But the pain that Foxy Brown and Lil' Kim share are not just their own. It's something that has seemingly plagued nearly every little Black girl around the world, especially if they are minorities in their countries. But, issues such as the prominent use of fading cream among African women and men, in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, show that this is not just about being a minority---it's about dealing with the system of white supremacy, where images of white women as the standard of beauty, where crimes against white people are deemed to be more important and, in short, where Black life is devalued, across the board. Sometimes we fall for this like Eddie Murphy did in his "Raw" comedy routine where he totally disrespected African women.
Lil' Kim and The Jump Off: The Queens of Bling-Bling . . . and Beat Downs?
By Goddess Oya (May 25th, 2003)
Sometime ago, I watched VH-1's "Driven" on Lil' Kim. As much as I find some of her work distasteful, I know that Lil' Kim didn't just grow up out of nowhere, so it was very interesting to see what her life was like before she became a celebrity. All of her friends and family talked about how much Kim knew she was a "diva" from the time she was a little girl, how she used to perform in the mirror and then watch her mother and aunt get dressed up, wanting to emulate them later. All little girls model themselves after grown ups and especially women; but of course since she is a star, the filmmakers made it out to be so much more, as if she was destined to be a diva. Maybe so but I'm not convinced that Kim has reached her destiny. If anything, this may be more of a stumbling block or a stepping stone. Her mother said that even she had always been "into fashion" (and probably wasting her hard-earned money on clothes in order to look good) and so Kim was sure to follow. And Kim was a very cute girl. Notice that there is nothing wrong with her nose or her beautiful, brown skin! Indeed, the one thing Kim learned early on is that she was cute and that she could be sassy and get attention showing it off. She was an adorable baby and looking at the pictures of her as a teenager reminded me that she was just an average "around the way" girl.
Kim grew up in a relatively happy but sometimes abusive home. Her father, a military man, seems to have lost something of himself in the Vietnam War. He was later divorced from his wife and was always fighting with little Kim. Kim's mom was pretty broke for a while following the divorce and at one point in time, they were living out of their car. Kim also said that when she went to live with her father, he was excessively strict and it led her to stay out later and then eventually run away from home. When her father remarried, he told her that his new woman was in town and there was no space for her to live in the house. Apparently, he did this because he felt she wouldn't listen but just like mothers sometimes choose their men over their children, Lil' Kim's father clearly did the same. After she hit the streets, she hooked up with Biggie Smalls, aka the Notorious B.I.G., who was a low level drug peddler. She played the role of the drug dealer's girlfriend and then he entered the rap game with Sean "Puffy" Combs, later promising to "put her on" too once he found out she could rap. Biggie became a star, married Faith, kept Lil' Kim on the side, Kim became a rapper and later sang about her affairs, Faith left Biggie, he got killed and the rest.
But now that Lil' Kim's story has been told about her abusive relationship with Biggie, Voletta Wallace has attacked her saying that she doesn't believe such stories and that if he had pulled a gun on her, she should have blown her brains out. Ooookay. I hope Biggie's mom did not say that. I really hope she didn't . . . but it's likely because she is constantly in denial about any negativity Biggie was engaged in because she's one of those types of mothers. It's understandable to a certain extent but denial didn't help Biggie and it certainly won't help our community. What's even more interesting is that now that Lil' Kim's finally able to tell her story about her cycle of violence and abusive relationships, some folks ain't tryin' to hear it because it casts a negative light on Biggie Smalls. Well . . . the truth is the truth, right? I mean, his wife Faith hadn't separated from and divorced him for nothing.
Both Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown have been sharing little pieces of their psychological burdens in magazines and in tiny soundbites for years now. Both of them say that it was "the light skinned girls" who always got the boys when they were younger and even though Kim is an even-toned "tan", Foxy Brown says she has only recently become comfortable with her skin tone and appreciating her brown beauty, especially after watching Lauryn Hill being comfortable in her own skin and seeing her on the cover of so many magazines. Lil' Kim emerged on the cover of Vibe Magazine as the blonde-haired cat woman with a full head of blonde weave, lots of blue eyeliner (since she can't have blue eyes), a surgically altered nose and breast implants. This is a sad, sad day.
