Saturday, June 28, 2008

Sights + Sounds of the Day

From 1993. Produced by Deee-Lite's Towa Tei. Video directed by Ellen von Unwerth.

Deee-Lite, "Good Beat" - Montreux Jazz Festival.
Years ago, I interviewed Lady Kier and she was everything you'd want her to be. The interview took place just before the group's second CD dropped, so they were still quite huge in the pop world. I asked her if she had any designs on Hollywood (as more than one person has pointed out over the years, she'd have been an amazing Catwoman.) "Sweetie," she replied in slightly bored NY club kid tones, "they'd have no idea what to do with me."

Weed Woman

      I may have written something already about the Redbone Press writer’s retreat I attended last year, meeting not only my esteemed roster siblings – Samiya Bashir, Sharon Bridgeforth, Ana-Maurine Lara, Sheree Ross, Marvin K. White – but our amazing extended family of Eunice Corbin, Reggie Harris and G. Winston James, Wura Ogunji… So many cool, dope people. One of my favorites was an artist I was meeting for the first time (I won’t single her out by name ‘cause I haven’t cleared this post with her.) Her energy, wit and humor drew me in immediately. Some of my fondest memories of the retreat are just sitting up at night talking to her as she expertly rolled a joint, and then the next morning – when I’d remind her of something she’d said that was equally brilliant and insane – her laughingly asking, “Was I high?” That phrase became a shorthand laugh inducer between us.
      Earlier this week I received an email from her about the deep, deep hole of self-doubt from which she was pulling herself. She’d just received rejection notices on four grant/fellowship applications to which she’d applied. She received three in one day. You never get used to those rejections no matter how thick your skin becomes, and words can’t really express the bullet-through-the-heart effect of getting those shits back-to-back. I empathized immediately, having just added new layers to my own stack of “Naw, nigga, naw…” slips. Those have been especially frustrating as I’ve signed on to work on a project about Hurricane Katrina, and I’m really excited about both the people with whom I’ll be working and the support I’ve already received for my ideas. But due to the structure of the project and the short-notice timing, we’re all responsible for securing initial funding ourselves to get us to New Orleans to do the ground and grunt work. I’m sorta at my wit’s end to figure that out now that the few sources of potential funding have said, well, “Naw, nigga, naw…” and the clock is ticking.
      At the same time, it’s been an insane few weeks as I just dodged some bullets by securing a shitload of freelance work after a very long and dusty drought – far too much work to take on all at once but you never know when a feast will roll around again. With the rib-protruding reality of famine still shaping your form, you gorge and take everything piled on your plate… long after you should have said “enough.” (That's also one reason I haven’t substantially updated the blog in a while.)
      I wrote back to Weed Woman to commiserate and outline the similarity of our struggle, to which she replied,

"Dang...why do we think we’re the only ones who revisit feast and famine on a regular?!"

      In a later email I sent her, I wrote the following:

“Man... the feast or famine dynamic, when you gorge yourself on the shitty bill-paying gigs in order to subsidize the soul-sustaining and originating work. But then, what do you do when – as you are pouring energy into the crap work – these gorgeous ideas of YOURS start to nudge you and agitate to be brought to fruition, but you are so tired, too tired to really do them justice? Up at all hours tending them so as not to lose them. Dog tired when you have to return to the grind gig, and like some guilt-ridden single-parent you worry that you are leaving your kids / art / ideas alone too much, that you’re not nurturing them, and that you are losing them while you’re off doing shit work in order to feed and house them... Anyway, I loved what you wrote about beauty and it being enough. It is enough. We just are dragged from that truth daily.”

      Anyway, after wallowing for a minute, I pulled myself up through listening to music from the days when I was a young college lesbian: the dulcet tones of Ms. Natalie Merchant. And then I flashed ahead to her solo work. Friends of mine used to clown me hord for listening to the first two songs below, putting me on blast for the strand of weepy corniness in my musical DNA. I do not care. Listening to these again made me smile:

I think Miss Natalie is sexy as hell in this, that snaky hip move she does makes my Sapphic nature rise.

