AHHA: You hosted/co-hosted Rap City for a long time back in the day. What where some of your memories from that period of time? How was it for you? Did you encounter some of those issues like sexism and things like that?
Big Lez: BET was an interesting experience for me. I came to BET to host from the dance background that I had. So I have to say thank you to them because without having a format to play music videos period and videos that are not necessarily Top 10. I went from being the girl that does back flips and one-arm handstands to, Oh that’s Big Lez. I did experience a lot of Black on Black racism in the company itself, and it was a shock to me. I couldn’t get certain jobs or move to certain shows because I didn’t look like Rachel. Rachel and I have had these conversations a thousand times, so I’m gonna tell you something that I’ve told her or that we’ve talked about. There’s no shame in it, but it’s been an issue. I’ve been told directly, even when I moved to California. I was still doing radio I was doing mid-days with Steve, and they started the late night talk show. So I was like, Let me switch from Rap City to the late night show, and I was told right to my face that I did not have the look that men who watch TV late at night wanted to see, so I had to stay on Rap City.
After a while it became like being in a destructive relationship. Either I could stay and keep getting abused, or I could finally step up and take a stand. On the other side of it, BET was good for me because I didn’t study broadcast journalism. When I got the job I had great producers who taught me to pay attention on camera and behind the camera. They gave me editing skills and taught me how to produce. I was on for seven years, and I produced for four of them. I got to work on everything from booking to this that and the other. That was a blessing in itself as well, but once things started to change over, Steven Hill came over and it basically became about the numbers. I was making more money as a dancer/choreographer then I was hosting a national Hip-Hop show. It just didn’t make sense anymore.
Rap City has been at it’s best when me , Chris, or Prince Djour where hosting the show. Now it’s boring as hell for me to watch that show Tha Bassment. The same questions, the pool table, yadda yadda yadda. Hip-Hop is national and international. We use to be hanging out at Scarface’s ranch, and riding in a low rider with W.C., and then bounce to Chi-town to hang out with Common and all these other things that you don’t see anymore. They don’t want to spend the money and it’s a shame. Hip-Hop is what’s kept BET, and MTV, and VH1 alive – no question about it.
What I realized about BET – or peoples perception of it – is that it’s hurt me more then it’s helped me to move to or be at other networks. From some of the interviews that I was able to do with Denzel and Oprah or whoever, they don’t take BET that seriously as far as journalistic integrity is concerned. I think if I had a platform like Teen Summit the way Ananda had but MTV really helped her to get her own show, because that’s a whole different audience. Us not looking the part has also come into play. MTV has never really had a brown skinned nappy-headed girl hosting a show. LaLa has been the closest thing – she is Latino and Black. I give her props for being a good woman and handling her business correctly. I’m not taking anything away from her whatsoever.
AHHA: I found it interesting that they said that you where not attractive enough, or not what people wanted to see. From my point of view, you where always considered a sex symbol to us.
Big Lez: I thank you for that blessing, and the industry really pulled together for me. People like Patti LaBelle and the record labels specifically requested to do interviews with me cause some of the other talent wasn’t as knowledgeable and didn’t have some of the relationships that I had. I choreograph and worked with a lot of these people, so the bond was with me and Bobby, or me and Whitney, or me and Mary J. It’s the reason I was able to stay around as long as I did, however the growth for me was very limited.
AHHA: Not to call any names out, but Free left over the summer and it’s been rumored that that Stephen Hill was the reason for that. You mentioned his name earlier. Is that part of the reason for your leaving?
Big Lez: He was the only person that my lawyers had to go back and forth with in regards to the numbers on my contract. It was just on the negation. He and I are really cool. They call me all the time. I do voice-overs and they pay my rates. I’m going, Why where you arguing then when all you had to do was pay me what I’m asking? But it was just about the numbers. He maybe had a budget constraint. He and I have never really worked together, and I don’t know what Free’s situation is. I get mixed stories about her attitude and her contract. Ya know the same thing with AJ. I told them once, “You guys didn’t experience what I experienced.”
Watching them get rid of Donnie Simpson the way they did Donnie was the staple of BET. He had fans around the globe. He was asked to step down…well he was told, not even asked, because he had to wear his glasses to see the teleprompter and they thought that changed what they thought was the demographic look, cause now he looks older and that whole kind of thing. They could have thrown a goodbye party and said Goodbye, see ya later Donnie but they didn’t do anything on the network. They just got rid of him – that was it, it was over. That’s when I knew that me and anybody else on that network, [like fellow hosts] Sherry Carter, Madeline Woods, could all say, Goodbye See ya later. I remember having a conversation with AJ and telling him, “Don’t get comfortable, because when they say it’s time to go ” and it happens whether it’s the NBA or whatever, they get you a contract, write you a check and send you on your way. Be prepared to move on to the next level. I don’t know how prepared they were, but you know it’s the nature of the business.
AHHA: What would you say is your fondest memory of who you’ve interviewed?
Big Lez: I have so many, but my favorite interviews were really during the old school, like EPMD or Ice T or Nice n Smooth. Those guys have stuff to talk about. You know, talking to Premiere and Guru and those guys, they educate you. They give you deep interviews and Hip-Hop knowledge like you could never ask for, and it’s a blessing. Interviewing Tupac and Biggie, giving them their first interviews on BET, was major. My first time doing Video Soul I was able to interview R. Kelly and Aaliyah, and I was able to ask that question “Are you two married?” That was really big for me. I was able to do Denzel during my first time at BET while he was doing Preachers Wife, and that was a blessing cause it took me outside of Hip-Hop. Now I’m able to do anywhere from Scarlett Johanson to Mickey Rourke, and just stepping into that world. I’m loving every minute of it, so it’s been a good ride.
AHHA: What else do you want to achieve?
Big Lez: It’s been amazing that every five goals that I set in different paths, whether it’s radio or television or dancing or choreography or fitness – I’ve been able to master almost all of them and have been really able to ride them out. I really want to be the next female action hero. I’ve got a couple of back flips left, and it’s gotta happen soon. That would be the icing on the cake for me to play Pam Grier doing her life story, or be in the next Alien or whatever, and just give a Black girl something to look up to. That’s always been a goal that I’m really focusing on and headed towards, but I still have to pay the bills, so everything else helps.