But the pain that Foxy Brown and Lil' Kim share are not just their own. It's something that has seemingly plagued nearly every little Black girl around the world, especially if they are minorities in their countries. But, issues such as the prominent use of fading cream among African women and men, in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, show that this is not just about being a minority---it's about dealing with the system of white supremacy, where images of white women as the standard of beauty, where crimes against white people are deemed to be more important and, in short, where Black life is devalued, across the board. Sometimes we fall for this like Eddie Murphy did in his "Raw" comedy routine where he totally disrespected African women. And who but a Jigga would come back two decades later and repeat some of the same ignorant lines. Peep Jay Z in "Girls, Girls, Girls," where he sings:
I got this African chick with Eddie Murphy on her skull She like, "Jigga Man, why you treat me like animal?" I'm like excuse me Ms. Fufu, but when I met your ass you was dead broke and naked, and now you want half
I know it might be hard for some of you to believe but African people are some of the most clothed people in the world and arguably the most beautifully clothed people. In addition, when Europeans were still living in caves, other Africans in various countries were wearing silk. Eddie Murphy apologized for his extremely ignorant depiction of African people, which is why he tried to make it up with the stellar film, "Coming to America" where he starred as the Prince of Zamunda. Jay Z might not know this but he should apologize for his rampant stereotypes of "naked" African people, Indian squaws and all of his other ignorant commentary too.
But since he brought Africa up, millions of Africans are dying and we rarely see footage of their suffering in America. Tom Brokaw and many other journalists had to do a special series on the forgotten war in the Congo just to pinpoint that millions had been killed in just the last three years and no one seems to notice or care. During the 1994 genocidal crisis in Rwanda, the U.S. took little to no action whatsoever to prevent what was an obvious massacre. AIDS and the lack of clean water is devastating the entire continent and it's as though we have little concern at all. And in the United States, we all know that Public Enemy didn't make the song, "911 is a Joke" for nothing. To this day, if Black Americans kill other Black Americans, their penalty is far less (if at all) than if they kill a White American. Everyday, we are told we are "less than" and rewarded for being "less than" who we really are. Lil' Kim has not only learned this lesson but unfortunately accepted it when she began to alter her body. She was mad at rapper 50 Cent because he had a line in his song that said, "I'm convinced, something's really wrong with these 'hoes. / I thought Lil Kim was hot til she started fucking with her nose." But you know what? She was probably mad at him for saying she's no longer hot but I am mad at him for calling her a hoe to begin with. She forgave him and they just did a duet entitled, "Magic Stick" together. But the point is, she WAS hot and didn't need to have a nose job; and because she let these silly folks convince her of getting one, she IS getting pimped.
It may seem like a stretch to associate these ideas with the melancholy meanderings of Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown---but why? In the article, "Queen Bee is Back," Lil' Kim was asked by Honey Magazine what she thought of Black women who dissed her because of her nose job. She shot back, "Whatever I want to do, I have money I can do it. When I get older, I'm doing whatever the fuck I got to do. If I want to turn myself into a man, then fine, see you." At the same time, Black women were supposed to understand and have empathy for her when she talked about how she felt relative to light-skinned girls. Wake Up, Kimberly! The point is not what you have a right to do. The question here is whether or not you are doing the right thing and why you think it's right. The long and short of it is that Black people are marketed as being worth very little unless they are conforming to stereotypes that White people in America and across the world enjoy --- the "hot mama" Jezebel, the buffoon, the coon, the Mammy, the Uncle Tom --- it's all there and still in full effect. The late Marlon Riggs addressed this in his documentary, "Ethnic Notions" and Spike Lee followed it up with the film, "Bamboozled" but we need much more than one documentary and a film to combat the daily psychological messages we are being fed every single day even though it's a GREAT start!
And, in case you didn't know it, Lil' Kim, Foxy, Ashanti, Eve, Trina --- all of them play the part of the Jezebel. This was a stereotype that white men and women created to DENY the White man's deep sexual lust for and rape of Black women during slavery and beyond. This doesn't mean that Black women must deny that we have a sexuality and not feel free to celebrate it. But it does mean we need to be careful about how we communicate and display it so that we are not participating in our own objectification and dehumanization. We are not sexual objects to be played with and then tossed and discarded such as what Trina displays in her XXX video she made before she became a star and when she didn't have any money. Wasn't there any work at the post office? Irony of all ironies, when I tried to get to Trina's site in order to complete this article, I typed in http://www.dabaddestbitch.com. You look at the two websites and tell me what is the big difference? (After this website was published, Trina got her lawyers to remove all direct references to her but the picture is still there. I hate to send people back there but she didn't think about the consequences when she was up there in all the videos teaching young kids her values so she should be willing to face her past in being complicit with being a sexual object and putting money above all else). Lil' Kim decided to change her nose and get fake breasts when she realized she was a sex symbol. But the most insulting thing about this MTV interview is that she is being rewarded for dissing everybody from her hood and hanging out with a bunch of crazy White folks who are pimping her, big time. As they state in the article:
"She definitely isn't the same 'round-the-way girl the Notorious B.I.G. introduced us to in 1995. Little Ms. Jones has estranged herself from old ideals and friends from her 'hood that she once considered family. She's got a fresh attitude to go with her new set of Hollywood and high-society buddies and associates, people such as Hugh Hefner, Pamela Anderson, Carmen Electra, Don King, Donatella Versace and Victoria Gotti."
