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Open Access Publications from the University of California

“If I Wanna Act Freaky Then That’s My Business”: Lil Kim and the Politics of Performing Public Sexuality for a Black Woman Rapper


Lil Kim’s highly sexualized image and lyrics are seen as manifestations of the sexist, misogynistic ideologies imbedded in rap culture. The glorification of fashion and opulence in her work stand in for the nihilistic reproduction of capitalist fantasy in rap. Lastly, her depictions of criminal lifestyle and activities valorize this hyperviolent behavior and celebrate ‘gang-ster’ culture. As I said these are some representations of Lil Kim and her work. Lil Kim becomes not just a persona in rap music culture but a figure, a placeholder, for multiple contentious debates within and about rap music culture. The purpose of this paper is to argue an alternative reading of Lil Kim’s persona. This is not an apologia for the pornographic nature of some of Lil Kim’s work or an attempt to reframe that nature as an absolute positive. But instead I would like to examine the discourse around Lil Kim and how that discourse is reflective of or at least referential of larger discourses within feminism and scholarship on women around sexual agency and exploitation that I think is most visible in the 1980s pornography debates.

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