You’ve been so kind and
I don’t know how you keep on giving
For your kindness
I’m in debt to you
For your selflessness,
My admiration…

If I were in a snarkier mood, I would make some quip about Bay Area white girls and drumming circles. But I am not in that head space tuh-day. I love this clip because it embodies an artist’s personal growth and evolution. Natalie used to speak often about her almost crippling stage-fright at the start of her career, and how she could barely even face the audience. Look at her here. Change and growth, change and growth...

For you, Weed Woman.

Pamela Sneed: Goddess

This woman is a heroine of mine. I adore her. Just kick back, grab some Funyuns and a glass of Pepsi (nothing that is found in nature is allowed; chem-lab food highs only,) and let Ms. Sneed have her way with you:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Threads: NY Oil + George Carlin

NY Oil Flashback:

NY Oil Catch-up
To see and hear NY Oil give his views on Obama and the upcoming election, click here


Marc Cooper: How cynical or pessimistic are you about politics in general?

Carlin: I’m certainly a skeptic. I always quibble with people. I like to split hairs. And I quibble with people who say, “Well, you’re cynical.” And I know there’s a second and third definition of cynical where my stuff fits. But to me the cynics are the ones in the boardrooms with the reports from the focus groups. And the belief that there’s a man in the sky watching us, watching everything we do, is so ingrained: First thing they do is tell you there’s an invisible man in the sky who’s going to march you down to a burning place if he doesn’t like you. If they can get you to believe that, it’s all over. Before you’re six years old, they’ve got you thinking that, they’ve got you forever on anything else they want. There’s no real education. It’s an indoctrination training little producers of goods who will also be consumers of goods. Some will be on the producer side, and more will be on the consumer side. But you’re all being trained to be a part of this big circle of goods being pumped out and everyone buying them and everyone going to work to help make more of them for other people to buy.

I’ve given up on the whole human species. I think a big, good-sized comet is exactly what this species needs. You know, the poor dinosaurs were walking around eating leaves, and they were completely wiped out. Let the insects have a go. You know, I don’t think they’ll come up with sneakers with lights in them, or Dust Busters, or Salad Shooters, or snot candy.

Cooper: But a comet, say a big Arizona-sized comet smashing somewhere into the Pacific Ocean, would be pretty bad for business, wouldn’t it?

Carlin: It would be terrible, and it would be wonderful. Just to see it all, you know. I only wish there were some way I could live out on the moon and watch it all on CNN. And just see the whole thing happen, see the big splash. Or have it hit land and this big cloud erupt. That would be fun to see. I’m just a fan of big disasters. And that is as big as they get. Let ’em go. I just want to describe the mess.
But, you know, life is dual. If you’ll scratch a cynic, you’ll find a disappointed idealist. And the fire never goes out completely. And that part of me that made my mother say, “You have a lovely nature,” is very true.

Cooper: You talk about businessmen with such scorn. That’s the lifeblood of America, isn’t it?

It absolutely is, and that’s probably why there is so much scorn. Everybody in America is a part of this big herd of cattle being led to the marketplace, not to be sold, which is usual with cattle, but to do the buying. And everyone is branded. You see the brands—Nike, Puma, Coke—all over their bodies. Pretty soon you’ll go to a family and say, “$100,000 if we can tattoo Pepsi on your child’s forehead, and we’ll have it removed when he’s twenty-one. A hundred grand.” I’m sure the George Washington Bridge will someday be the Ford Motor Company George Washington Bridge. It’s gone beyond what you can merely mock, so it has to be a frontal attack. Folks, this is bullshit. This is jerk-off time. Don’t you see what’s happening? What you’re doing? What you’re participating in? You know, that justice is blind, everyone’s equal, the press is fair and impartial. It’s what I call the “American Okey-Dokey.” It’s the official bullshit story.

