Almost a week later, people are still high on Beyoncé’s Lemonade.
Despite repeated attempts from detractors, no one has been able to burst our Black girl bubble. Well, at least the one surrounding Beyoncé. As we downloaded Tidal and placed the album on repeat, Lil Kim dropped a picture on Instagram that set off a frenzy. In the photo, the rapper is almost unrecognizable due her surgically altered appearance, blonde hair and significantly lighter skin. Everyone had something to say and a gavel to bang. As Beyoncé was treated as the patron saint of Black girl magic and sisterhood, Kim was being dragged. For many of us, Lemonade was an ode to the Black girl and her pain. If that is so, doesn’t that include Lil Kim?
A cursory glance into Kim’s background says it should.
Her parents divorced when she was 8 and due to her mother’s financial situation, she had to live with her father. Kim has been candid about her tumultuous relationship with her father. “It was like I could do nothing right,” she told Newsweek in 2000. “Everything about me was wrong—my hair, my clothes, just me.” She left home at 14 and worked for drug dealers and as Bey said in Daddy Lessons, a tough girl is what she had to be.
The love she didn’t find in her father, she sought in other men who were just as destructive. “All my life men have told me I wasn’t pretty enough—even the men I was dating and I’d be like, ‘Well why are you dating me then” she remarked in a quote that has been shared ad nauseam since the pictures surfaced. “It’s always been men putting me down just like my dad. To this day when someone says I’m cute, I can’t see it. I don’t see it no matter what anybody says.”
That is the story of many a Black girl. There is always someone telling us we aren’t good enough. So, we try to change. We mold ourselves to enough. At least, we try. We go about it different ways. Kim entered the rap game with a grit that rivaled her male counterparts but she changed her image at the request of Notorious B.I.G., her mentor and lover. “She’d put her hand over the mic tin a certain way so her voice would be extra deep. I remember Big told her not to do that,” rapper Lil Cease told Vibe. “He said ‘I want niggas to drool over you. Don’t be too hard.’” That wasn’t the first time Biggie exerted control over Kim. She loved him and not just as his woman. He presented something she never had.
“I like a real subtle guy who’s getting paper. A father figure because me and my father weren’t really that close. Like Biggie—he sheltered me. I like a protector. Fathers don’t let nothin’ happen to their baby girl,” she told Vibe in ’97. Ironically, there were plenty of times she left him vulnerable. Despite her dedication to him, he went off and married someone else, Faith Evans. She was the antithesis of Kim; light skinned with blonde hair. His next high-profile relationship was with Charli Baltimore and she was a redbone too. Queen Bee admitted that is the type of woman that her men chased.
“Guys always cheated on me with women who were European-looking. You know, the long-hair type,” she told Newsweek. “Really beautiful women that left me thinking, ‘How can I compete with that?’ Being a regular Black girl wasn’t good enough.” It still isn’t enough. We can sing that afro and nose line in Formation til we turn blue but truth is, we’ve all felt like that. I feel like that all the time. I wonder if I should get straight hair or contour my already high cheek bones to get a little play. Is my nose too wide? I pick over my frame because while the European standard is thinness, Africans like meat on their bones and I don’t have very much. I’d be lying if I said surgery never crossed my mind. I rarely feel like enough.
Kim wasn’t enough for Big and even after his death, when people aren’t talking about her surgeries, they’re talking about her relationship with him. She’s lambasted as a side chick. People claim Big wrote all of her rhymes. She’s not allowed to be her own person. The surgeries seem to give her some sort of control over how she’s perceived, regardless of what the public thinks. “People made such a big deal about it. White women get them every day. I was to make me look the way I wanted to look. It’s my body.”
It is and we must respect that. We must respect Kim as our sister and give her space to define herself. We don’t have to agree and honestly, our opinions don’t matter. If this is supposed to be the era of Black girl magic, we have to embrace every Black girl. Despite her struggles, Kim has made her contributions to Black girl magic. Before Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna, the Queen Bee was teaching us it was okay own our sexuality. Words like hoe bounced off her back like bullets to Superman’s chest. Bitch became a declaration of dominance. Her former road manager, Shaka Don, summed up her legacy perfectly. “A lot of girls were running around saying they don’t do this and that. But when they got a whiff of Kim, everybody was running around sucking dick. She made females come out of that shell. I think she really made females feel beautiful.” To reduce her influence to surgery and Biggie is the ultimate insult. Y’all better throw some respek on her name.
Her story looks like so many of ours. We’ve all loved people that didn’t deserve a look from our direction. We bend and contort ourselves to an image that might give us that crystal stair we’ve been denied. Black girls are born with lemons in our hands. We just choose different recipes to make our lemonade.