‘Like a moth to a flame’
Although she said she struggled with shyness when she first became famous, along with “a fear of being perceived,” Ms. Rose, by her account, grew up a confident, popular child in South Philadelphia. She described herself as proudly mixed race. (Her mother is a Black woman from Cape Verde; her father is Irish and Italian.)
In her youth, she was mainly cared for by her mother, Dorothy, while her father, Michael, was in the military. She described their financial situation as “very poor” and said the family went through some tough periods, including a stint of homelessness. Some of her best memories are of living in neighborhoods with noisy, exciting block parties, where her neighbors would fry up fish and people would D.J. and dance in the street.
“I was always the first one dancing. I was a little ham,” she said.
As a child, she felt she never truly belonged on the East Coast, and she would often tell her friends that she would be moving to Hollywood one day. By the time she was 18, she had moved instead to New York — specifically, the Bronx. She found work in strip clubs, such as Sue’s Rendezvous in Mount Vernon. She was discovered there by Margo Wainwright, a music-video commissioner who worked for the record label Def Jam.
“When I started to talk to her about what I did and what was possible, I felt like she was open to it,” Ms. Wainwright said in a recent interview. “Even though people try to go in there and sell them dreams all the time.” Ms. Wainwright offered to help jump-start Ms. Rose’s career as a “video vixen” — women hired to appear in hip-hop videos. “There’s more to it than just being a pretty face,” Ms. Wainwright said. She had scouted other women who had “crumbled” in front of the camera but “it was totally the opposite of that with Amber. She really took to it, like a moth to a flame.”
Ms. Rose’s now iconic look — chunky black sunglasses, hair cropped short and immaculately dyed blonde — opened up her much-longed-for pathway to Hollywood. A video director, smitten with her trademark buzz-cut, offered to fly her to L.A. She wound up performing as one of the “main girls” in a video for the Ludacris song “What Them Girls Like” in 2008.
After her appearance, Mr. West called and asked her to perform in his video “Robocop” (which was never released — though a small clip leaked to the internet in 2014). She started dating Mr. West, signed with Ford Models and her profile grew.