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Hip-Hop Fridays: On Lil' Kim

Outside of Tupac, on the male side, or who is the greatest MC of all-time, I have never seen a person or issue in Hip-Hop that could evoke more emotions and disagreement than Lil' Kim. The simple mention of her name can provoke intense debate - especially among Black Women. For them Lil' Kim symbolizes so many different things.

Some women see Lil' Kim as nothing short of the embodiment of sexual promiscuity. They point to her scantily clad-image and raunchy lyrics as all of the evidence necessary to prove their view.

Others see Lil' Kim as an icon of feminine power. To them her fierce independence represented by her willingness to say and wear anything she wants combined with her recording success and apparent business savvy are all that is important.

Still more see Kim as a Black Woman who is trying to be White- the blonde hair, breast implants and fascination with makeup and the leading figures of the fashion world are presented as evidence to support this view. These women are most recently turned off by how Kim has been embraced by white females as if she were the newest superhero in white feminism, as if she were the Black Madonna (the pop music star).

Then there is a larger group of Black Women who seem to concede a bit of truth to all three of the previously mentioned views of Kim. They are unsettled by some aspects of Kim and yet emboldened by others. She seems to be "everywoman", if there is such a thing, even more than Oprah, as she represents the highest levels of negative and positive in Black womanhood- simultaneously.

I met Kim once in 1996 at the taping of an MTV Special. My first impression of her was that she was cute, professional, and handled her self like a mature woman. I actually saw her turn down a Brother who tried to ask her out in a disrespectful tone. I definitely got the impression that there was a "lights-camera-action" Lil' Kim as well as a Kimberly Jones Lil' Kim. Kimberly Jones markets the stage version of Lil' Kim very well.

And that is a fact that appears to be lost on many women who take a holier-than-thou and self-righteous attitude toward Kim. I first encountered this phenomenon when speaking on a music industry panel in 1996, after I had met Kim in person. The place was full of Black Women who seemed to literally despise Kim. She was called every name in the book and I was most taken back by the intensity of the women's critiques of Kim's so-called "ho" image. Especially since some of the stiffest condemnations of Kim's image came from women in the music industry who I knew had exhibited "loose" behavior themselves. It seemed as if they hated in Lil' Kim's image what they saw in themselves.

When it was my turn to speak I offered a defense of Kim asking how many women who were disgusted by her were taking time out to mentor or model behavior for the "Lil' Kim's who were growing up in their neighborhoods. My challenge seemed to let the air out of the room and you could hear people begin to mutter agreement with the sentiment that I expressed.

My point was that if you don't like Lil Kim's image you aren't going to stop some of the real behavior she represents by railing against her or even by boycotting her record label (as some had suggested). You could only make an impact beginning with your own self and every little Black girl that was in your life.

And if it takes Lil Kim's image being paraded across every entertainment medium imaginable to get that to happen then maybe she has performed a great service for us all.

In that sense I guess that is what Lil' Kim means to me.

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, May 19, 2000

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