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A Comeback-Quarantine Aesthetic: YahRock Acts!

Updated: May 4, 2020

Photo by Steven Taylor for Romeo & Penelope

TC. How did you get the name Yah Yah?

YahRock. When I came to New York and started modeling, I started using the nickname 'Yah Yah' on social media. My mom named me YahRock, the first syllable comes from how God is referred to in the Bible as 'Yahweh,' and the second--the last part--is the name of my mom's uncle who died from cancer.

TC. When did you start acting? YahRock. I’ve never acted before--never taken classes before or anything like that. But, I did one little, small thing, which you could consider acting but it wasn't like no training involved--it was like some on-the-spot, last-minute thing where my homie backed out of this show, a YouTube series and I took his place. It was one of those projects I’ve always thought about acting but never acted upon it. Growing up with a strict mom in the country you kind of like…you don’t get to hang out with your friends all the time, you just kind of like act crazy, talking to yourself, making up personalities and characters in your head. When you’re alone, you do crazy stuff. Who knows how many other great actors are out there because they know what it’s like to live inside their head when they’re alone at times, developing some of these personalities that they can snap into real quick. I’ve always had that…I thought if I had to act like somebody, change my voice this or that kind of way, or just channel somebody, I always felt like I could do that because of being by myself as a kid, acting crazy, acting like a different person, watching different stuff. TC. What Kind of television programs, reality shows, or films did you enjoy watching?

YahRock. I’ve never really limited myself to what I watched or what I enjoy watching. I don’t just watch black shows or black television programs. I watch everything. So, I guess that has opened up my mind to everything. I enjoy watching French, Asian, Korean movies, whatever, reading subtitles. And, I love to laugh. I’m a humorous person. I’m always laughing, so I can kind of see what’s funny or not…I feel like I have an eye and ear for humor, as they say. I have an eye for fashion--I know. I have an eye for certain things. And, I guess, the quarantine is a blessing and a curse. It’s a curse because we’re quarantined and you have people dying and those kind of things…Yeah, but other than that, there are people like me who are finding their hidden talents, and you know, finding pieces of themselves, whatever they’re finding out right now, just testing the waters with different things.

TC. Had you ever considered acting prior to your Tik Tok performances/skits?

YahRock. Tik Tok came about, and I just started doing different roles. Once I did one, and heard people say, "Oh, that was good!" or "You got skills! I didn't know you could act too!" That's what happened with the one I did to All About the Benjamins, I just couldn't

stop doing it. It's low-key addicting in a way, you know. It’s like acting is more like a release than modeling. When you act, you actually have the emotion whereas modeling is like bottling up your energy. You can’t talk. You can’t do this! Can’t do that! You gotta be a certain way. Acting, on the other hand, is like releasing everything. You can show emotions. You know, talk loud! Do this, do that! It’s like therapy for me. You know, I’ve never acted before, but I’ve always thought in the back of my mind, I could. So now, I’m trying it out, getting positive feedback, too. So, I guess, I’ll keep going. TC. Do you ever consider that you could make a lot more money at one time acting than modeling?

YahRock for Pyer Moss x Sean Jean

YahRock. I’ve definitely thought about that! I guess models and actors both have to deal with the frustration of payroll and the difference between actually doing a job and actually getting paid for it. 30-60 days sometimes—75 day! But, it’s the difference between waiting on $1K-$2K and $10K-$30K, whatever. I could wait on the latter as an actor. That’s something where I know I would be straight. But modeling is real tedious when it comes to the financial strain or waiting periods of payroll, so I definitely think about that. I also think about, I know, acting is a lot more work too. I’ve thought about acting but I’ve shied away from it a little bite because I know the type of commitment it is. I know that Tik Tok is just the beginning of things. I’m not even using my real voices. But it is a lot. It’s not as easy as it looks because you’re supposed to act from the inside-out. You know, emotions and then the words and everything come late. But also, I was going to say that I’m not trying to be a comedian. I guess I’m just good at making people laugh and stuff like that. I’ve got a sense of humor. Like, I guess I can say that if I was a big-time actor I would see myself playing roles like Will Smith, you know. I’ll make you laugh but I want to be in movies like Bad Boys. I’m trying to be in roles like that—Training Day, Bad Boys! You know, Blockbusters…serious things. But I can also make you laugh. I’m just using social media. But when you’re more serious, followers are not going to be focused on that material. They’re just going to put laughing emojis and stuff like that. So that’s one thing I’m doing. I’m tailoring stuff to what gets the views, to what gets the shares. I have so much more to offer. TC. How many of these have we not yet seen? YahRock. I have like 15 plus on my Tik Tok, so far. There are ones that I haven’t posted on Instagram because I know the Tik Tok and Instagram audiences are a little different. Yeah, so I ask myself, "So what should I actually post on Instagram that I know people are actually going to laugh at?" I know that some things are just for Tik Tokers who’ll understand it. It’s a couple of performances I haven’t posted yet. So I’m like, “What should I actually post on Instagram that I know people are going to like?”