And Americans have, for long enough now, been exposed to the exaggerated reality of the experiment here that they accept it. And the prosperity makes it easy enough for them not to go ahead and question things. You get a good five-, six-year depression in this country, and you’ll see some folks out with torches and shit. I mean, that’s what I would love to see. But who’s going to do that when you’re comfy?

Rest of Marc Cooper's George Carlin interview here

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


By the time 12-year-old Latino homo Sissy holds a dance-off with his sneering older sister — she and her girls break it down to the Sylvers’ “Hot Line”; Sissy and his boys dust off and remix classic Jackson 5 moves for “Blame It On the Boogie” — Ricardo A. Bracho’s play has settled into a raucously charming groove of digestible Marxist theory, redemptive Negro pop culture and odes to the uncharted complexities of Latino identities. The story — a day-in-the life tale set in Culver City, 1978, on Sissy’s 12th birthday — whisks us through scenes of sibling rivalry, parent-child conflict, cholo bullies, tranny whores dropping wisdom and show-stopping musical sequences set to the gamut of ’70s black music. (Ameenah Kaplan’s inspired choreography is largely era-correct.) Bracho wittily threads the Marxist politics of Sissy’s parents through the boy’s struggles to hone not just his queer sexuality but also his Latino identity, when the absence of large-scale Latino representation made black culture the default setting for nonwhite identification. Running throughout is a sometimes prickly harmonizing between black and brown folk that’s at odds with contemporary media-stoked tensions. Xavier Moreno is generally excellent as Sissy, though the sheer volume of words packed into some of his monologues had him rushing through them, swallowing some of the jokes. He’s matched in skill by the rest of the cast, who all play multiple roles. Director Armando Molina’s inventiveness in having props also play multiple roles (a bunk bed doubles as a city bus, a clothesline demarcates city borders) folds neatly into the play’s thesis that multiple identities are housed in every person or thing. Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 13. (323) 883-1717. A Company of Angels production. (Ernest Hardy)

Review link

Ticket and theater info here

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die."
-- Malachy McCourt

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Roddy Frame

My first exposure to British singer-songwriter Roddy Frame was when his "group" Aztec Camera (actually, he simply was/is Aztec Camera) was a minor MTV import darling oh so many years ago with "Deep and Wide and Tall." It's one of my favorite '80s oldies. I lost track of him for a while, then caught up again when he sang "Do I Love You" for the Cole Porter tribute album / AIDS fund-raiser Red, Hot & Blue CD, and I've been haphazardly following his career ever since. I've been in a Roddy mood lately, so here are a few clips to celebrate the man. The first, for "Deep and Wide and Tall," is audio only, followed by two proper videos and some written out lyrics. Those lyrics, for the song "Good Morning Britain," are very specific to names and protest politics in Great Britain but I think the sentiment of resistance and calling out bullshit is global. Enjoy, and I'll be posting some writing of my own real soon.

Lyrics to "Good Morning Britain"

Jock's got a vote in Parochia
Ten long years and he's still got her
Paying tax and and doing stir
Worry about it later.
And the wind blows hot and the wind blows cold
But it blows us good so we've been told
Music's food til the art-biz folds
Let them all eat culture.

The past is steeped in shame,
But tomorrow's fair game,
For a life that's fit for living
Good morning Britain.

Twenty years and a loaded gun
Funerals, fear and the war ain't won
Paddy's just a figure of fun
It lightens up the danger.
And a corporal sneers at a Catholic boy
And he eyes his gun like a rich man's toy
Hes killing more than Celtic joy
Death is not a stranger.

Taffy's time's gonna come one day
It's a loud sweet voice and it wont give way
A house is not a holiday
Your sons are leaving home Neil.
In the hills and the valleys and far away
You can hear the song of democracy
The echo of eternity
With a rak-a-rak-a feel.


