Erica Mena may only be 24 years old but she's been involved with the music industry for over a decade. After winning a Jennifer Lopez look-a-like contest sponsored by MTV, Mena caught the eye of record label executives and landed a number of roles in hip-hop music videos including Chris Brown's "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)" and Fabolous' "Breathe." Mena went on to pursue modeling but shortly thereafter, gave birth to her son who is now five-years-old.
The Bronx native helped launch the DASH store in Miami, run by the Kardashians, and was featured in episodes of Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami. But most recently, VH1's Love and Hip Hop 2 brought Mena into the mix halfway through the second season. While she gained notoriety for her on-air fights with fellow model and Juelz Santana's lady, Kimbella, Mena says she's ready to show viewers the real her on the upcoming season.
Complex spoke with Mena on her start in the industry, its challenges, her future career as a music artist, and what to expect on the next season of Love and Hip Hop.
Interview by Lauren Nostro (@LAURENcynthia)
What’s new with you?
I’m in the process of shooting the next season, season three of Love and Hip Hop. It’s been quite busy on this end for me, no complaints though. Everything is going well, it’s definitely a different scenario this time around being that now I get to finally let the world know who I am and really focus on the work stuff, everything that I wanted to focus on in the beginning and the original intention of doing the show last year. The next season is definitely coming soon.
You definitely get different stereotypes and I’ve worked so hard, especially in the beginning, proving not that I was just more than a video girl but that you can do more than people expect you can and carry yourself a certain way and have some type of integrity or credibility.
Speaking of the show, you were introduced halfway through the second season of Love and Hip Hop 2 and you weren’t happy with the way VH1 portrayed you. How did you get involved with the show?
The producers came to me. I’ve been in the industry so long, I have been in this world for quite some time. In a way, you can say that I grew up in it. My story is definitely familiar and the producers came to me and wanted to introduce me with the different dynamic of how I did things coming up, especially in the urban modeling world. A lot of times we get a lot of slack because of how sometimes you have to expose yourself more than most modeling. You definitely get different stereotypes and I’ve worked so hard, especially in the beginning, proving not that I was just more than a video girl but that you can do more than people expect you can and carry yourself a certain way and have some type of integrity or credibility.
That was the point of doing the show originally, and I wasn’t too happy with the way things unfolded, but like with anything in life, things happen, you get tested. It’s just a matter of how you handle it and it’s unfortunate as far as the whole Kimbella situation. I’m definitely apologetic for my behavior but not my thoughts. As grown women, we have kids and we should be able to sit down and discuss issues without getting violent and having to cross someone’s territory. I felt that I should have handled it different but in hindsight, vision is 20/20. We all grow from mistakes.
How is everything going between you and Kimbella going into the new season?
I can’t really give too much of that but let me say this, I don’t really have to deal with Kimbella at all, which is good. We have a lot of the original cast members coming back, but a lot of the original members like Chrissy and Emily aren’t coming back. It’s definitely going to be a new dynamic. We got some new folks so it’s definitely going to be interesting.
I’m definitely apologetic for my behavior but not my thoughts. As grown women we have kids and we should be able to sit down and discuss issues without getting violent and having to cross someone’s territory.
You started in the industry at 14. What were some of the projects you were getting involved in?
I was doing catalog work for a while at 14 and eventually, it was one of those days I was just moving around New York City and I got stopped by an MTV scout and I ended up doing a Jennifer Lopez look-a-like contest and I won that. I had to perform and give a full-on impersonation of J.Lo. It was a great experience because I learned so much about the industry in that short period of time. Ever since then, I’ve been on the move.
How did you get your start in music videos?
Someone from Roc-A-Fella’s label saw the J.Lo contest and reached out to one of the casting people at MTV and they tracked me down that way. That’s how I got my first video with Young Gunz “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop. Then after that I was in videos for Fabolous, and everything lined up behind it. Everything happened really quickly. I got a lot done in a short time at a young age. I was in the “Excuse Me Miss” video for Chris Brown, which was a really fun video. That’s where I’m lucky because most girls that get the opportunity to do videos don’t really get a chance to role play. It’s definitely been a blessing of how things have come my way because it’s definitely not easy.
The issue you had with Kimbella on the second season of Love and Hip Hop was that women are out there doing these videos for free—
It’s frustrating coming from that world where it’s common that a lot of girls do have that capability of actually being a video girl or a model, but they lose the business end of things because of the hunger and thirst for fame. I’m doing this because I love it, but anything you do in life you should be compensated for and appropriately. That was always the struggle.
I would sit up there and ask for what is realistic for a pay rate and some girls would come in and want to do it for free for exposure. I get it, but at the same time, you water down something that has a lot of value and potential by being so illiterate about it. A lot of girls don’t do their homework on it. It’s a big picture, we all have to eat. Nothing gets done for free.
I would sit up there and ask for what is realistic for a pay rate and some girls would come in and want to do it for free for exposure. I get it but at the same time, you water down something that has a lot of value and potential by being so illiterate about it.
How long were you doing music videos?
