21-year-old Hennessy Carolina Almanzar is not an easy person to Google. As the babysister of reality television superstar, rapper and social media savant Cardi B, she has the expected amount of YouTube clips, links to Instagram posts and glamour shots from promoting Love and Hip Hop, which she sometimes appears on with her big sis. And if you click on any number of these things, you will see an effervescent girl who mimics Cardi’s brazen attitude and uncompromising confidence. Of course, we only think this because we have been introduced to Cardi first. The sisters have a very Solange-Beyoncé dynamic going on, and I wanted to know how the younger of the two is making her own way.
After weeks of coordination between various teams, I meet Hennessy in a suite at the W New York-Times Sqaure, where we’re setting up for her photo shoot. She immediately envelops me and the rest of the crew in warm hugs as a means of introduction. Clearly, she’s not shy. Not that I expected her to be, of course, but once you observe aspects of someone’s life via Instagram or Snapchat, it is easy to construct a fantasy persona for them, one that is often corrected once you meet them IRL, as they say. But Hennessy’s IRL persona is not entirely different from who she is online, and that’s part and parcel of her success: what you see is what you get. I ask her what she thinks about her newfound fame and she answers confidently, “I’m comfortable with it, yea. I like it actually.”
“I’m comfortable with it, yea. I like it actually.”
When she settles down in the hair and makeup chair, she comments on her newly chopped tresses. She fingers the ends nervously and admits she went for the cut because of hair damage. “I would go buy pack hair, pack weave hair. Remy hair in the beauty supply [for a] $100. I’d go put it on.” I ask if it was a DIY project. “Myself? No. Sometimes my sister would. I would make her glue it on my head. Or if she wasn’t around sometimes and I had to go out [to a salon]. Glue, glue girl! You just buy that glue for a dollar or two in the beauty supply, which explains why my hair is like this now.” My eyes are wide with wonder at the lengths this girl has already been through to achieve the look that she wants, sacrificing many things, including her scalp, as a means to an end. Good thing it all worked out.
It’s hard to imagine a little Hennessy (although as an adult at 5-foot-1, she’s not substantially bigger but she’s never let her stature be a hindrance). “Oh, my God, as far as I can remember I was so little. I have a picture, I’m going to show you guys. It’s a classic. It’s a school picture, I was in, like, fifth grade. I had boots on but, I don’t know if you can tell, on the boots I had heels. They were little heels. I’ve been wearing heels since elementary school, I don’t know how.” Well, there you have it. If a heel-wearing 10-year-old isn’t enough to sell you on this girl’s next-level extraness, she continues, “I used to go to school in heels every day. I thought I was a little grown woman.” And for the record it’s true what you’ve heard about her name. I asked. Her dad really did come to the hospital drunk off Hennessy and declared that her moniker.
But now, as an actual grown woman, I’m most curious about her family structure, since as I mentioned, Googling her was a challenge. I wanted to know about the household that produced not one but two strong powerful Black women who are changing what is means to be a so called “Instagram girl.” Introduced to the world via reality TV, the Almanzar sisters are famous because they are representative of the kind of authenticity that reality TV so often lacks in this moment where following people’s “real lives” is so obviously staged and manufactured. These girls, they twerk, they swear, they appear sans makeup and wigs to talk about whatever has pissed them off in that second. There is no artifice here, and that is what makes them both thrilling and terrifying to behold. “I have a big family from my mom and my dad’s side. From my mom and my dad, I’m the youngest. It’s just me and my sister that have the same mother and dad, but my father has more kids, [and ] I’m not the youngest.” When I suggest that she has traits that identify her clearly as the typical youngest of a family, she enthusiastically agrees. “Oh, my God, yes, I am. I was always in dance and performing arts school. All of my schools were performing arts. I’m the one that, like, turns up the whole party. Actually my family is very [turnt], all of them are either funny or outgoing. But I think I’m the most.”
Lucky for her, her job is now quite literally to be that. Although growing up, she said her job was to clean. “Every day I would wake up, and it was just me and my sister. Every day we would wake up and get to cleaning. Yes, that is what my mother taught us. Wake up and clean all day. Clean the whole entire house, room, kitchen, floor. Since I was a baby. I don’t even recall, I was just so young.” Establishing a work ethnic that doesn’t quit is no doubt one of the factors that have made led these girls to flourish now. Part of the reason that scheduling this shoot was so complicated was Hennessy’s busy work schedule. She hosts various club nights around the country. She’s a professional party girl. She just turned 21 this year, so business is great. She’s nothing if not committed. Some people who do this do it the tame way. Kim Kardashian, the blue print for such a lifestyle, is also famously sober. Hennessy, on the other hand, doesn’t take her namesake lightly. “Oh, I party, I really turn it up. Everybody around me is going to have fun, I don’t care. Like, 'Hello, what are you here for?' Turn up. You want a drink? There you go. I love hosting. I love making people have fun and be happy. I really love it, actually.” It doesn’t come without strings, though. Sorry if this is too niche, but it feels relevant. There’s a vampire in the Twilight series who can literally control people’s moods. It’s a useful skill, but often times for real people it can be a burden. Look at how much comedians say that they suffer. It’s hard to be the good time girl.
When everyone’s a paparazzi, with cameras in the palm of everyone's hands, it’s even more difficult.
I ask her how she deals with the pressure, and she gives me an unconcerned shrug. “I’ve just been buying outfits that I only wear once to host or do an event. And now I just want to put them on eBay because it’s like, I just wasted my money and I only wore this once for all these pictures, and that’s it, I can’t wear it again.” Sounds like a luxe problem to have but a problem nonetheless. To solve it, Hennessy reveals to me that she’s working on her clothing line. “Growing up, I wanted to be a fashion designer, which I’m still in school for, like that’s what I want to be; a fashion designer.” Before you think it’s your typical T-shirt line, Hennessy has stars in her eyes. “My dream customer is every celebrity that’s on the red carpet. Everybody at the Met Gala and on top of that, just everybody and anybody. I would dress everybody.” Ambitious, no? But if there’s one thing that I have learned from even 30 minutes with one half of the Almanzar duo, it’s that underestimating them is dangerous.
"'I know one day you’re going to be on TV.’ It motivated me.” And here she is, on just about every screen you own. But that’s not all. She’s got bigger dreams than hocking tea that pipe cleans your intestines on the internet. “It made me take a lot of craps, but [my stomach] is way flatter than before,” she says, advising me on the famous flat tummy tea. Beyond her endorsement deals and budding clothing line, she knows that she can’t waste this opportunity. She has a responsibility to herself, to her family. “My mom just cares about [us] saving, and saving, and saving. That’s what she does. It’s not about money, she just cares about us saving our money and investing it. That’s all she cares about. She’s proud, but she wants us to be smart. Like, yeah, it’s good right now, God willingly, it’s great, but save up and invest. That’s all she says.”
Well, real estate is just about the best investment, and Hennessy just moved out all on her own. And while she’s living alone, she does have a significant other, which is the only subject that she becomes cagey on. “That’s my number one thing I tell people. Be patient, because love comes to you naturally. Once you look for it, you choose the wrong person. Everything happens naturally, people come into your life when you’re ready. When it’s meant to be, it’s destined for it to happen, so you’re going to meet The One, one day. Don’t look for it. It’ll just come, because that happened to me a lot of times. Not a lot, but those few times I was in a relationship I never looked for it. It just happened naturally, and they were pretty good relationships.” This particular time, she found love in a hopeless place: on Instagram. “I saw her because it’s a her. I saw her, and I would never do that, and I was like, you know what? I want this person. I actually like that I did the first move, because nowadays I don’t trust nobody. It’s hard because I don’t know people’s real intentions nowadays, but as of right now I’m OK, I guess, because I feel like I found someone.” Since only 37 percent of Gen-Zers identify as straight, this revelation does not surprise me. While she’s dated men in the past, she’s happily in a same sex relationship, taking selfies between shots and outfit changes to bank for her girlfriend later.
"I always wanted two kids, obviously a girl and a boy, but now I’m thinking about it and now that I have a girlfriend, and the person you’re with, you plan a future with them, so you have to start opening up more. So now, you know, since in the lesbian community or whatever, it’s harder for women to have babies, so you have to do the egg transplant, a sperm donor and all of that, so originally I wanted two kids, but now I want four. Two to look like me, and two to look like her, a boy and a girl. She carries two and I carry two. Two that look like me and two that look like her, a boy and a girl. What do you think about that?” My eyebrows shoot up in surprise. Four kids sounds like a lot to me. I’m older than her and slightly more practical, it seems, but I don’t want to squash her dreams, so I nod in agreement. Four it is. Though it seems impossible, I would argue that so does all of this. But Hennessy won’t deny that she knew it was coming. She knew. She just knew that one day all of this would be happening for her, so you know, maybe four kids is not so outrageous. And it’s not like my opinion will matter much anyway. She makes it clear that she hasn’t gotten this far by listening to opposing perspectives. “To be honest, I just do things based on, just, like, me. I don’t really think about the reactions, but then sometimes it really hurts me when I’m just being myself and people are being, like, so mean about it. It’s like I’m not you. I’m not who you want me to be, I’m myself. Stop trying to change me. Stop trying to tell me how I’m supposed to act because society or because you grew up and your parents taught you. Like, no. So I’m supposed to sit here and act like my s*** don’t stink everyday and talk all prissy because you want me to? I’m going to be myself.”
Of course, if you know anything about her arc on Love and Hip Hop, you know that she ran into some trouble “being herself” in front of cameras. When I ask her to address that fateful fight, she hesitates and considers carefully. “I got into a fight on the reunion and I regret it. One reason I regret it is because I’m grown and I wouldn’t want to let that represent me, so that people wouldn’t judge me based on that. But I have a good reason, it’s because the girl was being fake and she was talking crap about my sister, and I’m very defensive over my sister. Even though I’m younger, but I’m very defensive, it doesn’t matter my family is my family, my blood is my blood. So I’m going to defend my sister no matter what.”
Even still, she’s learned not to sweat the small stuff. “Sometimes I just let it be, because like I said, like Jesus said, even, they used to talk bad about Jesus and he never did anything bad. So it’s like somebody is always going to talk crap. S**t, I talk crap. I talk crap on the low. But sometimes I just let it go. But sometimes I just be like, 'You know what, you don’t even know what you’re talking about. You’re very ignorant right now. You’re saying negative things about me that you don’t even have any idea. You’re just saying stupid things. Speaking on something you don’t know anything about. Judging me, and you don’t even know me. Sometimes it’s frustrating sometimes it’s like, whatever.” Sometimes it is like whatever, and when you have that many eyeballs on your every move, it will drive you insane trying to please everyone. For now, it seems like Hennessy knows what she’s doing. “I believe a lot in God. I pray to Him every single day. I really believe a lot in him. There are a lot of things I pray for that He actually gave it to me. Not because, like, I prayed and He gave it to me like a genie, but, like, I was always a good person, I feel like I am a good person, and He rewards people that are good. And you just have to have a lot of faith and be a good person. I feel like good things happen to you. So I’m very spiritual and I believe in Karma a lot.” And if you add up all her fortunes lately, it would seem that she is in fact a great person. After spending the day with her, I find her to be overwhelmingly sincere. Everything she says, she means. She is personable and funny, but not so much of the extreme caricature that you might find on her Instagram. She’s much softer in person, as I think we all are. She’s thoughtful and kind and not jaded enough to be excited about wearing cool clothes on a photo shoot.
“I got into a fight on the reunion and I regret it. One reason I regret it is because I’m grown and I wouldn’t want to let that represent me, so that people wouldn’t judge me based on that. But I have a good reason ..."
She pushes some salmon around her plate. Since we’ve been shooting in lingerie all day, she’s deftly refused food until now. Like I said before, this girl is nothing if not committed. It’s true, family is family. And I decided not to press the issue. Instead, our conversation turns political and Hennessy steels herself. “I feel like this Trump thing is such a joke, that I don’t even pay attention to it anymore because I just see Trump offending people and just saying ignorant things that I just don’t even care about it. It’s just a mockery, so I’d just rather not.” Wouldn’t we all just rather not at this point? But as someone with a platform, I think she has a responsibility. I ask her about feminism. “Yeah, I consider myself a feminist! Yeah, I do.” This, of course, is a relief to hear, since so many celebrities stray away from this word, as if it's going to permanently taint them. Hennessy, of course, is unafraid. On the wage gap issue, she is particularly passionate. “Yeah, that’s so unfair. What’s the difference? The private part is the difference? Like, you have the same job, why are you getting paid more than me? This is why we become gold diggers, because y’all aren’t trying to pay us. Y’all aren’t trying to pay up, so we’re about to become gold diggers, alright?” She, naturally, makes her own money, though, and is careful to tell me that now that she’s dating a woman, a balance is more important but she is excited about being able to treat her girl.
When we wrap the shoot, I walk her over to the BET offices, and as we’re milling through Times Square, people are staring. One woman yells out, “Cardi B!” and then, “Where’s your sister?” I roll my eyes. As a sister myself, there’s nothing worse than being called the wrong one, but Hennessy smiles and waves. I had asked earlier about her and her sister’s relationship, wanting to know if it’s what it seems. “Well we live in the same household together, so we have no choice but to always be close. No, but we get along, we’re best friends. Sometimes we used to fight for mascara but it’s OK. That’s what sisters do.” Yes, and sometimes they get confused for one another, but watch very closely because Hennessy is inching out from underneath her sister’s shadow. As we approach the security desk, the guards are visibly excited to see her. “Love the show!” one says as she hands her a badge to get upstairs. I’m honestly impressed. A lot of people pass through that lobby, a lot, but it’s Hennessy that gets a reaction. That’s star power, people.
Special thanks to Thanks to W New York - Times Square