Illustration by TuTchT Imaging

TC. Do you think about the impact that Tik Tok could have on your fashion image--the way that people who've seen you only in a certain light as a model will perceive you differently? YahRock. Well, since it's like quarantine, the world is really different right now. So like, models are not working. This is literally quarantine time, pretty historical, so I’m posting quarantine content, and people are going to understand it because nobody’s working. Everybody’s home. Nobody’s doing this or nobody’s doing that. I did think about it, the way I would be perceived. But at the end of the day, I also thought about the fact that things are being done a little different right now. So, people are going to understand why this is happening. They’re not going to be shocked. They’re going to be like, “Why are you doing this?” They’re going to be shocked because they are not used to me even showing any kind of emotions at all. Now that they’re seeing that, now they’re like, “Woe!” But the feedback has been great. I guess people do like to see people show emotions, laughing, and making them laugh and stuff like that. I still ask myself, “Should I do this or that?” I think about that all the time. But I said, “I’m going to do this anyway.” Sometimes I also think about, like, the one with Mike Epps in the bathroom scene. It was funny but it also had some cursing in it, so I thought about how some of the people and brands would see that or say something. But then, I was like I’m just going to post it because this is funny, and I know I’m not going to stop my blessings for these guys. I’ve been working for years, sometimes barely getting paid—just keeping my head above water--when I could post this and potentially see something greater could come of it. Tyler Perry could see it, or something like that. You know, that’s what I was thinking about. You know! You know what, I thought I’m just gonna post this. Forget these fashion brands for a minute. Their interest is not in my happiness anyway. It’s all about selling a product, an image, an experience, and then it’s on to the next person who fits that agenda, image, timing of things. It’s all about looks, and so, like acting, if I can act and show a little bite of my talent, then I can control that more than my modeling, which is like, “If I want you, I want you and if I don’t, I don’t!”

Photo by Created by Jarrod

TC. Do you feel like that is a barrier to modeling? Showing less of yourself or having less input into what you can do? YahRock. I think the industry of modeling is changing but, I guess--I can just bring up a model like Alton Mason--he’s the ultimate expression of modeling right now, if you just want to bring someone to mind. It’s changing but I wouldn’t say that that’s the real problem. One, when a client uses a certain model, the same guy, or the same type of guy as the next, or that client gets hold of these models that it likes, or maybe it sees other clients and brands use, you know, similar personalities or it sees these personalities from somewhere, it’s just going to use the same group of people or whatever for different jobs. So you’re going to see the same type of models, same shows, different campaigns. That’s just how it works. Once you get put on, or you’re on, it’s just going to use you until it no longer wants you anymore. Then it’s going to move-on to the next person. And the people who are almost there or whatever, they’re going to work some but they’re not going to get the spotlight like that because it’s just going to be using the same people or like using the celebrity model like that. So, you’ll notice a lot of models during one period or another will be recycled in a way.

Photo by Kenny Thomas for Todd Snyder NY x Champion Collab

TC. Do You think, though, that the integrity or value of those brands have a better chance of being protected and advanced that way? YahRock. Yeah, that’s the thing. That’s what I’m saying. They could keep one person. Here’s the thing about it. Let’s say Express kept someone on their team, they kept the same model, there’s nothing wrong with them using that same model but the thing is, once somebody’s hot, everybody’s going to be using that same person. You’ll see that person on all the major covers, taking a lot of the higher-paying jobs, all the shoots. It makes it easier for H&M, then to say, I wanna use that model too! Coca Cola will say, “I wanna use that model, too!” Everybody’s gonna wanna use that person. But, it’s not to hate on that model or anything like that cause I’m happy for the models I know, for instance, who are getting those opportunities; I’m happy for them. I’m just saying that’s how our current system of modeling works. When I’m talking about the lag in payroll and everything, I’m not cursing out my agents or the brands, I’m just cursing out the system. The payrolls that’ll have you waiting 45-60 days before you see a check is not fun at all.

