On the surface, it’s another reality show. A handful of beautiful women and handsome men getting into clashes, dating and partaking in drama.
But, there are some twists to HBO Max’s Sweet Life Los Angeles. The seven main characters: Tylynn Burns, Jerrold Smith II, Briana Jones, Cheryl Des Vignes, P’Jae Compton, Amanda Scott, Jordan Bentley are all ambitious and focused on success and a quality of life.
The young stars heard about the show through a mutual friend and who suggested their friend group be featured. The crew is about 20 young men and women who make appearances on the show, but the storylines are about the seven main cast members. The three main male stars: P’Jae Compton, Jerrold Smith II, and Jordan Bentley are all in different phases of their life and career and somehow the show still manages to be more about them as men.
Compton is a music manager who represents Griff Tyler—a rising star in Inglewood whose sound is a cool mix of R&B and hip-hop. He finds himself dating too many of the girls and spends too much time trying to impress the guys in the crew. But, he is most himself when he’s working on music—then everything else falls into place.
Smith works for Westbrook Media—the entertainment empire owned by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. In his storyline, one of his biggest challenges is maturing and moving out of his parents home and in with his girlfriend, Cheryl, also a cast member.
Jordan Bentley is the creator and owner of Hypland—a clothing line popular among millennials. The company which he runs with his money has given him a substantial bank account and plenty of toys like cars and the ability to rent a private jet for his friends.
But for all of his success, Bentley admits during the show that growing up without a father in his life was a major source of his inability to communicate—particularly with women, an issue that comes up again and again in the show.
In one of the most powerful episodes, the guys—along with several of their other male friends sit down for a podcast episode about Black male mental health. Hosted by Smith, the guys—along with two more friends, Robert (Amanda’s boyfriend) and Jaelyn (Tylynn’s boyfriend) sit down for what was supposed to be a candid chat.
Instead, it turns into a session of tears and screaming when unaided by a professional the five 20-something-year-old men decide to dive deep into their deepest fears and insecurities.
But, even before that episode, what executive producer Issa Rae has done with the show, in a subtle way, is humanize young Black men and women by presenting them as equality as aspirational, confused, and fun as their white peers. Without pushing the message down the throats of viewers, it is clear that the multi-hyphenate producer has created another project that shifts culture in a subtle, but undeniable way.
Hip-Hop Wired sat down for a zoom video call with the three main male stars of the reality hit to ask them about what the experience has been like, what they took away from the show, and what they chose to leave behind.
Hip-Hop Wired: You guys make L.A. look great, you’re riding around in the best cars, taking private jets on trips, is it #BlackLuxury or what?
Smith: I wouldn’t even call it Black luxury, I would just call it luxury ‘cuz that’s really the life that we live outside of tv. We take trips, we take trips for each other’s birthdays. We go out to the clubs, we pop out, Los Angeles is really our city and everything that you see us do on tv…we really do in real life.
HHW: Reality shows are so often people arguing or fighting and they seem to bring out the worst in people, but that’s really not what you see here. You guys seem to be constantly striving for your own personal greatness and supporting and encouraging each other.
Smith: I think it’s really important to network laterally. As much as we talk about investing in our communities, because our communities are the places and spaces that invest in us… it’s very important to do the same with your friends. To have friends who have goals and are like-minded and want to go the same places as you is very important in your own personal development because you want to be able to see that in the people you hang out with, the places you go, the things that you embody.
What you see on tv, we are actually real friends in real life and we support each other in everything that we do. There’s a lot of ways that we do and can support each other that we didn’t even get to on the show.
HHW: It seems like a lot of the little clashes that happened on the show were really about miscommunications. P’Jae you had a few of those, tell me about that.
Compton: I think a lot of things could have been avoided with communications, definitely. Communication could have solved a lot of our issues. We did lack that in some aspects.
Smith: I think a lot of us are very strong and opinionated and yet all so close, sometimes we feel the need to project our opinions and feelings on things that are going on, especially as we operate as a friend group. A lot of it comes down to communicating through our issues and making sure we know how each other feels is all we can do.
“I can show creative people what’s possible without being like an athlete or something of that sort.”—Jordan Bentley
HHW: Jordan, you definitely had some challenges communicating, and at one point you got emotional talking with your mom and how you felt.
Bentley: You know, over the season I really just tried my best to open up and communicate a lot better. Generally, as a person, I can really be closed off. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a Scorpio. This season, I really challenged myself in conversations to be a little more emotional and drop (the idea) that’s wrong or that it’s seen in a negative way to be emotional as a Black man.
HHW: I really appreciate that and I think it’s important for people to see the humanization of Black men, and I was kind of surprised to see that from the show.
Bentley: I think the lesson that I learned from communication was keeping my opinion to myself and knowing when it’s appropriate to say things and when to just shut up, and when it’s not beneficial. Moreso a lot of self-reflection.
HHW: What about you, PJae? When is your tearful moment?
Compton: Like Jordan and Jerrold, I’m not an emotional person. I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve, I definitely take what life throws at me and keeps it moving There’s layers to me, definitely. One of those layers is definitely peeled back in episode 7-9.
HHW: Jordan, you have a successful clothing line. Do you think it was important for audiences to see a young, Black male entrepreneur?
Bentley: I feel like I shift the paradigm a little bit. Often we are portrayed in like a negative light, or that there are very few options for us to be successful. I feel like I can show creative people what’s possible without being like an athlete or something of that sort. I think I’m a good positive example for kids that want to get to do something creatively and unapologetically.
HHW: I have to ask, what was it like working with Issa?
Bentley: It’s been a really pleasant experience. On the day-to-day, we didn’t see her much but her creative vision just showed throughout the entire process so it was a really fun process.
Smith: I found it great because of how authentic she is. The entire time we were filming we felt her support. Everything that you see her in is literally how she is in real life, she’s super fun, she’s super outgoing, she’s super creative. She really just gave us the platform to be able to put on for our city and everything that we doing being from and in LA—the same way that she does.
Compton: To echo what they are saying, it’s a blessing to work with Issa and we are so grateful to her for giving us this platform and this opportunity to showcase LA in a different light and young, Black people in a different light and to be able to do it with our friends. We couldn’t thank Issa anymore than we already have… she’s so dope.
Sweet Life: Los Angeles is currently streaming on HBO Max.