Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Masculinity of Lil Kim

“A queen is not a queen
Because she is felt
But a queen is a queen
Because failure
has not stopped her
Take it from me
The queen of all queens-
Taking over
for the new millennium…”

Lil Kim (I’m Human)

Bachelorette #1
The Masculine Lil Kim

by Carl Hancock Rux

Purportedly, iconic American figures of twentieth century bachelorhoodum were, in the earlier part of the last century, glamorous monoliths-- square dapper dons in tailored couture, sporting silk ascots and spit shine winged tips—posturing with slicked back well cropped hair and pristinely manicured hands tucked in the side pockets of brocade smoking jackets. By post-war mid-century, these single poster boys butched it up with testosterone studded leather motorcycle jackets thrown over tight white t-shirts and jeans, or— if you preferred the James Bond variety-- took a note from their forefathers in style but not in sexual discretion. The key elements of the twentieth century bachelor were simple; male, white, and wealthy ( or at least, free.)
Fast forward to the beginning of the twenty first century, where sex and race have changed place cards, and the bachelor of yore is as rare today as blushing virgin brides. These days, the reigning symbol of sex, power, opulence and (dare I suggest?) masculinity is not a white male movie matinee idol (ala Cary Grant or Marlon Brando) but an African American girl rapper with a sex kitten veneer and a lionous interior. Enter Lil Kim. “I feel like I have male hormones” she laughs, “I have that hard hard side—and I have that feminine cute, little girl, playful side-- I can balance it out like that.”
The Queen Bee, New York’s Bachelor Number One (sexist terms aside, the ette just doesn’t fit on the end of her bachelor-hood) has done more in the last decade to upset gender politics than the Kinsey Report did in the early 70’s. Even the ultimate sexual provocateur and trendsetter, Madonna, seems to have been inspired by her (You saw the video: Madonna iced down with press on nail tips and a bottle of champagne in the back of a white stretch limo on her way to a lap dance.) On the other hand, sexiness is not a learned behavior in Lil Kim’s book. It just is. "To be sexy is to be natural.” she insists, “My family and my friends think I'm sexy--I'm honored that people see me that way. But I think it starts with what's in your heart. I guess you can learn how to be sexy—but I don't think you have to learn it, I think you have to feel it.”
It’s difficult to imagine Kim, the woman who has inspired a legion of hardcore femme fatale imitators with her hard edged no holds barred urban Glam dripping in diamonds—coyly sipping Cosmos on the upper east side with her girlfriends, trading secrets on how to be sexy while complaining in hushed tones about men and the perils of sex in the city. “I date once in a while. I don't know what to look for in guy no more—There are a lot of guys who wanna be with me and wanna get with me--but it has to connect. Some of them just wanna get to know the real Kim—but these niggas in this industry will fuck a woman's head up--it's up to the women to be strong.” Not without icons of her own, she readily calls out the names of Jada Pinkett, Queen Elizabeth, Oprah Winfrey and the late Princess Di when she thinks of examples of beauty and power , but Kim’s new millennium message to men folk is clearly spelled out in one of her songs-- “Suck My D**K” (from her Notorious KIM CD, the long-delayed follow up to her 1996 raunchy debut, Hardcore). “It's like me sayin', kiss my ass- it annoyed men but it had men boppin' their heads too.”, her soft voice explains, “I was tryin' to say there are some women out there who are stronger than men and think just like men do. I’m lettin' men know--I can talk like ya'll, move like ya'll--you cannot play me.”
Kim’s masculinity is not defined by masculine behavior or sexual preference or even organized feminism. The persona she’s invented for herself is a campy (albeit high class) combination of burlesque hip shaker, B movie Glam girl, blaxploitation ho, and gangster bitch—with a secret ingredient—Barbie. “I still collect Barbie Dolls!” she admits in her giggly voice, then adds “They're gonna put out a Lil Kim Barbie next Christmas!” The hard edge of Lil Kim’s recording voice, spitting lyrics in a deep alto like a dominatrix with a glock in her hand, combined with the superhero image of her warding off competitors and sharply instructing men how to please her -- contrasts sharply with the softer tones of her actual speaking voice—a pre-pubescent soprano full of charm and laughter, reminding you that Lil Kim is just the alter super ego of a Brooklyn girl named Kimberly Jones who needed to decorate her room with glitter and bullet proof glass.