Styled by Jim Moore of GQ, YahRock for Todd Snyder New York FW19

TC. What Would You Change About the System, if anything? YahRock. If I were an agent doing that, I would still be taking a risk because agents are just trying to fit in too. So, they don’t wanna rock too many boats at once. They could stand out and do this, like book a whole bunch of colored models or book this or that. Or, some people get blacklisted. Or like, I’ve been to castings before, and people are like I don’t want these models or these guys here. So, if I were to have my own agency, willing to change things, I would have to be ready cause you know, If I were to change anything, I'd have to be ready for the system, first of all. Because even my own agent, I talk about things, I can tell by the way that I talk to him, that he’s not going to move a foot or get into the situation too much because he’s got to watch out for himself and the agency as a whole at the same time. But, if I had my own agency, I would definitely, I don’t know what I would change. I would definitely book the best models that I could. Definitely, that wouldn’t matter, the race or skin color for example. I would try to definitely have a relationship with every model because models can feel left out if they don’t feel like they have a connection with their agency or if the agent is not pushing them, you know. I would try to pay them on time, you know. I know people wait. If I really wanted to change something, I would start with the higher ups, I would have to be on one of the boards or something…I don’t know. Or, build such a dope board of models that people would have no choice but to book us. You know what I’m saying.

YahRock styled by Richie Candelo and groomed by Micaela Cleary for Latasha Lamar Jewelry
Photo by Andrew Morales for Latasha Lamar

TC. How long have you been modeling? YahRock. Seriously, since 2014 because that’s when I moved to New York. I was born in Brooklyn, New York. I have faint memories of that time of my life. Then my mom moved to South Carolina--I was like 4 or 5--right before kindergarten. I was in South Carolina from Kindergarten until 12th grade, then I went to college in North Carolina. Yeah, that’s when the modeling happened in the first place because I was a down-south country boy. Nobody knew or really cared about fashion! The pedestal of fashion was when we would see shows like BET Rip the Runway. Oh, Man! That was…Nobody was thinking about anything like that. The only thing I could remember in high school was this girl told me that I could be on the cover of a magazine, and that was like my 12th grade year and she was like a freshman. Nobody had said it to me before, so I was like cool! I didn’t think much of it. And then, I went to college in North Carolina. I was a Freshman…I went there to run track but that wasn’t going very well. That was my goal, to be an athlete, to run in the Olympics. Then, you know, in my sophomore year, I wanted to join something since I wasn’t eligible for track at the time. So I was like, let me just join something else. So I jointed this group on campus. It was called Bon Lavant Fashion Society, which means “the Good Life” in French, I think. It was like a little modeling troupe of black people…I went to an HBCU. It was called North Carolina Central. It was like a black modeling troupe. Basically, it wasn’t runway. You would come out and do little performances and moves. Guys would be smooth, doing little clicks and spins and stuff like that. Girls would do the extra moves and all that stuff. Then, we would do a little bite of runway. People would scream your name when they would see you and think you were cool and stuff like that. That’s when my modeling jumped off, especially when people would tell me outside of school that I could model.

From there, I ended up modeling for this show in Greensboro. It was a local show in North Carolina. That’s actually where much of what I do comes from really. Because when I was there, they liked built my confidence. No seriously, cause like they would tell you if you were whack, curse at you…it was just a whole different environment. If you could walk on the stage in front of a crowd of people who just finished screaming for someone else but who were silent when you walked in, that can build a whole lot of confidence or break you right there by itself. Once I did that show in Greensboro, this Asian lady picked two models out of the whole show to do Charlotte Fashion Week. That, right there, was like my first fashion show that I ever did. She picked me and this other girl. The girl who got picked just so happens to have done BET Rip the Runway, and I was like “Oh, you did that! Blasé, blasé!” She was like, “Yeah!” So, I was like “Put me on. When you hear about that, you have to tell me about it,” I told her. I have to be on BET Rip the Runway. But even then, I don’t think I was thinking about modeling big-time in New York or anything. So we ended up taking the Chinese bus 48 hours from Greensboro to BET. I remember the day, December 8th. Went to the casting call early. It was real quick…I don’t even remember much about it. We took the bus back the same day--all the way back to North Carolina--only to then have to wait all the way to February to find out that we actually did make it in February. You know how it is, waiting during that time, thinking…I don’t think I even told anyone during that time what happened. I’m the type of person that’ll tell you if I make it. If I get on it, then I’m gonna tell you. So, we made it. I got to do BET Rip The Runway, so you can already imagine that 2 kids from down South on BET Rip the Runway. It was an amazing experience because it had all those black models, like different people of color—Latino, Black, Asian [any other nationalities we should mention here?]…all types of ethnic models were a part of it. Black designers, you name it! We had Rick Ross performing on the stage at the same time. That was like my first experience of the New York modeling life.

