These days, the culture of hip-hop is obsessed with “the bag.”
The phrase “Get the bag” is motivation to everyone within earshot to go out and get paid. Folks grind day and night in pursuit of the bag and the more bags, the better. New Jersey-born influencer Cliff Vmir is adept at acquiring bags while in his own bag (in the parlance of Philadelphians).
At just 22, Vmir has built a million-dollar empire in the hair industry. He’s done it all while donning long, luxurious, prismatic hairdos and corresponding, fashionable nails. His glamorous look is an expression of however he feels at the moment.
“Beauty, to me, is how you express yourself,” Vmir said in a candid interview with PW recently. “Beauty can be a look; it can be just how you carry yourself. I feel like it's within.”
Don’t let the dolled-up appearance lead you to false assumptions. Though often mistakenly labeled as transgender or a drag queen, Vmir identifies 100 percent as a gay, Black man. The only transition he is looking to make is from celebrity hairstylist to superstar rapper.
Vmir received a significant boost in ascent from follicles to freestyles by being named an opening act at Power 99’s (98.9-FM) perennial Powerhouse concert on Oct. 25. He got there by becoming the first LGBT act to win the station’s annual “Diamonds In The Rough” contest. Though he has ripped around 20 shows in his fledgling career on the mic, Powerhouse was his biggest stage yet. “To get voted as an opening act at the Powerhouse, it was, like, such a surreal feeling,” Vmir gushed.
For a little background, Power 99 has put on Powerhouse since 1982, according to the station’s bio. Each year, the concert is a showcase of some of the brightest stars in hip-hop and R&B, and is perennially filled to capacity. For the latest installation, the draw for fans were some of hip-hop’s premier acts such as Migos, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Baby, Da Baby, Jeezy, Megan Thee Stallion, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, PNB Rock and Jacquees.
The Diamonds In The Rough contest, now in its fifth year, is an opportunity for local artists to get some shine. Named in honor of station standout DJ Diamond Kuts (who broke ground herself by becoming the sole female mixer in the history of Philly’s airwaves). Fans vote for artists in the pool, and the field is narrowed down to five. More votes are cast to crown a winner, however, in a quality-control kind of capacity, the station’s staff has to approve the final selection. This year, Vmir was the last one standing out of 600 contenders. The choice was made solely based on talent, according to Derrick Corbett, media director of urban programming for Clear Channel, the parent company of Power 99.
“It's just surreal, because last year around this time, I entered into the competition and I wasn't one of the top five,” remembered Vmir. “So to be able to see the progress, I can only imagine what will go on next year, and the year after that [beyond Powerhouse].”
The unprecedented nature of Vmir’s win is something he hopes to replicate throughout his career in a hip-hop industry that historically hasn’t been kind to men like him.
For starters, there has never been an openly gay male rapper on the radar. Even in 2019, the f-bomb used to describe LGBT people, in addition to other homophobic language, is prevalent in rap lyrics. Vmir is looking to break that cycle.
“When you're one of the first to do many things, you [hear the word ‘no’] a lot,” he said. “You get the door slammed in your face. I want to basically show out for everyone who's always been told ‘no’ because of their sexuality. I feel like sexuality shouldn't have anything to do with talent.”
Nevertheless, hip-hop accepts hustlers with open arms, and Vmir is most certainly that. Bigotry adds undeserved obstacles to Vmir’s journey, but he’s used to making a way out of no way in the face of adversity. As a teen, he was abandoned by a father unaccepting of his lifestyle after he refused to play sports or do other things paternally pushed on him. He was left with an ailing mother who was bedridden after a knee replacement.
With no money coming in, Vmir took on the role of provider and thus his pursuit of the bag commenced. Vmir honed a knack for hair design on Barbie dolls and applied that to human heads.
“I was just tired of seeing my mom suffer,” he recalled. “I had a friend who always asked me could I come to her house and do her hair, so I just started saying, ‘Can you start paying me?’ And then, it went from her paying me, into her mom paying me, to their aunt paying me. I was, like, a freshman in high school, getting out of school, catching public transportation to wherever I needed to go do people’s hair and literally, I would take the majority of the money and give it to my mom.”
Vmir made such a name for himself as a hairstylist that at just 16 years old, he was invited to teach classes in Atlanta. That was a big break, but Vmir made his bones by styling hair in Philly. While working at a salon in Delaware, Vmir would get a lot of clients from the city, so he made himself more accessible to them by setting up shop in a Philly beauty parlor, and his buzz snowballed.
According to Vmir, consistency has been the main ingredient of success. He stayed diligent in his grind, and soon, starlets including Cardi B, Blac Chyna, Trina and Joseline Hernandez became clients. He’s amassed a following of over 860,000 on Instagram, where he garners 100,000 to 450,000 views per post. Vmir has also taken to reality TV through his web series, Wig Out, on BET Networks. The eight-episode first season boasts over 20 million views across platforms.
Perhaps Vmir’s biggest triumph in the hair hustle is making a million dollars before the age of 20 through his Hym Hair brand. Founded in 2016, Hym Hair offers a range of products, including hair and hair maintenance products, in addition to Vmir’s styling prowess.
“Whether a client was coming in and they were just getting a $250 basic sew-in [or] adding hair on through their sew-in services, by the time they add three or four bundles, they're already at $600, $700 or $800,” Vmir explained when asked how he got to million-dollar status. “[You can do it] If you're doing three or four of them a day, then you're getting booked for seminars and classes, then you have a website that you're selling your products on, and people are paying you for Instagram promotion.”
Though lucrative, Vmir is looking to ditch the hair industry entirely and become the next big thing in hip-hop. “I just felt like once you're at the top of the industry and there's nothing else to do, and you've been doing it for so long, you're kind of looking for new excitement,” he expressed.
Vmir started rapping in 2018 and credits the current swarm of female acts dominating hip-hop (i.e. Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Megan Thee Stallion, City Girls, etc.) as his influences. He currently has two singles spinning on all major platforms: “Get Money” featuring Cuban Doll and “Throw It Back” with fellow LGBT-emcee Kidd Kenn.
“I make music for people who are super-confident. I make music for people who may need that push. You may wake up in the morning and say, ‘OK, I'm feeling down, but let me listen to this music to get me back on track,’” he said. “I make music for bad bitches.”
Though he is trying to leave hair alone, Hym Hair is slated to drop a new line of shampoos and conditioners in the spring. A new season of Wig Out is scheduled to premiere in January. His debut EP, Welcome To My Reality, is expected to drop at the top of the year.
“Y’all are just going to start seeing me everywhere,” Vmir predicted. “Every billboard, every magazine, anything that artists can get on, y’all going to see me on a lot of lineups. I'm going to start working very hard. I just want my legacy to show [that] he was super young, he had a lot of obstacles that he went through in his life, but he still got it done. I want people to remember that I'm a boss.”