From the Tyne to where to the Thames does flow
My English brothers and sisters know
It's not a case of where you go
Its race and creed and color.
From the police cell to the deep dark grave
On the underground just a stop away
Don't be too black, don't be too gay
Just get a little duller.

But in this green and pleasant land,
Where I make my home, I make my stand
Make it cool to be a man,
A uniform's a traitor.
Love is international
And if you stand or if you fall,
Just let them know you gave your all,
Worry about it later.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My Latest Review (in the Village Voice)

Opposites Attract in Chris & Don
Portrait of the artist as a young man (and his lover as an old one)

With a glint in his eye and a grin on his lips, artist Don Bachardy looks into the camera and explains the dynamic of his three-decade relationship with the late literary icon Christopher Isherwood as if it were a fairy tale. "His role," says Bachardy, "could be described as that of the arch villain. He took this young boy and he warped him to his mold. He taught him all kinds of wicked things." Pause a half beat. "It was exactly what the boy wanted. And we flourished."

With his elegant cadence, crisp comedic timing, and witty flipping of homophobic stereotypes —in his very choice and use of language— Bachardy is that story come to life: the student who eventually mirrored his teacher, the molded who became a duplicate of the mold.

Chris & Don: A Love Story
is a charming, illuminating portrait of the complex and storied queer romance between Isherwood and Bachardy, who met on a Santa Monica beach in 1952, when Bachardy was a teenager and Isherwood already 30 years his senior. Quilted from black-and-white home-movie clips, animated sequences that bring to life the duo's correspondence and pet names, and original footage of the elderly Bachardy going about his daily routine or walking through the art-filled Santa Monica home he once shared with his partner, Tina Mascara and Guido Santi's film uses standard documentary-filmmaking tools to celebrate three entities—Isherwood, Bachardy, and their relationship—that flaunted all the rules.

Individually, the men are fascinating in their own right, and Mascara and Santi flesh out their backstories in rich detail: Isherwood's aristocratic upbringing and his break from it—though his background forever influenced every aspect of his being—and his life in Berlin, which became the basis for some of his most celebrated work (The Berlin Stories); Bachardy's conservative, homophobic family life, and the electric-shock treatments that permanently debilitated his queer older brother. But it's the relationship and life that the men forged together that are most extraordinary. Their cosmopolitan circle (glamorous and influential friends included Elsa Lanchester, W.H. Auden, Igor Stravinsky, Aldous Huxley, and Bertrand Russell) was at the center of a bygone era of both hyper-literate high culture and outsider chic. The terms on which the couple set up house not only reach back to the most ancient manifestations of queer coupling (the older man taking a younger partner under his wing, schooling him on life, culture, and sex), but also illustrate lingering issues with—or even within—the modern gay and lesbian community.

Theirs was an organic, constantly evolving companionship. They quite consciously shaped it, but also allowed it to find its own patterns and path. There was extraordinary vulnerability in their union ("Don might leave me," Isherwood is quoted as saying, "but I could never leave him. Not unless he ceased to need me"), only matched by extraordinary faith in their bond. The relationship contained elements of the parent/child hierarchy (with the roles flip-flopping back and forth over time), but it was also an erotic quest that expanded to include other lovers—especially as Bachardy matured into his own man—and then retreated back to monogamous form again, at least emotionally. And as Bachardy grew into his own creativity, theirs became a conversation between artists, too. With the most delicate of hands, directors Mascara and Santi shape their investigative film into the revelation that all of this constituted Chris and Don's love story.

The recent California Supreme Court ruling overturning the ban on gay marriage brings gays, lesbians, and same-sex relationships one crucial step closer to legitimacy in the eyes of the law—a legitimacy that was unimaginable when our two heroes first met in the '50s. But as confetti and champagne toasts greet the news, it might be a good thing for gays and straights to glean some lessons from Isherwood and Bachardy's example: Make your own rules, set your own terms for connection, and be willing to let them evolve as you and your partner hopefully do.