Photo by Brian Jamie/IG: @brianjamie

TC. When did you tell yourself that modeling could be the thing for you? YahRock. It’s funny because when I was doing BET’s Rip The Runway those couple of times, I don’t remember saying, “I’m gonna move to New York to become a model,” or anything close to that. I was just thinking about modeling where I was, back in North Carolina. I just wanted to stay in school and be a track coach or something like that. Since track was already done that season, I thought about staying in North Carolina, just doing a little modeling or something. But I wasn’t like serious. I didn’t take or think about it seriously! I guess booking Rip The Runway the second time around might have given me the confidence I needed to actually start thinking about it. Then it was the same year that I did BET Rip The Runway and Project Runway. I guess those two situations made me think about moving to New York to do all this. Rip The Runway was more of a black thing but Project Runway catered to a broader audience and crowd of people. My agent at the time actually told me, “Look, I know you’re happy about booking BET Rip The Runway, but no one really cares about that!” He was just giving me the real truth. Think about it, you ask a white person what’s BET, they’ll probably be like, “Huh, what’s that?”

TC. What would be your dream, if something were to come out of the Tik Tok situation? YahRock. I’d say this, if something else came along, like a great acting job, I’d forget modeling. Modeling is right for now. I would still be fashionable. I still have that eye for certain things. I’d still be kind of fly, so I would still show my fashion as much as possible in whatever I’m doing, even in some of my Tik Tok videos. I would even be doing that more if it we weren’t in quarantine. I’m definitely going to incorporate some things. Man, here’s the thing. If I had some music equipment, you’d probably be saying some of the things about my music that you’re saying about my Tik Tok performances. I’ve always liked music since day one. I used to rap along time ago when I was in high school. So if I had some equipment or Tik Tok or another similar platform came out with something that integrated rap and acting, I could find myself getting into that. I’d definitely---It’s a tie! I can definitely see myself on screen doing well for me and my family. The most important thing, I’m situated money wise. I’m like Michael B. Jordan…that would be a nice dream. I would also be very content being a Tik Toker who makes a lot of money. You know, someone who works from home in their pajamas or something. I could make a video and get paid for it. Or a brand that notices I have a large following and reaches out to me to do something for $30K. That’s one of the rates I heard about some people making $30K for making videos. I’m not so interested in being famous as I am in being wealthy and secure. I do prioritize my privacy a lot. So knowing my being like Denzel Washington or Michael B Jordan, I would have to throw that privacy out the window. I also think about that too because I’m a very low-key person. My social battery runs out who doesn’t have to go anywhere.

Photo By Johnny B./IG: @rich_mutt for Loris Diran

I’m comfortable chilling with my girl by myself. I don’t need a lot. I feel comfortable doing me. Sometimes you can be confident and all that. I’m unleashing my emotions on Tik Tok, but you go to a casting, or do a live show when you cannot channel the right energy. I’ve been through that before, where I’ve gone to a casting and felt like I couldn’t bring out what I knew I had in me. Everyday I’m working on and thinking about the acting piece. I’m willing to take that challenge—to take that risk! It’s like therapy man. I love modeling but the process gets on my nerves. It’s like what I said earlier, about the payrolls and having to wait to get paid, always having to go to 150 castings just to book 10 jobs or 5 out of 30. Wasting all that time and money. In modeling I have a couple of agencies. I have an agency here in New York, Chicago, Paris, Milan, and Miami. Yeah…it’s cool! I just prefer things more consistent. If modeling money was as large as acting money, it would be more tolerable waiting for your pay. I also think about investing. I would spend some foolishly but I would also invest. Another reason I want to make good money, it’s hard to invest money from the smaller checks.

TC: If you could combine the powers of any 2 superheroes, which superheroes and their strengths would you choose?

YahRock: I would have all of Black Panther's strengths and weaknesses. I would also choose Doctor Strange. As long as I got my suit I'm good, [he laughs jokingly]. I would be equipped with speed, the energy-bending power to create alternate universes and realities, and the ability to fly. I'd be dope!


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