed them exhibit. It was the motivation I needed to give it ‘just one more day.’ Happy #womanshistorymonth Queens!"
The model and dancer toured with stars like Sisqo and *NSYNC en route to becoming one of the most high-profile video models of her generation. She said in 2003 that her career began when she was just a teenager hitting up clubs in Florida’s bass music scene. “They had competitions like body contests and a couple of bass artists wanted me to dance on tour with them. So I started touring with them on weekends and holidays and stuff. People started saying to me I would love for you to be in this video.”
She broke big via late-’90s appearances in Ja Rule’s “Holla, Holla” video and, of course, JAY-Z’s “Big Pimpin’” clip, decked out in full cowgirl gear. And she made the jump to recording artist herself, popping up on various mixtapes, landing a deal with Rodney Jerkins, and even briefly beefing with a newcomer named Nicki Minaj back in 2009.
But these days Velez has stepped away to focus on motherhood.
“So the one question I get constantly is why did I stop my career,” Velez said in an Instagram video posted in November 2017. “Initially that was for my son’s father, Brayden’s father. And then once I had Brayden, he had a lot of issues with eating and other things. I couldn’t be on the road or have someone else take care of him. Plus, I didn’t have family to help me as well. So I stopped everything to make sure my son gets better.”
When Karrine Steffans dropped a tell-all book about her life as a video vixen that detailed her exploits with several famous rappers and other celebs, she immediately became the most notorious video model of all time. Confessions of a Video Vixen made her the talk of Hip-Hop media in the early 2000s and landed on The New York Times Best Sellers list at No. 7, remaining on the list for 12 weeks. Steffans parlayed that infamy into a wildly successful career as an author, with The Vixen Diaries and The Vixen Manual: How to Find, Seduce, and Keep the Man You Want among her works.
She’d flipped the script. And she wasn’t worried about how suddenly-shy rappers felt about it.
“The things that I wrote are mild compared to the things that I could have said if I was trying to be nasty,” she told The New York Times.
She’s drawn further attention for a longtime fling with Lil Wayne and a brief marriage to actor Columbus Short, while maintaining her career as a writer and sustaining a presence on social media and entertainment news sites. Most infamously, she claimed that she was the mysterious “Becky with the good hair” referenced on Beyoncé’s hit 2016 album Lemonade.
“Basically, I’ve been enjoying life away from the Karrine Steffans pen name and persona, after officially retiring both in 2018,” she told TheJasmineBrand. “I don’t think most people realize it was a fake name and an amazingly orchestrated brand that ended when the last book published in 2015. So once we ended touring and promotions, I was all too happy to put her to rest.”
Esther Baxter didn’t exactly plan to become one of the most famous video models of the 2000s. In fact, she didn’t plan on being in videos at all.
“Well, my brother was the one who started it,” Baxter said back in 2011. “He used to be like, you should do videos, and you should do modeling. And I was like, ‘yeah, right.’ I was like 16 or 17. And my brother was like, you know, you can make a lot of money. And I said, ‘well…exactly how much money?’ He also mentioned that I would need an agent, and I got an agent…and that was pretty much it.”
In the early 2000s, the Miami-born muse became the go-to girl in some of Hip-Hop’s hottest videos. Her curves were a main feature in Nelly’s “Shake a Tailfeather,” Will Smith’s “Switch,” and most infamously, Petey Pablo’s 2004 smash “Freek-A-Leek.” She became a fixture in vids and popular magazines like VIBE, Smooth, and KING.
But Baxter wasn’t intent on the “video girl” brand assigned to her. She’d become known for her appearances in Hip-Hop videos as well as a tumultuous relationship with Joe Budden. But she ditched the industry in the early 2010s, after focusing more on her acting career and entrepreneurial ventures.
* Banner Image: Photo by Rob Ball/Redferns via Getty Images