Link is here

Quote of the Quarter-hour

"When you get married, you're forced to drink the milk long after it's spoiled."
-- Kimora Lee Simmons

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sight + Sound of the Day: Don't Let the Smoove Taste Fool You

Bug in Mouth Brings Out the Street in Reporter - Watch more free videos

The audio for this is NOT work safe.

Lovely One

      I've just wrapped up the writing of liner notes for two Jacksons CDs that are being re-issued later this year (Destiny and Triumph) and had a couple of Homer Simpson "Doh!" moments while doing the writing.

1) It blew my mind and made me feel old as hell to realize that Destiny is thirty years old this year.

2) I finally "got" the thematic progression behind the group naming their three consecutive late '70s/early'80s albums Destiny > Triumph > Victory. (Yeah, I'm kinda slow on the uptake sometimes.)

      While I can't talk too much about the liner notes I turned in, I think Sony will be cool with me simply saying that going back to revisit the songs made it clear that Mike was engaged in some heavy "foreshadowing." Not just in terms of the longed-for utopia that he and his brothers repeatedly sang about and that would become a dominant theme in Mike's songwriting during his solo career, but also for pulling back the curtains on the demons that were already nudging him.

From "That's What You Get (For Being Polite)":

Jack still cries day and night
Jack's not happy with his life
He wants to do this
He wants to do that
You want to be kind
But end up flat
For love, for love

He tries so hard to give a lot
He wants to be what he is not...

And from "Bless His Soul":

I try to do what's right for me
But no one sees the way I see
And then I try to please them so
But how far can this pleasing go

      Immersed in the music of the two CDs, I was reminded all over again of the brilliance and promise of Mike and his brothers. Destiny and Triumph stomp ninety-percent of what's out now. Easily. And that's kinda depressing for a host of reasons. But check out these old videos and "remember the time." I also tossed in one at the end that is just for laughs.

Tardy Slip: IBM

Your Whiteness is Showing


This is an open letter to those white women who, despite their proclamations of progressivism, and supposedly because of their commitment to feminism, are threatening to withhold support from Barack Obama in November. You know who you are.

I know that it's probably a bad time for this. Your disappointment at the electoral defeat of Senator Hillary Clinton is fresh, the sting is new, and the anger that animates many of you--who rightly point out that the media was often sexist in its treatment of the Senator--is raw, pure and justified.

That said, and despite the awkward timing, I need to ask you a few questions, and I hope you will take them in the spirit of solidarity with which they are genuinely intended. But before the questions, a statement if you don't mind, or indeed, even if (as I suspect), you will mind it quite a bit.

First, for those of you threatening to actually vote for John McCain and to oppose Senator Obama, or to stay home in November and thereby increase the likelihood of McCain winning and Obama losing (despite the fact that the latter's policy platform is virtually identical to Clinton's while the former's clearly is not), all the while claiming to be standing up for women...

For those threatening to vote for John McCain or to stay home and increase the odds of his winning (despite the fact that he once called his wife the c-word in public and is a staunch opponent of reproductive freedom and gender equity initiatives, such as comparable worth legislation), all the while claiming to be standing up for women...

For those threatening to vote for John McCain or to stay home and help ensure Barack Obama's defeat, as a way to protest what you call Obama's sexism (examples of which you seem to have difficulty coming up with), all the while claiming to be standing up for women...

Your whiteness is showing.

For the rest of this essay, click

This clip, in which Harriet is interviewed by Fox News was uploaded with the tag, "A true American heroine."