Kimberly Jones grew up in Brooklyn, raised by her mother, a department store clerk, who was married (for a time) to a former Army sergeant and bus driver. At the age of 9, her parents divorced, and Kimberly was sent, reluctantly, to live with relatives, and eventually to live with her mother’s x-husband. A strict disciplinarian who had remarried, little Kimberly and the Sergeant did not get along (she admits having once stabbed him in the shoulder during a bitter argument), and by the time she was a teenager, she had run away from home. Acclimating herself to life on her own on the streets of Brooklyn, Kimberly Jones took up residence with several boyfriends and sold drugs for financial support. It was on the streets of Brooklyn, however, that she would have the fateful meeting with the man who would eventually become the love of her life, and her Svengali—the late Christopher Wallace, better known as Biggie Smalls, The Notorious BIG. Wallace, who was on his way to becoming one of the most significant pop stars of the rap world, was the first to recognize Kim’s unique talent for verse and cadence, and though it is well know he eventually married singer-songwriter Faith Evans, the Wallace/Jones connection sustained itself throughout the rest of his career and short life. With the success of his 1994 Ready to Die; Biggie was able to form an imprint under Atlantic Records, signing the rap consortium Junior M.A.F.I.A. (Masters At Finding Intelligent Attitudes), which included Lil' Cease and Lil' Kim. It was on the 1995 release, Conspiracy, that Lil' Kim made head turns with her rapid fire rapping style and hard edged lyrics, but it wasn't until her 1996 debut album, Hardcore, that she was elevated to the status of superstar and into the realm of legends. The album spawned several hits, and went platinum, as did her latest album, THE NOTORIOUS KIM, posthumously dedicated to Biggie.
When asked about her love life these days, Kim claims to shun the dating game and reflects on her Hepburn/Tracey like relationship with Wallace. “I would've given up anything for BIG--we were a real couple.”, she says, her mood suddenly changing, revealing traces of sadness in her voice, “But when you find someone you love and care about--who loves you—there’s no need to give up anything. People just won't—can’t understand--what we had—will never understand.”
The Star Is Born legend of Kim is replete with more magazine covers than there are news stands, , and the ultimate Ghetto Girl Goes Diva Diana Ross gawking at Kim’s more shocking than Cher get-ups . But hip-hop stardom is thought to be different from the old Hollywood models we’re used to. Artists like Kim have made their celebrity by combining the lifestyles of the rich and famous ( press photos of her and Donatella Versace laughing like old girlfriends) with life in the hood (the recent as yet unsolved shoot out at a Lil Kim radio interview, resulting in the wounding of one man). Until recently, the passage between the two worlds had been dominated mostly by men, but Lil Kim also knows how to travel it freely. “I still go to hood to have a good time—to see my people. I love goin’ back to Bed-Stuy. I don’t disguise myself or anything. I just go.” Because of this kind of brevity, (can you imagine anyone not recognizing Lil Kim on the street) her high profile seems to provoke a more conservative media to focus on her involvement in the dangerous world of hip-hop. But Kim’s never shied away from being under a spy glass. She defends, “My world is neither safe or dangerous--my world is just my world and I'm living in it. When people ask Who is Kim?, it's hard to explain on one sheet of paper—just keep watching me-- because I’m ever changing.”
Hers may very well sound like the ultimate hip-hop fairly tale, the stuff Hollywood films are made of –and her star never seems to stop rising. “I'm currently working on a new album” she brags exhaustingly, “and look for me on the big screen—Hollywood! I did a movie called Juanna Man with Miguel Munez and Tommy Davidson. Acting is something I'm into deeply. I like the way Jennifer Lopez is doin' her thing with movies and music—I wanna balance the two. I’m reading ten scripts right now and I just finished a single and a video for (the Nicole Kidman movie) Moulin Rouge—(featuring Missy Elliot, Christina Aguillera, and Mya).” But rising star status aside, in talking to the level headed star, you realize her fantasy never had anything to do with becoming the reigning diva of New York nightlife, or sipping Cristal in VIP rooms. She’d be happy if the party all took place in her room of Barbies and blonde wigs. “The artist that I wanna be like is Michael Jackson”, she says, further clarifying before anyone misunderstands her yet again, “I'll get the house with the roller coaster and the rides and a disco and I'll invite all my friends and tell them to invite their friends and I’ll just stay at home. That's why I work so hard. So I can have the things I want.”
So the question is, will matrimony or motherhood or even middle age put an end to Kim’s twist on sex and the single girl? “I don’t know but one thing I know” she promises, “(When I’m about 50) I'm gonna have a whole lot more money. I see myself involved in a lot of things…and I see myself more at peace. I’m still young and I’m a long way from thirty. My mother says life begins at thirty, so I haven’t even begun. Hopefully I'll still be alive. I always felt like I'm gonna live for a while…but you never know.”
Meanwhile, the beautiful masculinity of Lil Kim reigns on.

No comments: