Beauty Icons: Taral Hicks, Charli Baltimore, and Liza Rivera on Their Skincare and Makeup Routines
Beauty icons Taral Hicks, Charli Baltimore, and Liza Rivera talk about their hair and skincare routines, their careers, and their impact.
Image via Complex Original
There are certain faces that leave an imprint. On the surface, it’s because they are beautiful, but beyond that, they represent something we connect with.
When Taral Hicks was cast as Jane Williams in the 1993 film A Bronx Tale, we were introduced to something that was rare, a brown skin leading love interest.
“I definitely felt it was a big deal, because I didn’t see a lot of my complexion in those days,” says Hicks about starring in the movie. “And this was the opportunity to really represent melanin girls who were my complexion and didn’t feel beautiful because they were darker.”
She went on to play another indelible character: Keisha in Hype Williams’ Belly film, which was released in 1998. Hicks calls Keisha Jane’s alter ego. She referenced models like Kimora Lee Simmons, Naomi Campbell, and Tyra Banks for the role, but merged it with hood sensibilities. “I had to take that classiness and mix it with the ghetto and combine all of those personalities together,” says Hicks.
When Charli Baltimore entered the music industry, she made a big statement with her signature bright red hair and stylish outfits. But this wasn’t a new image for her that a label exec suggested. It was something she did on her own as a young girl in Philly going out.
“I know they get artists, and then they make them into what they wanna make them into. But I pretty much came like I came,” says Baltimore, whose hairstylist in Philadelphia at the time, Tracy Riggs, suggested she get a red color and they kept going lighter and lighter. “Back then, nobody really had any wild colored hair unless you were, like, in punk rock or something like that. When I would go outside, people thought I was a hooker,” says Baltimore.
Liza Rivera was a staple in music videos from the early 2000s, but it was her role as DMX’s love interest in “How’s It Goin’ Down,” which came out in 1998, that people remember her for. She met Hype Williams who thought she was the perfect fit for the video and two weeks later she was filming. Rivera represented beauty, but in a way that felt familiar and relatable.
“A lot of people still recognize me to this day,” says Rivera. “It happens all the time and they go crazy like I’m this big ass celebrity, and I’m not. But it’s cool to feel the love.”
Here, we speak to Hicks, Baltimore, and Rivera about their careers, their beauty routines, and their impact.
Did you always want to work in the entertainment industry? Did you always know you were beautiful?
I started in theater when I was 12 years old as an usher and then graduated to the stage and fell in love. I would watch the beautiful women in the cast put their makeup on and style their hair. I was watching and learning and I became a product of what I was seeing. Theater life definitely made me feel beautiful. In high school, I took up cosmetology. I attended Grace Dodge High School in the Bronx, NY, which is a trade high school. I studied cosmetology. I’ve always had a love for all things beauty. I grew up styling my mom and sisters’ hair; braids, weaves and all the ‘90s hairstyles I practiced on them. I was set back a little when I landed A Bronx Tale and they told me, “You’re wearing absolutely no makeup.” I thought I was going to get a professional beat and perfect hair everyday like theater life. The producers said, “Nope. You’re going all natural. I had on a little foundation and powder for my naturally oily skin and that’s it. I absolutely loved makeup so I was disappointed. But later on I realized it was for a bigger purpose and that was so brown girls could see an example of natural beauty that look like them.
That was a big deal at the time. To have a chocolate skin girl who they cast as the natural beauty in the film. Did you realize it was a big deal?
I definitely felt it was a big deal, because I didn’t see a lot of my complexion in those days. This was the opportunity to really represent melanin girls who were my complexion and didn’t feel beautiful because they were darker. There was Naomi, Grace Jones and Iman. Those women were absolutely gorgeous but we just weren’t seeing enough representation of darker toned women. It wasn’t the industry’s go-to. I felt proud to represent my generation in the ’90s as a brown girl that the world saw as beautiful. I wanted to let women feel like they can embrace their skin color, because they are beautiful.
We didn’t have the internet back then, but what was the response you would get on the streets after playing Jane in A Bronx Tale.
There were lots of magazines and I was honored to have articles in most of them. I also had segments on news channels like Entertainment Tonight and all of the morning shows. People would approach me and say you’re such a beautiful brown girl. We didn’t use the term melanin back then. That’s a word that evolved into our word. Back then it was just, “Oh, you’re such a pretty chocolate girl.” I would have guys say, “You know I’m with a chocolate girl because of you. I like chocolate women because of you.” My response would be, “No, no, no. You should like dark-skinned women because we’ve always been beautiful, you’re just noticing us because we’re pushing and fighting our way to the front.” I was happy to be a part of the front line representing. I wanted women to know they could embrace their beautiful brown skin, because no matter what anyone says beautiful is what we are.
So you were 17 when A Bronx Tale came out. And then you started appearing in music videos right?
Hype Williams called me and said, “I loved you in A Bronx Tale, would you be interested in appearing in Usher Raymond’s video as our leading lady. He casted me for “Think of You” and he didn’t stop booking me.
Can you talk about your role as Keisha in Belly? You became a sex symbol. How was that?
I was inspired by Tyra Banks, Kimora Lee, Naomi and Iman. These women possessed a level of class that I admired. When I received the role of Keisha it was a bit challenging because I wanted to find a way to take their poise and mix it with the ghetto fabulous women. That mixture gave you the bougie ghetto princess named Keisha that I had to fully embrace. She was born. Her style was impeccable, her skin glistened of brown melted chocolate and she was that girl. I talk about her in second person because she is who I had to become. I had so much fun bringing this character to life.
Yeah. What was the makeup like in Belly?
Hype definitely had to talk me into the oily scenes. I wasn’t feeling it. He explained from an artistic view that it highlights the brown tone and no one will forget me. I guess he was right. Shortly after Belly I remember watching a gorgeous video of the beautiful Lauryn Hill glistening and oily under blue and brown and yellow hues. I felt so proud because we started something that artist wanted to emulate. But the makeup was very natural in Belly. All the makeup stayed within earth tones.
What are some beauty rituals you learned when you were younger?
My Godmother Alice would always tell me to drink lots of water and keep my skin clean. Don’t ever sleep in your makeup. My mom would tell me make sure you’re getting enough rest before work days. If you stay out all night, you’re gonna wake up and go to work with a tired face and bags under your eyes. I absolutely loved Ambi soap back in the day and I still do. But I’m excited because I’m going to be dropping TARAL SKINCARE very soon. My product will target all skin types and tones.
Do you wear a lot of makeup?
On the day-to-day, I don’t wear any makeup. I look forward to doing my makeup for special occasions, but during the week, no. I love NARS products. I love Fenty, especially the glosses and concealers. I love a line called GEAT Cosmetics by Lexi Allen. It’s a Black-owned business and the products are absolutely amazing.
We didn’t talk about hair. That’s the one thing I loved about you being cast in A Bronx Tale. Black girls saw a texture that they are familiar with. What do you do for maintenance?
Well, my hair is natural. Right now I’m using a lot of Mielle products. I’m usually just a wash and a natural twist style. If I’m not, you know, doing a protective style with braids. But as you know, sometimes we have our moments when we wanna be curly and other times we want to be straight.
What’s your beauty regimen now? Your skin does look really good.
I mean, again, I keep my skin very clean. I just drink a lot of water. If I get marks or scrapes or anything that leaves a mark, I use a 100 percent cocoa butter stick for a couple of days, and that works. I really just try to live a clean life. Not too much smoking or drinking. All of that stuff ages you. I love a good cocktail but everything in moderation. You gotta keep your temple pure.
Hair: Mone Bowers; Makeup: Amanda Geronimo.
When did you start thinking about hair and makeup?
I think I started to dye my hair in like ’97. It wasn’t a bright red. It was kind of like a burgundy color. And nobody really had that color. My hairstylist at the time kept saying, “We should try something different.” Back then, nobody really had any wild colored hair unless you were, like, in punk rock or something like that. When I would go outside, people thought I was a hooker. Somebody literally asked me was I a prostitute one day. I was like, “Wow. That’s very ignorant.”
What inspired that color though?
Tracy Riggs was my hairstylist in Philly. She suggested it and just wanted to make it lighter and lighter. And we just kept doing it, and a lot of people were liking it. And I started to get into rap, and it kind of just became a signature color.