Is that supposed to be a compliment? Tell me how any of these people care about Black people? Everybody knows Don King is sheisty but the rest of these people could give two shits about Lil' Kim. So Lil' Kim has gone from being pimped by Biggie to being pimped by these cats? And according to her mother, her "old ideals" always revolved around clothes, money and attention---big change there, hunh? This article was written by by Shaheem Reid, with additional reporting by Sway Calloway, Jeff Cornell and Quddus Phillipe. Three out of four of these writers writing this stupid crap are Black men. Are you reporting or celebrating? Black women, don't play the part of the Jezebel!
We can understand this on a racial front when we talk about Black men being whipped like they were animals; but it seems that it's harder to grasp, for both Black men and women, just how devastating it is to be attacked on both a racial front and a gender front --- to be a Black woman. And it's even worse when the person who is attacking you is another Black man. Of course we all know that all Black men do not attack Black women and are not abusive. But we also know that too many of them are. We cannot praise Biggie Smalls for his ascendancy in the rap game, from hustling dope to hustling records, yet pay no attention to his casualties along the way. How many people did Biggie sell drugs to? How many families were affected by his actions? How many people did he hurt (or kill?) along the way and how many times did he break a foot off in the ass of the woman he was involved with? Lil' Kim stayed with Biggie not only because she had feelings for him but because she had nowhere else to go. When she needed some money, the B.I.G. threw her off some. When she needed a place to stay, he might have hooked her up. She loved him probably like she should have been loving her father but that was never going to quite work out. I wonder how Kim would feel if her father just stepped up to the plate and apologized for being so abusive to his family? And I wonder if her mother would ever admit that some of the priorities she modeled for Kim were not the best. The acquisition for material things led Kim into her relationship with Biggie and kept her there, especially after she was being thrown off a few purses and was promised to see her name in lights. There's a root to every problem, a source of everything.
I criticize Lil' Kim (more) and Foxy Brown (less) because they need it. I don't get down with the idea that just because something happened to you, you have no choices in life. Kim has the power and the money to never be poor, homeless or broke down again, if she plays her cards right. But at the same time, some of what she helps promote are some of the worst ideas hip hop has to offer. Lil' Kim knows good and well that most people cannot afford the diamond rings, the Benz, the clothes, the hotels and the nights out with people who have "the endz" like she can but she is selling this idea, mostly to young girls, who want to grow up and be just like her---pursuing material wealth. And, frankly, I don't know how wealthy Kim is. She has a high income but that's all I know. I wonder if she has a healthy stock portfolio, if she's outlined her last will and testament, if she increased her life insurance or started to invest in real estate. Knowing what she represents, she probably hasn't, which means she has no real wealth at all.
What Lil' Kim promotes is the wanton use of disposable income. This is called conspicuous consumption. Make a lot of money, spend a lot of money. But see the people who are really in power make a lot of money and spend as little money as possible! The richest people in the world are not flaunting diamond necklaces and Lexuses, they are just chilling with their Polo shirts with a small insignia, wearing khaki pants and plain white shoes. I'm not saying none of these people should totally let go of their sense of style…but they should let go of much of their need to flaunt it all and be pimped by all of these designers in the process. In her latest single, "The Jump Off," Lil' Kim says that her crew is about "sex, drugs and cash." Is that true? If so, this is precisely what kept her in her dependent position with Biggie so that when he coerced her into getting an abortion, she did. People say she is still tortured by that decision and that she is even more hardcore sexual because of it. Indeed, the name of her first solo debut album is "Hardcore." She also told us that Biggie is the one that wanted her to be a sex queen so this was her introduction to the game and she continues to play this role, all the while giving shout outs to Biggie. I wonder if this is the same path Lil' Kim would have chosen for herself if she had creative control over her image from the beginning. I don't know the truth but Lil' Kim does. In the meantime, I know what kind of an effect she and others like her are having on little girls in my community.
Originally appeared in Playahata.com.