No one can dispute that Lil’ Kim, Kimberly Jones, is famous, talented, beautiful, successful, and one of the greatest female rappers the world has seen, but what does she contribute to feminism? She raps about everything that men use to imprison women while she herself is imprisoned with them. Where does Lil’ Kim fit in the landscape of hip hop feminism? She is the self-made success story of a woman who worked hard to make a career for herself, but who also fits into the objectified sex symbol most hip hop feminists scorn.

Kimberly Jones’s image, Lil’ Kim’s image of Queen-Bee and sex symbol permeates her music, since the beginning of her career she has kept this image alive with the words and images she raps with. Journalist, Akissi Britton wrote about Lil’ Kim in a 2000 article for Essence Magazine, “Lil’ Kim has become contemporary pop culture’s most notorious “It” girl. Alternately referred to as a hell kitten, Queen Bee, hip-hop’s nasty girl, sex symbol, glamour baby, diva ho and disgrace to Black womanhood, the 26-year-old rapper has risen to icon status as an entity that defies simple explanation. She is a self-proclaimed feminist who is a poster girl for plastic surgery; a Black sex symbol who re-created herself to look like a blond Barbie doll; a symbol of female sexual liberation and independence who lives with a houseful of men (whom she supports) because she has said she’s afraid of being alone; a femme fatale who makes men pay for the pooh while still seeking courtship, romance and true love” (Britton).

Lil’ Kim, Kimberly Jones, was born in Brooklyn New York in 1974. She grew up under the disapproving gaze of a father who never understood her. After her parents’ divorce, Kim moved between living with one parent or another and finally left to be on her own at age 14. She soon met Christopher Wallace a.k.a the Notorious B.I.G or Biggie, a small-time drug dealer who would later become a rapper. He took Kim under his wing, and as she has said, taught her everything. Throughout her career Lil’ Kim has made four highly successful albums, Hard Core (1996) The Notorious K.I.M. (2000) La Bella Mafia (2003) The Naked Truth (2005).

Consumers, journalists and scholars even Lil’ Kim herself, view Kimberly Jones and her persona, Lil’ Kim, in very different ways. Some have argued that she is in fact a hip hop feminist; others have placed her in the sex for money, protection and personal gain category.

Journalist, Allison Samuels wrote about Lil’ Kim’s second album, Notorious K.I.M, in an article, “A Whole Lotta Kim” for Newsweek in 2000. “But even some of the roughest language [in the album] aims at more than raunch: “Suck My D–k” turns out to be a spiky feminist anthem, imagining what would happen if women hit on men the way men hit on women. And despite her feeling of dependence on her late mentor, these days Kim seems proud of being her own woman. “I wanted people to understand that Biggie didn’t write my lyrics,” she says. “People always thought that with the last album. They couldn’t believe that hard-core attitude came from me–this little woman.” They’d better believe it now” (Samuels). Samuels’ article also chronicles Kim’s life on the streets of New York, doing all it took to survive on her own, even if that meant running errands for and living with drug dealers. This gives one a better sense of what Kim has achieved in her career and how her career has transformed.

Lil’ Kim’s song “How many Licks” is in the same vein as “Suck My D—k”. This song exposes the more brutal and hard core aspects of her sexuality, but the tables have been turned, because it is not a tough black man demeaning women with his explicit language, it’s a small black woman talking about herself proudly. “I’ve been a lot of places, seen a lot of faces/ Ah hell I even fuck with different races/ A white dude – his name was John/ He had a Queen Bee Rules tattoo on his arm, uh/ He asked me if I’d be his date for the prom and he’d buy me a horse, a Porsche and a farm/ Dan my nigga from Down South/ Used to like me to spank him and cum in his mouth/ And Tony he was Italian (Uh-huh)/ And he didn’t give a fuck (Uh-huh)/ That’s what I liked about him/ He ate my pussy from dark till the morning/ Called his girl up and told her we was bonin/ Puerto Rican papi, used to be a Deacon/ But now he be sucking me off on the weekend/ And this black dude I called King Kong/ He had a big ass dick and a hurricane tongue.”

Kim’s lyrics fit right into the sexual diva persona that has been placed on her, but they also allow her to assert her own feminine power over the men in the song. While so many male rap artists do this to women, making them sexual objects in their songs, Kim does this to the men she raps about. In a very male dominated industry, Kim finds her voice and takes her opportunity to turn the tables on the men who have objectified her and her sistas from the beginning.

