The year is 2020, and women are dominating both the rap game and the billboard charts. In a genre that has always been predominantly male, it’s refreshing to see so many women take part at the same time. The work women have done to make space for themselves in this industry has been a long but rewarding journey. When it comes down to understanding how they remained relevant outside of their music, fashion plays a critical role. The OG rap queen that laid out the foundation for how your musical stardom can transcend into the fashion scene is Lil Kim. Lil Kim has always been someone I idolized, and not just because we share the same name. But because she is a rap legend, fashion icon and an important part of history in both senses. She received a lot of heat from both genders who felt as though she didn’t represent their “type of woman”. However, past the tribulations of a male-dominated field, she is widely credited for embracing her talent, femininity and sex appeal through both her lyrics and style. She’s a phenomenon of the industry and the blueprint for all the female rappers we love today.
Lil Kim’s classic music video “Crush on You” is one of the most recognizable rap videos to date. The monochromatic sets featured bold colors, costumes, wigs and mink coats. In every color was a different emotion and identity. Her blue scenes were cool and bossy, her red scenes were sexy and forward, the yellow scenes were girly and fun, and her green scenes were innocent yet seductive. She portrayed all these things in her Don Dada mannerisms, confidence and costumes. I feel it played a huge role in what set her apart from everyone else in the traditionally gothic 90’s. As she reinvented herself through every transition of those 4 minutes, she reinvented the competition. We can see how music video sceneries have emerged in music videos today. The colors were so simple, yet the entire getup was dramatic. With multiple costumes, wigs, identities and personas, “Crush on You” added dimension to music videos. Today, you can’t even feature in someone else’s video without requiring multiple looks. This also added pressure to how men present themselves in their videos, who at the time traditionally sported one main look.
Her most memorable red carpet look was the 1999 VMAS. She rocked a purple shell jumpsuit, with one breast out. Its appropriateness stirred controversy; however, its boldness is what helps top VMAS most iconic red carpet looks. Another famously remembered red carpet look was her 1999 Source Awards outfit: a mesh jumpsuit, with fur only on the trims, wrist, and bikini area. Past those two looks, she continued to rock the nipple pasty like it was her business. The explicitness of her public wardrobe supported all that she was, and when surrounded by other members of the industry, she made sure to stand out, either in the most fashionable or bizarre way. Most importantly, her personality matched all that she stood for: being able to own and claim her sexuality and freedom at her will. Lil Kim spotlighting herself with the credentials to back herself, helped open the door for how fellow women rappers are able to present their true selves and handle the critique.
In the direct fashion world, Lil Kim was a muse, friend and model to some of the most iconic names in the industry. Alexander McQueen considered Lil Kim his “idol” and they were great friends. Marc Jacobs was and still is a longtime friend of hers, naming her his muse, dating back to his time with Perry Ellis. She had connections with Giorgio Armani, Donatella Versace and Kimora Lee Simmons. She lived in the front row and partied with renowned fashion influencers, as she herself was making headlines for her own fashion trends. She covered magazines with photos done by David La Chapelle and Martin Schoeller. She also starred in a cosmetic campaign with MAC Viva Glam alongside close friend Mary J Blidge. As you can see, Lil Kim at her peak was unstoppable. The fashion circle she was now involved in is very similar to how a top models fashion week unfolds Now imagine a present day where so many more female rappers have the opportunity to don all the luxuries that she had. Lil Kim’s presence at these events signified the acceptance of her musical influence as well as the genre of rap in the fashion scene. Now, being associated with high fashion brands goes hand in hand with female rappers, because these rappers influence millions of women. In order for these brands to make their sales, and get a piece of the spotlight, they need to have an accessible range and growing number of women to partner or collab with. Lil Kim’s fashion connections as a musician was an important tipping point for her success, because it exposed her to another set of audiences. And for both the artist and the brand, it’s a lucrative move.
Lil Kim left behind a popularized trend of custom hair, clothes and accessories. It’s a major part of Lil Kim’s success in being not only a musician but a style icon. Outside of her millions of fans, she still underwent heavy criticism for the amount of skin displayed and the types of clothes that she wore. But her icon status remained relevant while she reached peak success–relevant enough for her outfits to be paid homage till this day. Not just from her music videos, but from her album covers, stage outfits, red carpet looks and iconic photoshoots. And through it all you can see a little bit of Nicki Minaj, Saweetie, Meg Thee Stallion, Trina or Cardi B; artists who are both confident and sexual. She will always be remembered for bringing to life her idea of a woman. Someone who is empowered, independent, sexy and raunchy. That idea of a woman is someone who demands respect no matter what she displays or feels in her own private time. While people take the time to clown Lil Kim, it’s needed to remind them that her success is something that most people wouldn’t know how to handle. It’s helpful to understand that her boldness and in some ways, sacrifice, has helped shape a whole new generation to remain relevant in ways that are current to this day. She was a stepping stone for all women rappers today.