Monday, June 09, 2008

Sight + Sound of the Day: Meshell

Meshell Ndegeocello - The World Has Made Me The Man Of My Dreams

The Pornographer's Daughter


      For the December/January 2003 cover of Russell Simmons’ now defunct fashion and music magazine One World, Lil’ Kim posed in a designer bikini and a burqa, raising the ire of many Muslims across the spectrum of Islamic faith. It was a hugely evocative image. The oppositional garments are fraught with symbolic heft individually; when they’re taken in tandem, the viewer almost feels gorged on culture clash and its metaphors. Fundamentalists reacted in predictable outrage at the disrespect of having a half naked, unapologetically hypersexual woman use the traditional head cover for a photo-shoot prop. But even some moderate-to-progressive Muslims who hold mixed or negative feelings toward the burqa were less than pleased with the photo. (Some likely just yawned.)
      Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, Muslims saw their religion and symbols that are (accurately or not, fairly or not) associated with it commandeered by Islamic fundamentalists and misunderstood by fear mongering and mongered people around the world. Kim’s and the magazine’s contrived shock gesture was seen by many (not just Muslims, and not just killjoys) as the cavalier, opportunistic usage of a politically/culturally charged artifact, with no thought beyond generating easy controversy. It was a heavy-handed “statement” – the profane, hypersexual woman brazenly rocking and mocking the perceived symbol of female oppression and suppression. The idea sizzles on paper but somehow came off facile in the execution.
      The problem from a strictly political-art POV was that the balance was off. The controversial headgear grossly outweighed the cartoon femme sporting it. If anything, the burqa turned the tables and mocked her, called her on her own hypocrisy and lack of self awareness. Kim pulling on the burqa was her high-heeling her way into an arena more culturally and politically complex than anything her work or persona had grappled with or even acknowledged before. Female agency and sexuality are hot-button issues in that arena but they’re bracketed by a host of perceptions and misperceptions, seemingly conflicting directives. Kim’s photo was a blatant stab at Madonna-style controversy, without even the pretense of deeper political awareness, commentary or contrived agenda in which Madonna shrouds herself when flipping the money-making bird to patriarchal authority.
      The unabashed-hood-ho-made-good mythology and rep that Lil’ Kim has built around herself have resulted in a persona that’s hollowed out. For all the bluster and bravado issued, there’s very little there, there. (The distinction has to be made between the woman and her public self; it’s significant.) Meanwhile, the burqa is a battleground of meaning. Heated scholarly debate has raged around whether or not the burqa and the veil are religious or cultural items. Esteemed Islamic scholars and historians have repeatedly declared that they’re the latter, with no basis in the Quran. Still, there are huge disagreements over what the Quran does or does not say or mean regarding modesty and the covering of women’s bodies. Nuance, and the fact that there are different sects and interpretations of Islam at play on the world stage, is often missed in mainstream dialogue about the religion. And that’s been a source of confusion and fear for a lot of non-Muslims, many of whom fold assorted horrors (female circumcision, honor killings, creeping fundamentalism and fanaticism) under the symbolic fabric of the burqa.
      The politics around Lil’ Kim have always been site specific to the body and scars of Kim herself, overlapping, obviously, with issues of patriarchy, misogyny, sexism, and racism that women around the globe deal with. But Kim’s never really shown that she understands or is even aware of the myriad interlocked ways that women (including herself) are truly oppressed, and may participate in their own oppression. That’s never been subject matter for her self-obsessed Vagina Dentata monologues. The sexual hypocrisy she ostensibly turns tables on by mimicking heartless male fucking with voracious and emasculating female carnality, all while name-checking designer fashion; the violent gangsta moll and Queen Bee (Queen Bitch) fantasies she maps out in song after song, CD after CD; the bemoaning of her mo’ money mo ‘problems status (including being plagued by backstabbing women and sell-out niggas) have all often been amusing and occasionally inspired. But her autobiographical lyrics, even when spinning off into the realm of obvious fantasy, are from the pen of a woman who hasn’t demonstrated much commentator nuance or world perspective, and who seemingly has only the narrowest consciousness of issues and worlds beyond herself and the “reality” she’s cribbed from her own life but filtered through pop culture dictates of “authentic” (and desperate) blackness: criminality, hyper-sexuality, obsession with material wealth. Ironically, that’s what gives her work its force – it has the red-hot scald of a narcissist’s self obsession.