Were you always into fashion and beauty?
Yes. A lot of my fashion sense just came from seeing different magazines like the Vogues and the Elles. And I would just look at all of that stuff and I guess combine it with hood stuff and what I could do or afford at the time. Because it’s not like I had a lot of money. So me and my girlfriend, we used to go out all the time and were considered like the flyest girls.
When you came into the music industry, did you feel a certain type of pressure to look a certain way? Did people have opinions about your red hair?
I mean, that was my look. I know they get artists, and then they make them into what they wanna make them into. But I pretty much came like I came. I came with the red hair. That was pretty much just my look.The only time I ever had a problem was when we shot the “Foolish” video for Ashanti and the hairstylist at the time made my hair a really bright pinkish color. And Irv [Gotti] was like, “Oh my god. It looks pink, and it’s washing you out.” So we went back to red. But I used to play around with colors a lot. Like, I had blonde hair, which makes all of your hair fall out, but I used to love it anyway. I’ve had purple in my hair, blue too, but the red was always like my signature color. I had it for about probably, what, 12 years?
But you also don’t seem very attached to your hair. You’re fine with cutting it and shaving the sides.
That was another thing. I shaved one side of my head and I tattooed it. And at the time, nobody was doing that. And it was like a whole thing. It was all over the blogs. Like, I guess they thought I was having a mental health crisis. I’m German and Black so it was just small words written in German. But then everybody started doing stuff like that. I was just kinda like the first person who did it.
What’s your philosophy with makeup? Are you a big makeup girl?
I used to be. I used to wear tons and tons of makeup, but the older I got, the less I started wanting to put more and more on. It used to take me like an hour and a half to put makeup on. Now I just throw some foundation on and some lip gloss and eye stuff, and I’m good. My younger daughter is a makeup artist, and she’s really, really good. But as you get older, you just get tired of putting on all that makeup all the time. It’s a lot of work. And then you gotta take it all off. That’s even harder than putting it all on. So I kind of try to keep it simple. But I mean, of course, everyone loves to be glammed up from time to time. I love when Rebecca Martin does my makeup.
Who was your makeup artist in the past?
Her name was JJ, and she was awesome. She did a lot of people’s makeup, but she was great. She started doing Ashanti’s as well.
Your hair is long and black now. Do you ever think of going back to red?
I was wearing a lot of weaves. When I was little, I could actually sit on my hair. My hair was that long. And I started wondering, “Wow, if I take this weave out and leave it out for a while and just, take good care of my hair, I wonder how long it’ll get.” And like last September, it was probably to my shoulders, and now it’s almost to my waist. So I’m just waiting to see how long it’ll grow.
What is your maintenance routine for your hair?
I only go to the hairdresser to get my ends clipped. I don’t really have a crazy regimen. I use Tracy Riggs products. They are called Bye Bye Parabens. She has great products that work for her hair. I use a Kérastase conditioner. I use Olaplex. But you can’t really use it a lot.
What’s your skincare routine?
I use Jurlique’s skin cleanser. I’ve been using it for years, and it’s just like my favorite product. I use an exfoliator from Kate Somerville. It’s called ExfoliKate. You use it like twice a week and it just makes your skin feel awesome. But I don’t do anything, like, you know, extra crazy to my skin. I don’t have like 50 products. I just use moisturizer and exfoliate. And as far as my moisturizer, I use Embryolisse. And my makeup artist Rebecca put me on to hyaluronic acid and that works great. And it could be all a genetic thing. I know my mom and all of my kids have good skin.
I want to talk about a few looks. There are pics of you all over the internet and you look so fly.
This was from a Chanel boutique opening. And it actually sent me the clothes, but that was a Roberto Cavalli coat that I had that I just thought would be cute with that. So I just threw that on over the top of it.
Did you have a stylist? I saw that Misa Hylton styled some of your earlier videos, but were you always working with her?
When I first came into the game, I didn’t know anything about stylists or any of that. So yes, in the early stages she styled a lot of my videos. But on a day-to-day basis, I dressed myself. A lot of people used to think that I had people like a team or something that dressed me or put me together or whatever. But I was like, “Nah, I came like this. This is, this is just me.” I was always into clothes and dressing.
When I started working with Murder Inc., I had a stylist named Rachel Johnson, who was awesome. And we got along so well and just collaborated on a lot of stuff. Like, she would have ideas and I would have ideas, and then we would come up with some really crazy looks together.
What about this look?
I think that was at the BET Awards. That was an Iceberg dress. The stylist wanted me to wear it as a dress. And I was like, I wanna wear jeans under that. And she was like, “Girl, what?” But then when it all came together, I thought it was really cute. It was the early 2000s. Everything was about low-cut jeans, and it’s the BET Awards. I wanted it to be fly but also look hip-hoppy. So I decided to put some jeans under it. And it came out well. I never thought I would be in any of the magazines for that look, but yeah, people seemed to like it.
This look was so cute.
I was always into high fashion brands. That was my shirt that I just wore with some jeans. I was wearing Christian Louboutins back in like 2001 or 2002 when no one knew what they were. I don’t know if it’s a Philly thing. I don’t know what it is, but like, I just always knew what was fly and what worked for me. A lot of girls in Philly, you know, that’s just their style. I’ve been called “label whore,” but I don’t feel like everything has to be a label. I’m just attracted to things, and then I wind up realizing it’s like $1,500 for a shirt.
What about this look?
I can’t remember who did my hair. But the shoot was at a tattoo parlor. I forget what magazine this was. And, um, I don’t even know, I don’t even remember who did my hair. Yeah. But I just kinda let them do something different. I usually would have way more fun when I would go overseas to, like, London because of their fashion. They just appreciate, like, different looks. I tried a lot of different, crazy stuff over there that I probably couldn’t get away with over here.
You’ve been in two serious car accidents. Those are things that could really mess with your vanity. How did you deal with that?
Well, the thing about the car accident I was in with BIG was that I went through the windshield, and the whole top of my head was basically split open. And if it was a few inches down, it would’ve been my whole face. I was very lucky that didn’t happen. But I guess if I shaved my whole head bald, you would see the scar from the stitches. The other car accident wasn’t as bad. I mean as far as like, you know, physically. Yeah. But that one was crazy.
Hair: Veronica Johnson; Makeup: Rebbeca Martin
Where did you grow up?
I came to the U.S. in 1985 from the Dominican Republic. I came to Manhattan, Uptown, around 186th and Wadsworth. But I grew up in the Bronx in Throgs Neck.
Were you doing anything modeling or acting related as a child?
So I first started modeling at like 13 years old. My dad put me in modeling school where they taught me how to walk. They also gave acting classes. I did that for a little bit, and then I stopped and started working regular jobs.
How did you get into music videos?
I met Hype Williams at 19. We met in the studio and he asked me if I was interested in doing a DMX video and that I would be the feature girl. So I said yes, and it happened a couple weeks later. It was pretty quick. That was my first video.
Were you nervous about it or apprehensive?
No. I felt good. Because like I said, the prior modeling classes that I took helped me. I was a little shy because Hype was amazing and DMX made me feel comfortable. He was an amazing person. June Ambrose styled it and she had such great energy. They all treated me so well. Hype was like this is what you have to do, and I did it. It was what it was.
So what was the response after that? It was such an important video and song and you were the leading girl. Did people recognize you in the streets?
Yes. When I did it, I was just like, “OK, this is just a video for DMX.” I knew who he was, but I didn’t think a lot of it. But when people started recognizing me in the streets I was like, “Oh, OK, I guess this was a big thing.” And DMX was a big thing. So people would stop me and say, “Oh, you’re in the DMX video,” and ask to take pictures. I used to have to take the 6 train, and I would literally have people take me all the way to my bus, to my train stop, and then to my house. A lot of people still recognize me to this day. It happens all the time and they go crazy like I’m this big ass celebrity, and I’m not. But it’s cool to feel the love.
Did you grow up with any beauty rituals or things your family taught you?
I think I just have good genes. [Laughs.] That’s what they say. I’m 44 years old. My dad has amazing skin. I would get a pimple around that time of the month, but nothing serious. I never liked makeup and I didn’t start wearing a lot of it until I started doing videos. Even now, I love makeup when I go out and I’ll go crazy with the lashes and everything. It helps define your beauty. But I never really wore a lot of makeup when I was young until I started doing videos.
So after that video, you started to do more?
Yes, and they were back to back. I knew Margo Wainwright. She was the video commissioner at Def Jam at the time and she was really close with all the producers and directors. We had a good relationship and she put me on a lot of other videos. She always had me working. She knew Chris Robinson, Lil X. I’ve worked with all of them. So it just kept going and kept going. And then one day I said, “I’m good,” and stopped.
OK, before we get into why you stopped, can we talk about some of your favorite videos outside of “How’s It Goin’ Down.” You were in Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’,” Joe Budden’s “Pump It Up,” Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” Ghostface Killah’s “Back Like That,” and many others. Did you have a favorite experience or memory?
I loved doing “Back Like That” with Ghostface. That was the second video I did with him. I was also in “Cherchez LaGhost.” We had a good relationship and he’s dope. I just like his personality and he’s an amazing partner to work with.
Did all the video girls get along?
I never really had a problem with any of the girls. I just went there to do what I came to do. If it was a party scene, I partied and then went home. I’m not going to tell you I made a lot of friends. I didn’t. I would just go for whatever scene I was in and then leave. I wasn’t there like, “Oh, I need a friend.” But everybody got along. I never really saw any fights or anything like that.
How much were you getting paid for the videos?
My first video with DMX, I got paid $500 a day and it was a three day job. I thought it was a lot at the time. I was 19. So after I got more experience, I was making up to $2,000 a day.
Was this your full time job?
Yeah. That this is all I was doing. This is all I needed. I did a lot of videos within that time. I was pretty busy. Sometimes I would have to turn down jobs because I was so busy. And that’s when I started slowing down. I was just so exhausted. It was a lot of traveling to LA or Miami. There were a few where I said I was going to do the video and I never made it, which was very irresponsible.
So why did you stop?
I had my son and that’s when I started slowing down. Because I really wanted to be with him 24/7. And then I had my daughter. So I owe a lot of my slowing down to them. But then everything just started slowing down with music videos. And now there’s no music videos.
Did you want to pursue any more modeling or anything in the entertainment industry?
I love acting. And I still see new actors who are my age or maybe a little older. And I look at it like maybe I can do it. There’s always a maybe. I was actually talking to Margo, who I mentioned earlier, and I was like “Maybe we should do a TV show or something?” I did a couple of castings when I first started doing videos and they didn’t go well. My mind was on something else and I wasn’t very focused. But I love acting. If the opportunity came up, I would definitely try it.
What’s your makeup and skincare routine now?
I always wash my face at night. I don’t leave makeup on. I’m big on that. I love Clinique. It works well for me and my daughter’s skin. We do the routine together. We wash our faces, then tone. You know the usual. I do a scrub on my face maybe once a week. I don’t really wear makeup during the week. I just cover the dark circles that I have that they say are genetic. But I usually just wear makeup when I’m going out.
Do you have any favorite makeup products?
I love NARS. I love their foundation and concealer. I love NYX lip glosses.
What about your hair maintenance?
So after the videos I started cutting my hair.I hate the blow drying. I’m actually not a girly person. I wasn’t girly in high school. When I got into videos is when I started being a little more girly. So I hate the whole process of getting my hair done. But I love my natural curls. Right now I’m just letting it grow so when I turn 50 I can make this dramatic change and cut it. But I use this brand called Natural First that’s made in the Dominican Republic. I buy them for me and my daughter when I go there. It’s all natural, made with onions and a bunch of natural vegetables. It doesn’t have crazy chemicals in it.
How do you feel about aging and beauty? Do you think about it a lot?
I do and I don’t. The thing that I probably think about the most is weight. I always try to maintain it. I’m not going to lie, I did get a tummy tuck like two years ago after I had my kids. But after Covid I gained a little weight. So that’s what I usually think about. I try to maintain the same size or at least close to the same size.
So you live in Boston, what are you up to now?
I’m raising my kids. I live a happy life. My son started school and he’s going to be a whole physical therapist. My daughter is in high school now and she wants to be a plastic surgeon. I told her I would wait for her and then be her guinea pig. But I’m happy. I like it here. I work for an airline. I feel good.
Hair: Andrita Renee; Makeup: Rebecca Martin