I am often asked how I can be a feminist and still love hip-hop, a question that admittedly provokes a sigh and several eye rolls. I am reminded that in 2000, Eminem wrote more than a few bars illustrating domestic violence throughout The Marshall Mathers LP and in 2013, Rick Ross came under fire for rapping about date rape in his song “U.O.E.N.O.”
While I am not condoning, nor will I ever condone, misogyny or sexual assault, critics of hip-hop often fail to recognize the prevalence of misogynistic lyrics in every single genre. Country music lyrics frequently objectify women, who, as female subjects, remain mostly anonymous and are discussed as sexual prospects on a whiskey-filled summer night.
Pop music is notorious for creating a divide between “the good girl” and “the naughty girl,” and live performances have been curated for the male gaze. Even the classical music world is rampant with sexism, as male composers have expressed their reluctance to promote female conductors, explaining that they might be a sexual distraction to the orchestra. Clearly, misogyny is still a widespread problem in almost every field.
The very nature of hip-hop and rap is raw. What might be easier to hide under the sound of a twangy guitar or an overproduced synth is more audible in rap. The stripped-down melodies and explicit language can expose certain ugly truths in our society, but can also be used to propel and clearly express progressive ideas as well. This perceived weakness of hip-hop is actually one of its distinct strengths.
The pioneer women of hip-hop, like Salt-N-Pepa and MC Lyte, broke down barriers and shattered stereotypes regarding female sexuality from the mid-1980s onward, paving the way for more legends like Missy Elliot, Queen Latifah and, of course, Lil’ Kim to emerge.
This Sunday marked the 21st anniversary of Lil’ Kim’s debut studio album, Hard Core. Although November 1996 was a starkly different time than the November we are living in now, the themes of Hard Core are more relevant than ever. Kimberley Jones, who was only a teenager when she joined Junior M.A.F.I.A., wanted her music to reflect her raunchy, Brooklyn-bred attitude and unwavering confidence.
Even Hard Core’s album art showcases Lil Kim’s sexual prowess, with her posed on all fours on top of a bear skin rug, legs spread apart and eyes directed at the camera. The record begins with a provocative skit that fades perfectly into one of Kim’s most famous tracks, “Big Momma Thang.” The entire album strikes a balance between the smooth samples of ’70s funk and Lil’ Kim’s vulgar rhymes. However, her vulgarity is not without purpose — Lil’ Kim was one of the first rappers to talk about female lust. On “Dreams,” Kim reveals which R&B singers she lusts after and objectifies men for a change. On songs like “Crush On You,” “Queen B@#$H” and “Not Tonight,” Lil’ Kim empowers all women to demand more from their lovers and sexual partners, arguing that sex should be about pleasing both parties.
In a world where freely expressing female sexuality comes with layers of judgment and assumptions, Lil’ Kim’s Hard Core revolutionized hip-hop. As sexual assault continues to rise to the forefront of the global discussion, it is more important than ever to reclaim power over our bodies, and unapologetically embrace both our masculinity and femininity regardless of gender.
Natasha Doshi is a senior majoring in health and humanities. She is also the hip-hop director of KXSC Radio.