       “My father was kind of an outcast in his family. His sister was light-skinned so she was favored. I think he kinda brought that to his children.” – Lil’ Kim, interviewed by Rob Marriott for the Vibe magazine article, “What Price Queen Bee?” June/July 2000

      Kimberly Denise Jones, born July 11, 1975 in Brooklyn, is one of the most important artists in hip-hop. It has almost nothing to do with her music. The first buzz around her came from her raps on the hit singles “Player’s Anthem” and “Get Money” with Biggie Small’s Junior M.A.F.I.A. collective. The only femme in the posse, she all but stole the 1995 album Conspiracy right from under the fellas. Back then, she was a cute, petite, cocoa-complexioned, brown-eyed, small breasted, blunt-spoken young black woman – black like “The Love You Save” / “I’ll Be There” Michael Jackson. By the time she dropped her 1996 solo debut, Hardcore (whose lyrics and the uproar behind them recalled the controversy that erupted around Vanity 6 and their explicit, ball-breaking songs over a decade earlier,) her physical transformation was already underway, though few would have guessed how far it would go. Just before the album dropped, major cities across the country were wheat-pasted with that infamous one-sheet of her squatting, legs spread, pussy visibly outlined through her drawers, staring defiantly into the camera. Hardcore, and Kim’s accompanying style and persona, rewrote the blueprint for female MCs, spawning countless imitators. The CD established itself as a hip-hop classic with the hits “No Time,” “Big Momma Thang,” “Not Tonight” and “Crush on You.”
      In 1997 iconic rapper Biggie Smalls, Kim’s lover and mentor was murdered. He’d married fair-skinned, biracial Faith Evans in 1995 (reportedly after knowing her for nine days) while still involved with Kim, with whom he’d been in a relationship for years. The grieving Kim – now an unofficial widow, like countless sideline-women throughout history – took three years to release her sophomore CD, 2000’s Notorious KIM. It was named in honor of Biggie but was also a play on her increasingly scandal-driven rep. The cover art shows a Kim who’s gotten implants, a wind-blown blond weave, blue contact lenses, and photo-shop skin lightening. “How Many Licks” and “Suck My Dick” were the minor hits / fan favorites. Though the cover of 2003’s La Bella Mafia had her back in dark hair, her ever-growing chesticles chronicled her ongoing descent into plasticity. By the time of 2005’s Naked Truth (flawed, but her best album since her debut,) she’s a ringer for an anime girl: Straight, lightened hair; blue contacts; collagen lips; skin so light in the airbrushing that her face looks like a painting. There’s little left of the black girl from Junior M.A.F.I.A.

       “Yet we have only to look at the number of black women entertainers/stars (Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Donna Summer, Vanessa Williams, Yo-Yo, etc.) who gain greater crossover recognition when they demonstrate that, like Madonna, they too have a healthy dose of ‘blonde ambition.’ Clearly their careers have been influenced by Madonna’s choices and strategies.
      For masses of black women, the political reality that underlies Madonna’s and our recognition that this is a society where “blondes” not only “have more fun” but where they are more likely to succeed in any endeavor is white supremacy and racism. We cannot see Madonna’s change in hair color as being merely a question of aesthetic choice. I agree with Julie Burchill in her critical work Girls on Film, when she reminds us: “What does it say about racial purity that the best blondes have all been brunettes (Harlow, Monroe, Bardot)? I think it says that we are not as white as we think. I think it says that Pure is a Bore.” I also know that it is the expressed desire of the non-blonde Other for those characteristics that are seen as the quintessential markers of racial aesthetic superiority that perpetuate and uphold white supremacy. In this sense Madonna has much in common with the masses of black women who suffer from internalized racism and are forever terrorized by a standard of beauty they feel they can never truly embody.” – bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation

       “They call me the black Pam Anderson.” – Lil’ Kim to Blender magazine’s Rob Tannenbaum, May 2003