In her first single from her first album, “Crush on You”, Kim uses lyrics that let one know that she knows she is successful and that despite her “Crush” she is in no need of a man. “I get clothes, custom made, from a stylist/ Cruise in my Lexus Land with no mileage/ While you walk the street until your feet get calloused/ Take you on a natural high, like a pilot/ It be all good, toss your clothes like a salad/ When it’s all over put your vote in my ballot/ It’s my diner, I’m Mel, and you’re Alice.” This song set the tone for Kim’s career, as her first single it is saying that she is going OK and she is in control of her life. No matter where her career headed after this, she was letting everyone know that she had the power.

Although, there is the other side of this argument, some journalists and scholars feel that Lil’ Kim and her messages and persona are detrimental to the feminist cause. The article, “Deconstructing Lil’ Kim” in Essence Magazine by Britton, included a letter written to Kim by the magazine’s research editor. The letter was a plea to Kim to realize that her music was not helping to relieve the sexist and negative effects rap music has on black culture.  “I’m having a problem when all these voices are being classified as empowering and feminist. While your lyrics may speak the truth of some young women’s realities–hard-core sex, drugs and the rough street life–they don’t empower women in these situations to get out. I know the word feminist gets thrown around a lot in hip-hop these days, but let’s not get it twisted. Just because a voice is feminine doesn’t mean it’s feminist. To carry that label means that you are engaged in the battle to fight political, economic and social sexism” (Britton).

The author insists that Kim’s message and use of her success is not good enough, she says all Lil’ Kim is using is her “pussy power”, when she can do so much more. “Feminism is about embracing our power without reducing it to what’s between our legs. And this so-called pussy power that you portray, the literal or figurative use of what’s between your legs to get the material things you want, completely defeats this. Besides biggin’ up every female who slept her way to the top, it perpetuates the gold-digging, highly sexualized, whorish image that Black women have been trying to kill since slavery” (Britton).

Lil’ Kim makes use of two of the most powerful tools women, black women and women in hip hop have, the image of her power and success and wealth as a self-made woman, and the use of the hypersexual, Jezebel, woman who will use the power of sex to get what she wants. These two images and identities are both part of hip hop feminism, one is the strong, I-can-do-it-myself woman strategy to fighting the sexism that continues to permeate the industry and the other is to turn the sexism on the men. In this way, rappers like Lil’ Kim can promote themselves as sexually liberated and objectify men as sexual objects in their songs. The dichotomy of this creates a difference of opinion between hip hop feminists depending on their views on which strategy is the right one. Lil’ Kim has elements of both in her music and this makes her the dividing line between the two camps. This comes from the split identities of Kim, on one hand she is Queen-Bee and on the other she is a girl from Brooklyn who brought herself up from nothing.

In the essay, “Lil’ Kim, Hip-Hop Womanhood, and the Naked Truuf” by Elaine Richardson, Lil’ Kim’s identities are explained, “Kimberly Denise Jones is NOT Jezebel and neither are we. She plays the role of Lil’ Kim the Jezebel and this role is open to all women, especially Black women who want to enjoy the so-called finer things of life… The Strong Black Woman and Jezebel are exploited by capitalist-patriarchal systems to justify the normalcy of society’s treatment of Black women”(Richardson).

Lil’ Kim’s image has changed slightly from the “Crush on You”/Hard Core days, but largely has remained a very sexual and diva-esque persona, with the creation of her Queen-Bee persona early on in her career. She fits right in with the video girls and video-hoes in how she dresses and dances, but one element that is different is that she is not hanging on to a man. This is a key element in her music, yes she makes herself out to be sexy and raunchy and is very explicit about her sexuality, but she does not make herself the object of men, instead the men are always her objects, this could be the emergence of Kimberly Jones, who indeed has all the power. This is one aspect that defines her sexuality and her role as a woman in hip hop; she makes it clear that she is in control.

Works Cited

Britton, Akissi. “Deconstructing Lil’ Kim.” Essence (Essence) 31.6 (2000): 112.

Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 27 May 2011.

 

Richardson, Elaine. “Lil’ Kim, Hip-Hop Womanhood, and the Naked Truuf”. Home Girls

Make Some Noise: Hip Hop Feminism Anthology. Ed. Pough. Richardson.

Durham. And Raimist. Parker Publishing, LLC 2007. P.187-201.

 

Samuels, Allison. “A Whole Lotta Lil’ Kim.” Newsweek 135.26 (2000): 56. Academic

Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 27 May 2011.

 

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