Hip-Hop artist Lil’ Kim is one of the most influential figures of all time; she’s an icon. She emerged in the mid-1990s with a rather risqué image compared to her female counterparts. It’s no secret or surprise that Hip-Hop was a male dominated genre. Female rappers wanted listeners to focus primarily on the messages within their rhymes as opposed to the fact that they were ladies who could spit fire. In spite of the genre being male dominated, women contributed so much to Hip-Hop’s early days. Black Femininity TV examined women’s contributions to the foundation of Hip-Hop in a video; a link to that will be provided below. It was common for them to wear baggy clothing. They didn’t dress in anything revealing or even too fitting. The style for the most part was tomboyish. (Salt N’ Pepa to an extent may be considered an exception to the rule. They could be sexy, just not overtly sexual). However, Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown added a more sexual, soft yet edgy, and feminine/girly appeal to Hip-Hop culture. Female rappers had to prove that they were worthy of being respected and fought to have their voices heard. Hip-Hop could be misogynistic and didn’t depict women in the best of light. Aside from the fun and party rap, street life, stories of rags to riches, struggle, violence, and sexualization of women were focal points in the music. Female rappers empowered women through their lyrics and offered new perspectives compared to the norm. Although Lil’ Kim was refreshing and embraced, she still received backlash for her music and style. Women who were more conservative didn’t like her image. Some parents believed she was a bad influence on children. Community leaders disapproved of her album’s subject matter. In 1997, Lil’ Kim made an appearance on The Rolonda Watts Show. The question posed: “Is Lil’ Kim sexualizing our children?” The panel on this episode of the show included Lil’ Kim’s mother, Ruby Mae Jones-Mitchell, President of Morality in the Media Robert Peters, Hot 97 radio personality and former Yo! MTV Raps co-host Ed Lover, Love Yourself, Stop the Violence campaign/watch chairman Officer James Davis, and a few others. Audience members channeled the panel with thought provoking questions and comments. Here are some of the highlights of that interview.
Lil’ Kim’s response to 12-year-old Chanel:
Chanel was a 12-year-old Lil’ Kim fan who would listen to the music on her Walkman. She would have to sneak and listen to the music because she knew her mother wouldn’t approve of the explicit content. Chanel became overwhelmed with emotion because of how much she loved Lil’ Kim (Young Chanel may have also been embarrassed that she was being put on the spot). Rolonda wanted Lil’ Kim to weigh in on the concerns. “I think that she listens to it for the sound and for me being a young, positive black young woman… doing my thing and getting over a hump. I want you to make sure you keep God in your life… you’re too young to be having sex… you’re too young to be listening to my music, too… make sure you do the right thing. Don’t go out and have sex for the wrong reasons… and if you do decide one day that you want to have sex, use a condom because I’m pretty sure you’re old enough to get pregnant and catch a disease.” Rolonda advised Chanel to have a conversation with her parents about sex.
Lil’ Kim did what an influencer should have done. She may have been a rapper, but simultaneously, she understood that being in that position meant that she impacted the lives of some girls and young women. She separated her music and experiences from the reality of a young girl that listened to her music and loved her image. Lil’ Kim was responsible in her approach without encouraging young Chanel to be a wild child. Sex was a taboo topic in those days. Several parents failed to have open dialogue about sex with their children. We only know that Chanel was a Lil’ Kim fan. We don’t know what the extent of her relationship with her mother and father was. I may be reaching, but it’s possible that her parents avoided talking to her about sex, the importance of protecting herself, emotions, etc. Lil’ Kim probably did more for Chanel in the span of two minutes compared to what her parents should’ve done during her adolescent years.
Ruby Mae Jones-Mitchell:
Lil’ Kim’s mom supported Kim’s career overall. Jones-Mitchell joked that she should’ve taken her daughter to church more often. Growing up, Kim was intrigued by the music industry and infatuated with fashion. “First and foremost, she’s a good artist… she’s an adult… this is what she chose to do, and I support her as much as I possibly can”, Jones-Mitchell stated. Like most artists, as Rolonda pointed out, Lil’ Kim’s music referenced her upbringing. Her parents were married but divorced. She and her brother remained in the care of their father and their mother would visit. Jones-Mitchell focused on becoming well established for her children. Kim’s relationship with her father began to go downhill because he could be strict; the relationship even became violent. This caused Kim to turn to the streets temporarily (you can hear further details in the documentary linked below). Kim moved in with her mother after a while. All of this gave Kim inspiration to rap.
Although it wasn’t discussed on this show, Kim’s mother revealed in Lil’ Kim’s 2003 episode of VH1’s Driven that she preferred for Kim to earn an education. She was hesitant about Kim going into the music industry at such a young age. Kim attended Brooklyn College for courses to please her mother. Kim avoided classes and would fail assignments. In spite of this, she graduated college.
Most parents want their children to be safe and have practical careers (especially during these days). This initially was the case with Jones-Mitchell; she learned to accept Kim’s choice to pursue a rap career. I love that Kim’s mother explained how we all have choices in life. When placed in unforeseen circumstances that aren’t within our control, it may seem impossible to rise above the issues; it is possible. Jones-Mitchell admitted to her flaws as a parent, but she managed to attain a relationship with her children. Children become influenced by more than just their parents: friends, neighbors, other family members, and so on; this was the case with Kim. Those on the opposing side of Kim’s rap content would probably blame her mom for her choices. Jones-Mitchell did the only thing any parent could do, her best. She did take accountability for her missteps.
Officer James Davis’ rant:
Davis was chairman of the Love Yourself, Stop the Violence campaign/watch. He wanted there to be more positive messages spewed for young children to follow. Here is a portion of what he had to say: “Our beautiful artists are in a position to send a message to our people: a message of difference, a message of prosperity, a message of rise up you mighty people. Then why open up your legs and show us in a negative light… represent with your lifestyle… Lil’ Kim said ‘this is not made for children’… Let’s wake up America”. Throughout the show, Davis made points about this type of music being played on the radio. He believed that explicit music should have only been played during times where children weren’t listening.
Activists in the 1980s and 1990s could be animated in their approach to topics. There was this blatant preacher vibe to them, and they would speak from the pits of their stomachs; aggression was noticeable in their tones at times. Officer James spoke in the same manner. I understand where he was coming from; I do disagree with certain points. Artists have a right to share their experiences. There were other artists at the time that helped to spread more positive messages: TLC and Queen Latifah to name a couple. Kim herself had positive messages at times to share by encouraging women to prioritize themselves. Her music can be used as cautionary tales for young girls as long as they interpret the music that way. If she never brought attention to these issues along with other artists, society would act as if problems didn’t exist.
Audience members’ comments:
A mom in the audience pointed out that some children didn’t have the proper guidance and felt that Kim was a negative influence on the children. She felt that Kim should have changed her content and instead rap the importance of safe sex, AIDS awareness, and so on. This parent didn’t want the darker sides of sex to be discussed. “Why can’t we sing songs about telling people it’s not okay to go out here and open your legs to anybody and have sex with anybody”, the mom asked. Hot 97 radio host, Ed Lover, had children and expressed that “The world is not all bubble gum and candy” in response to the concerned parent. Kim voiced that even during her time in the “streets”, there was always someone to look up to. Even if the figure taught her right from wrong, she would continue to make poor decisions. In the end, Kim knew that the wrong decisions had consequences and felt guilty about her actions.
I understand where the mom was coming from when she touched on the children that lacked guidance. Some children don’t have guidance or role models and may use music as their teacher along with other sources. Concurrently, just because a segment of children does lack guidance, that doesn’t mean harsh topics should be avoided or negative experiences will cease. Parents are supposed to be the first teachers of children. Even if Kim didn’t rap about AIDS, it was up to parents to discuss safe sex with children. It was up to them to inform the children of the consequences they would face if they failed to practice safe sex: STDs, STIs, unwanted/unexpected pregnancies, and unnecessary emotional attachments, soul ties. Ideally, none of us want teens to engage in the act and would never encourage them to do so. However, averting the conversation altogether can do more harm than good by giving the children/teens false impressions of this natural part of life. It’s definitely better to prepare them by explaining every aspect of sex.
One audience member felt that it was unfair to solely blame Lil’ Kim for children being pre-exposed to sex. She believed that parents should have taken some responsibility by educating their children.
I wholeheartedly agree with her stance!
An older audience member told Lil’ Kim about her daughters. Apparently, her daughters were huge fans of the rapper. They attended catholic school and obtained good grades. The mom encouraged Lil’ Kim to continue her career.
To me, this helped to show that it was possible for children, particularly young girls, to do positive things while listening to sexually explicit rap music. I also chuckled because I attended catholic school before, earned good grades, and was a huge fan of Lil’ Kim; I’m still a fan! I wasn’t easily influenced by certain aspects of Hip-Hop culture. I was able to separate entertainment and rappers’ stories from my reality. Although I was able to do that, I can acknowledge that some children and teens are unable to do so.
Lil’ Kim may have had an overtly sexual image. However, I don’t believe she sexualized children. Lil’ Kim was about more than just sex. Lil’ Kim embraced the power of being a woman. To be clear, all facets of women deserve to be represented. Sure, her lyrics may have been outrageous and in some instances, hardcore, but she greatly impacted the culture. It’s your responsibility to do your due diligence as parents to prepare your children by explaining every aspect of sex even if it may be uncomfortable.
“When you start attacking Hip-Hop, Hip-Hop is nothing more than a reflection of the society in which we all grew up in for me because I stay close to my community and I know what’s going on”. Ed Lover
Sources, further viewing:
Lil’ Kim’s Rolonda Interview (FULL):
Driven: Lil’ Kim:
Black Femininity TV:
Photography done by:
Art Direction, Design: