Love & Hip Hop New York Star Erica Mena Takes Us Inside Her Met Gala–Themed Baby Shower
Who throws a Met Gala–themed baby shower? Sure, the annual Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute benefit represents the height of extravagance and exclusivity and has been called the “the Oscars of the East Coast,” but it’s not exactly a kid-friendly event. Perhaps that’s why this baby shower is likely the first — and only — Met Gala–themed baby shower of all time.
When Erica Mena made her return to Love & Hip Hop New York in season 10, currently airing on VH1, she brought along a star who remains uncredited: her womb. She also brought along a new name, Erica Mena Samuels, as in the wife of Safaree Samuels, the rapper and longtime Love & Hip Hop fixture; her pregnancy reveal came in the season opener. Safaree — finding it necessary to compete with the current baby “starring” on the show, Remy Ma and Papoose’s daughter, nicknamed the Golden Child — says, “Now we havin’ a rose-gold diamond baby. Platinum placenta!”
Our couple’s in utero star is since literally born, as of February 3. But back to the baby shower. For Erica, the meta shower theme did not present a problem: Everything would be pink. A wall of pink roses, pink lighting, a pink dress, and a pink suit for her new husband. “When we started dating we started this whole his-and-hers furs [thing], and doing whatever to get dressed up and be over-the-top with each other. … First of all, our wedding was extremely over-the-top, so we were like, ‘What can we do to top our wedding?’” Erica tells People CHICA at the event. “People can be creative, go all out, sparkle, glam, pink hair.” She passed on the pink hair. Her man was not so lucky.
Safaree confesses that he wasn’t thrilled about dying his hair pink and all the rest. Sitting on a small dais in the midst of the shower’s fuchsia explosion, he makes clear that this theme was all Erica’s idea. “Usually I like to take all the credit for stuff, but … I had absolutely nothing to do with this,” he says. “She came up with everything.”
Even if he didn’t come up with the color scheme, he’s still responsible for the overall motif of over-the-top-ness conspicuously concocted by the couple. Who makes it their goal to throw a baby shower that outshines their wedding? “We are both naturally over-the-top in our own way,” Erica explains. “And now that we’re together, it’s like we feed off of each other and just [have that] craziness to do things big again. It just so happens that right now, we have cameras rolling. But yeah, this is definitely who we are.”
I’m not sure I’m buying what she’s selling. Nobody really wants to plan three or more over-the-top events one after another, do they? Among the roughly 200 guests at the shower were season-10 personalities Joe Budden, Cyn Santana, Remy Ma, Papoose, and the Golden Child herself. Erica and Safaree are a pair of seasoned reality stars, so I wonder if they’re throwing bones to producers with this endless stream of filmed events, likely as a trade-off for more control over their narrative on the show.
As mentioned, the shower is only the latest of festivities. First came a Christmas Eve proposal with fireworks. Then in rather quick succession: a joint bachelor/bachelorette party, a wedding (red-on-red rose theme with floor to match), a gender reveal with pink fireworks (it’s a girl!), Erica’s birthday party, and then the Met Gala baby shower. In her defense, Erica notes that the proposal was not shot for season 10, and the gender reveal doesn’t appear on the show, either.
She doesn’t admit that the endless string of parties is for producers, but her answers do represent how far the lines have blurred between reality TV and “real” life in her and Safaree’s world. “They’re definitely getting a fun kick out of just following us around, because everything we’ve done so far has been extremely over-the-top and definitely TV-worthy, to say the least,” Erica quips as we discuss the matter over the phone. “We need a new word for over-the-top.” Indeed, but I still think Erica is being cagey. And this makes sense when being ostentatious is a business model — this is the same couple that staged an entire sultry photo shoot to prove that Our Sexy Love Is Real. I was skeptical when I interviewed them about their relationship last year, but their love has already been tested and proven in melodramatic, roller-coaster fashion over and over in season 10.
“We didn’t start arguing or having reasons to argue until we got on the show,” Erica says. “But that just comes hand in hand when drama’s being served to you on a silver platter every day. … If you can make it through producers of Love & Hip Hop, you can definitely make it through years of marriage.” Comments like these are precisely why I think she and Safaree have lots of over-the-top fetes. It’s a means to get the producers to ease up on the manufactured friction, which can become real — a quid pro quo in today’s parlance. When she backtalks the show, she’s bargaining with her employer, not biting the hand that feeds her.
So did the producers go easy on them? Note this season 10-trailer highlight: “Erica Mena is back in NYC to plan her fairytale wedding to Safaree Samuels and prepare for the arrival of their first child. But when their past relationships with other cast members begin to interfere, will this couple be able to maintain their happily ever after?” After an early-season prenup dust-up, their relationship hit a nadir in episodes six and seven when Safaree appeared to have serious doubts about showing up on wedding day. Why? The night before the planned nuptials, the couple got into a big fight at their bachelor/bachelorette party because Safaree invited Rich Dollaz, another regular cast member. Erica is no fan of Dollaz, her ex and former manager who dismissed her music career in previous seasons. The incident might not have been a big deal in itself, but instead of the couple talking it out, producers made sure things escalated and Safaree stormed out.
