“Who is that girl with the big ass head?” was my first critique of Rihanna. That was 10 years ago. I was an intern at MTV News and I had absolutely no idea who she was. A fellow intern and college classmate informed me that Rihanna, who walked around smiling and with only one other person with her, was behind the new song “Pon de Replay.” After that quick informational, it was not long before I could be spotted body rolling to the track on my iPod while en route to the West Village.
I did fall in love with her debut album, Music of the Sun, which turned a decade old this month, but if nothing else, I was at least aware of her name and one of her songs. For a label, it’s a not a runaway success, though it’s not a complete failure either. It’s something: a chance to build.
The same summer, I also interned at the now defunct music magazine Blender. That was where I met another new artist who was affiliated with Jay Z: Teairra Mari. As the sole black person around, I had gone to the set and helped them find the proper lighting for Teairra’s darker skin. This included standing there, not lose my black skin while testing the lights and hold the leashes of two doberman pinschers who would be a part of the shoot. When Teairra Mari walked in, she was surrounded by a sea of handlers – many of whom who I recognized from MTV. She couldn’t have been more than 17 at the time, but I recall her being served up in attire that recalled Vanity 6.
Then, I heard her second single, “No Daddy,” blaring from the speakers. As soon as I heard the hook of that song, I could simultaneously hear her career be dropped inside a black skillet filled with hot grease. I’m surprised none of the editors sent me to go get Teairra a side of french fries.
What they got wrong about Rihanna is that she was not supposed to be the Caribbean Beyoncé. What they got wrong about Teairra Mari is that she could have been like Monica in that she was a teenager with an attitude, but within limits. Monica was Miss Thang, Not Miss Motherf**king Thang. Her first album, Roc-A-Fella Records Presents Teairra Mari, which also turned 10 this month, is a lot better than its lazy title. It was too much, too soon from a teenager, though.
Unfortunately, only one of these two singers that I saw within weeks of each other that summer had the chance to rectify their handlers’ mistakes.
As we hate for Rihanna to eventually release her long-delayed album, R8, soon we’ll be watching Teairra Mari premiere her latest project: cast member of season two of Love & Hip Hop Hollywood. There’s nothing wrong with the latter, by the way, but I do hope whatever Teairra Mari does on this season of the show, it comes on the heels of new music.
Conventional wisdom suggests that a mistake was made when it comes to who deserved a bigger push at the time: Rihanna or Teairra Mari. That sort of thinking is ridiculous and a symptom of our collective habit of pitting women against each other.
The truth is, Rihanna’s star might’ve been a little harder to spot at the time, but it was worth taking more time to help her reach her potential. By contrast, Teairra Mari’s was easier to spot early on, only when things didn’t go the way her handlers hoped, she was left by the wayside. Yet, when you listen to “Deserve,” released around the conclusion of LHHH’s first season, you’re reminded of Teairra Mari’s talent.
I’ll be watching Teairra Mari on the second season, but I do hope some label scoops her up soon and gives her a real second chance. Or hell, chances that are “to infinity and beyond” like Rita Ora enjoys. She deserves it.