Hip-Hop has always been a “boy’s club” where female emcees are seen as welcomed guests rather than active participants. But it was never this bad. It never got to the point where award shows had to literally discontinue its best female artist category because there was no one to give it to. There used to be a meritocracy for females where if you could spit, you would get a chance to make music. In 1995, a certain girl from Brooklyn picked up the mic and changed the game forever. When Lil’ Kim came on the scene she forced all of Hip-Hop to address the female rapper differently. Looking back 15 years later, was her influence a good or bad thing for women in Hip-Hop?
Prior to 1995, female rappers came in all shapes and sizes. From to MC Lyte to the Lady of Rage, females had a visible and diverse presence in Hip-Hop. Groups like Salt-N-Pepa were even topping the charts. They spoke about a wide range of topics and garnished respect from their male counterparts and true Hip-Hop fans. These female rhymesters did not have to fit into the small pigeonhole of “sex object”. Sex was more of a topic of discussion rather than the focal point of their image. This is not to say that they weren’t up against sexism. It was hard to avoid seeing raunchy videos or having rappers explain how a woman should lick something. Despite the obstacles, there was at least an outlet for people if they wanted a more positive viewpoint on women.
In 1995 everything we knew about gender politics in Hip-Hop was turned on its head. Lil’ Kim burst onto the scene as a hyper-sexual vixen that was in control of her body and sexuality. It was like a revolution of sorts where men were no longer allowed to determine how a female is viewed. She literally knocked people on their asses with her hardcore lyrics. The men in her raps were just toys whose only purpose was to please her and finance her lavish lifestyle. Never having seen this before, Lil’ Kim became one of the biggest and most controversial stars in Hip-Hop. Her unapologetic rhymes and demeanor gave females in rap another voice and perhaps another avenue to express their sexuality.
Unfortunately, Kim’s impact might have been too powerful. Her debut album’s first week sales set the record for a female rapper. This had the music business salivating. This new breed of female that executives could make a killing off of replaced the multi-faceted female emcee. A woman couldn’t get a deal unless she was wearing a thong or talked about how she performed in the bedroom. This sexual empowerment that Kim started completely disappeared. The female rapper became a one-dimensional object whose role was to satisfy the fantasies of their male listeners. In many circles, Lil’ Kim was no longer being viewed as a symbol of strength but rather the embodiment of every negative stereotype. With an emphasis on the “porn star” image, having actual lyrical talent became expendable. What remained were these inept women with ghost writers being paraded around as actual artists and it completely destroyed what was left of the true female emcee.
Years went by as women who at one point would have been welcomed into Hip-Hop, found themselves on the outside looking in. The result is what we have today – nothing. No prominent, successful female rappers worth mentioning, just frustration and nostalgia. It’s probably unfair to place the entire blame on Lil’ Kim but we’re responsible for our actions even if we cannot predict the outcomes that our actions will have. Most likely she didn’t intend to have a negative impact. She was probably just being Kimberly Jones, a girl from BK trying to make it. But as artists like Nicki Minaj and Jean Grae fight tooth and nail to undo what the Queen Bee did to their image and respectability, they might have asked her back in 1995…
“Friend or Foe yo, state your biz?”
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