Reality TV can’t be good for a fragile relationship, but if you can separate your real life from your career persona, then behind the scenes you’re laughing all the way to the bank. We already know that Erica knows how to manage those overlapping yet distinct identities. Erica has a twin — a Mrs. Hyde, if you will. Reality-TV Erica is exemplified by a greatest hits montage put together by VH1. And I do mean hits: It’s Erica at her most violent, shouty, and teary. There’s also a fun self-reference to being crazy for the right reasons.
Meanwhile, the other Erica is the one giving this interview. When she answers her phone, there’s no publicist on the call. During our 45-minute conversation she is as easygoing and polite as her alter ego appears bombastic and tantrum-prone. She and Safaree are hanging out. She asks about my two toddlers and suggests I give her some pointers. For his part, Safaree swears he’s ready for diaper duty. Erica asks me: “What’s it like going back to back? Because I’m trying to convince him now. Like, let’s knock it out. … And you did it. Do you feel like it’s worth it?” I can’t lie: I wouldn’t advise anyone to have two kids under two. It’s in these moments — and not necessarily all the times when she insists her life is blissful — that I am reminded that she and Safaree are for real. Don’t be surprised when they expand the brood. She has found her match and truly appreciates what she calls her new “blended family.” And yes, they’re into pregnancy sex.
This real Erica Mena grew up in the Bronx and has Dominican and Puerto Rican roots. Her first big break was at a Jennifer Lopez impersonator contest at 14. She was a model and video vixen for Chris Brown and other well-known rappers before her reality TV ascension on shows like Kourtney & Khloé Take Miami. While raising her son, King, now 12, on her own, she went through a public split with Bow Wow in 2015 that was heightened by social media. “I’ve had so many trials and tribulations of me trying to venture out and be successful in the music career,” Erica explains. “That hasn’t always been the greatest outcome for me. But it’s just ironic how life works. My love life has always been a mess because I’ve been trying to juggle my career and then, you know, not realizing that certain people weren’t good for me.”
While taking a break from Love & Hip Hop, she and Safaree got close on a reality TV show called Scared Famous. Yes, reality TV is the impetus for their love. Though Erica seems like someone who can clearly separate herself from her TV persona, when it comes to actual marriage and kids on the show, the lines grow blurrier than ever. In their season-10 storyline, Safaree and Erica have constructed, exaggerated ups and downs that conveniently can be resolved within the span of an episode or two. Aside from one or two dramatic outbursts at Safaree, this is a softer, dialed-down TV Erica. She even buries the hatchet with Cyn Santana! There is simply too much happiness in her life for the drama to be really real. Rich Dollaz is not shutting down his ex’s new love, nor is the orchestrated prenup hiccup. Despite the season’s theme of bringing old characters and drama back, the ghosts of the past do not haunt our sexy twosome.
If Erica’s blissful new life and season 10 of Love & Hip Hop New York seem to converge into one narrative, this is not an accident. “Now, years later, season 10, I get my moment and redemption,” she says. “Now I find the love of my life, but I get to marry him and now we are starting our blended families. Which goes to show you that you just can’t lose your faith in love. Even in Love & Hip Hop [there] is definitely some type of fairy tale that could be had.”
The narrative splits back in two when it comes to her son, King, though. He was briefly seen walking her down the aisle at her wedding, but he is not among the children featured on the show. Unaddressed in this context are King’s thoughts on his new baby sister. But during our chat, Erica describes his excitement as layered and part of the whole transition. “It was just him for 12 years. It’s not just him anymore,” Erica says. “So this time around, just to finally see his mom be loved … it’s a family of our own and you know, now there’s a new male figure in his life.”
While King has been kept off-camera, I still wonder if fans will see the “rose-gold diamond baby” in season 11. Erica says no. “Even though we are reality stars, I feel like it is important to keep certain things to ourselves. Just like I did with King.” And yet King didn’t have a professional reality-TV-star father, and no doubt producers will make some tempting offers.
“I just feel like our children should be given the right, once they know better, whether they want to be on TV or put into the limelight,” Erica continues. “We have the choice. So I don’t see us putting our daughter on the show. I don’t see us being so adamant out there with posting her every step. … I think we’re going to be very strict and selective with what we show with that.”
That sounds definitive enough, but then there are these words from Erica at her shower: “We have a bundle of joy and I’m sure she’s gonna be over-the-top. Look how her parents are!” So, maybe, stay tuned?
ERICA’S BABY SHOWER GIFT GUIDE
You might not be going to a Met Gala–themed baby shower, but Erica still has some ideas for what to give the parents-to-be. Here, she shares some of her favorite baby gifts (both Met-level luxurious and otherwise).
1. SNOO Smart Sleeper Bassinet | $906.50, Happiest Baby
2. Pampers Pure Protection Diapers | $11.99, Amazon
3. Cybex Mios Lux Carrycot in Light Spring Blossom | $532, Childsplay
4. Moschino Blanket | $142, Childsplay
5. Honest Baby Laundry Detergent | $12.95, Honest
6. Princess Aisha Dress | $245, Itty Bitty Toes
With reporting by Alma Sacasa