I started around 16 and my last video I was 19, and that was Akon’s “So Paid.” I’ve been doing it for a while. Even before me, I remember watching Janet Jackson and Jennifer Lopez. There’s so many great people who have come from the video aspect of things that I was really using it as a stepping stone, just to get out there and be seen and learn the industry because there’s a lot more to it than people think.
You began a modeling career while performing in music videos, as well. How did that begin?
I’ve always been very slim and tall and I just go to all the castings. I’m one of those girls. I’m from New York, that’s where I started so I would be up and down the D, 6, 4 trains to get to all the castings. I’ve just been lucky where, as far as my look, I’ve always been versatile. I can be super sexy and give you that whole video vixen look and at the same time I can be fashion-forward and strut a runway or even do hair campaigns or commercials. That’s one thing that I’ve always been open-minded in the sense of perfecting my craft and learning every possible thing. There is such a thing as being able to do it all, it’s just a matter of your deliverance and if you’re capable.
You were introduced to reality television through Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami. You helped them launch one of the DASH stores.
Kourtney came to me. My son’s father and Scott Disick are really good friends. I had just had my little guy, so I was taking a break but I was getting itchy and I needed to start working again. She came to Miami and it was perfect. I was able to be hands-on as a mom and still work. She came to me and asked me to help her launch it and it was cool because it was a bunch of girls that they hired. Being able to rub elbows with them and see how they move and make their business actually grow was a great experience. I would do it all over again.
You brought up your son and his father. There was a video that was released of you beating him up in the street. What was that all about?
It’s unfortunate how it looked, especially after the unfortunate situation with Kimbella. That was all over the place in the media. It just so happened that this video from my past surfaced. I didn’t have the healthiest relationship with my son’s father and it wasn’t the best. The video was something from my past and I’m not really trying to relive too much, especially now, but let’s just say I’m in a new situation and it’s much more loving and happier than I’ve ever been. My career is moving forward, I’m having fun, and the past is the past. That was a time to put a lot in perspective.
People haven’t really gotten a chance to know my story and see who I am as a person so the way things panned out is definitely unsettling to me because I know that’s not who I am or what it is.
People haven’t really gotten a chance to know my story and see who I am as a person so the way things panned out is definitely unsettling to me because I know that’s not who I am or what it is. Everyone goes through a rough time and when you don’t have the time or outlet to tell your story, people jump to conclusions. I signed up for this, so it’s a matter of, especially on this season, letting the world know who I am. All of my intentions, even when I do mess up, come from a good place. I’m not this crazy girl—I’m crazy, but I’m a good crazy. I love to live, have fun, I’m adventurous but I’m also a mom and someone who comes from nothing and everything I have, I’ve worked really hard for.
Where in New York did you grow up?
I grew up in the Bronx. It was rough, especially because the neighborhood I grew up in wasn’t so easy. You can be easily influenced by what’s around you. I was always strong minded and my personality was always extra in the sense that I was always dancing and singing. The Bronx has definitely made me be able to deal with a lot of things that come my way in this industry. It’s not easy. I’ve been through it all, I’ve seen the worst of it and it’s a good feeling to think that if I’ve come through this, I can deal with anything.
In the second season of Love and Hip Hop you were pursuing your music career. Is that still happening?
That’s what you see this year. You get to see why I’m so passionate and why I’ve been going for so long. You understand as far as what I meant last season even though my message got delivered the wrong way. I definitely work hard and music is something that I’ve wanted to do for a while. This is the time to get the ball rolling and get it done. People can follow my journey and be familiar and be comfortable with me because you get to see how it actually works. This is coming from a girl who used to model and is from the Bronx, but does have the capability of doing this. And you see how I get to do it. That alone is the underdog story.
I’ve been through it all, I’ve seen the worst of it and it’s a good feeling to think that if I’ve come through this, I can deal with anything.
On the show, we saw you sing a little for Rich Dollaz. Have you still been working with Rich?
Yeah, we’ve been very hands on. We’re always together working and right now we’re establishing a really great relationship. As far as us and business, everything is really good. I’m excited.
Any plans on releasing an album?
Definitely a single and that’s what we’re in the process of doing now, picking which one we want to go with and video time—the whole process. It’s definitely been a long time coming. I’ve been working really hard. During the whole controversy of everything, I had time to put a lot of things in perspective. I’m not perfect but I know as far as me wanting to make things happen, I’m not going to let anything get in the way of it. Hard work prevails, no matter what you have going on, how bad you messed up, how perfect your life is. We all go through it. I’m human and it’s about time to make things happen for Erica Mena.
It seems like you’re in a better place than last season. Do you have anything else coming up besides filming and the single?
I’m in the process of writing my book. It’s going to be about my life. I’m going to finally go into detail of what I’ve gone through, being in the industry so young and how I went about things. I know there’s a lot of girls to this day that look to be in this industry, so it's just to give my perspective on things because people assume the worst of it. It’s not even as bad as it is, it’s just a matter of being smart. For me, it’s really just about the music right now, that’s the cool thing. I’m just really excited about all of it.