      There was something thrilling and subversive, the feel of lines being crossed, propriety being pissed on, with Hardcore. It was the unleashed id of someone who’d been silenced and ignored, then come roaring back from the sidelines. As such, it wasn’t just embraced by black, hetero women who found in Kim an outlet for their truths and / or fantasies. (On the flipside, many black women recoiled at her coarseness, seeing her as the manifestation of stereotypes and preconceptions they battle daily.) Assorted outsiders embraced the CD, underscoring a common denominator: The sexualities of women (of all orientations) and gay men become receptacles into which all manner of fear, suspicion, myth and dysfunctional desire are dumped. The human beings upon whom this murk is projected have to climb from under it to define self and sexuality. In particular, Kim became an instant icon for a host of gay black boys whose online profiles and internet personas would reference her bawdy lyrics and increasingly drag-queen-like image(s) for years. When she rapped on “Big Momma Thang” that she, “used to be scared of the dick / Now I throw lips to the shit,” punctuating her boast about proudly taking it up the ass with her trademark, “yah!,” her lack of shame or guilt around her unbridled sexuality served as a powerful blueprint for her new disciples.
      While furor was stoked around her lyrics, it was Kim’s voice, her literal speaking instrument – deep, forceful, no-nonsense – that was so enthralling. It was a voice that barreled unapologetically forward, that didn’t cower or hide or ask permission. There was nothing tentative about it. It was a voice made tough and defiant from experience but that flicked away broken-victim status. It was a you-don’t-wanna-fuck-with-me voice that reveled in the escapist pleasures and big money paydays of fucking. Detractors didn’t always hear it, but triumph was as much between the lines as between the sheets. The lyrics may have been triple-X and narrowly focused but for a lot of fans it was that voice which spoke to larger struggles and survival of them. And for a while, that was enough.

      Kim is a hip-hop / rap VIP because she’s the embodiment of a certain connection between American Negro creativity and ground-zero Negro realities in a way that few rap or hip-hop artists are. Black Americans constantly reinvent our music, our fashion, our art movements, ourselves, as (conscious or not) acts of resistance, to scribe our lives, dreams and realities into the ever shifting sands of relevance and meaning in American culture and politics. To lift ourselves above America in order to give self to self. We constantly reset the terms that others then follow. But we carry the seeds of self-hatred – absorbed white supremacy and racism – within our psyches like a virus, and whatever “next” shit we come up with is infected at conception. Illness crops up like a cancerous old subtext that constantly threatens to overwhelm the new text. And sometimes it does. Hip-hop evolved from Black and Puerto Rican street expression in the Bronx into the pro-black consciousness of KRS-1 and Public Enemy. That gave way to (was pushed toward) cartoonish thuggery and consumerist niggery in which blackness is sold as a disposable, market-driven commodity subservient to the whims and dictates of whiteness. Full circle back to plantation perspective. Others may have been pulling the strings of rap’s (d)evolution, but Negroes already knew the shuck & jive/bend over & spread ‘em moves by heart.
      The adult Kimberly Denise Jones is a clearly damaged figure: Fake titties, butchered nose, tranny chipmunk cheeks, pumped up lips, blonde Ross-like weaves, colored contact lenses. Mutilated and disfigured. Mangled. The external as too-obvious-metaphor for the internal. But how do you define self and power when your imagination has been jacked (or as academics would say, colonized) and when victories you would claim as liberating and self-empowering actually circle back to re-inscribe the status quo that diminishes you? Dig the post-Black-but-old-school vintage self-hatred that’s in full and seemingly permanent effect, despite protestations to the contrary.

Excerpted from the essay The Pornographer’s Daughter: Lil’ Kim Likes It Raw. Copyright 2008 by Ernest Hardy.

For the rest of the essay, check out Blood Beats Vol. 2: The Bootleg Joints.

Buy Blood Beats Vol. 1 or Vol. 2 at Amazon: