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IT’S TIME FOR THE THE CFDA TO GIVE LIL’ KIM HER FLOWERS

December 27, 2018
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As Hip Hop maintains it’s cultural position as a direct influencer of fashion and the zeitgeist, style and cultural impact lend a certain kind of popularity that is often leveraged for cultural dominance. This rarified space in artistic history manifests arguments rage back and forth over “who did it first”, there is a growing community of people online who maintain that Kimberly “Lil’ Kim” Jones was more than just “the first” but a fearless eclectic Black girl who influenced a generation of performers and the Council Of Fashion Designers Of America need to give Kim her flowers, like yesterday.

https://twitter.com/MrJeromeTrammel/status/974274465608683522

#LilKimCFDA is a growing online movement with the sole objective of getting Lil Kim her CFDA Fashion Icon award and every year when names start jumping around, this group rises again to remind the world of the power of Kim. There are videos upon videos as well as a petition with a break down of why Kim is more than deserving of the accolade. Twitter is also filled with threads arguing Kim’s case, even to the point that when Kim Kardashian’s name came up as a contender, Lil’ Kim stans flooded the timeline with “Kim who???” Kimberly Kardashian West owes her aesthetic and cultural relevance to Black women like Lil’ Kim, who created a blueprint for the lifestyle that Queen B and the Mafia made legendary, which is why Kimberly Jones needs some respect put on her name.

In 2017, R&B and Hip Hop dethroned Rock and Roll to become the most listened-to genre in the United States. What that shift also indicated was a gradual yet steady coup-d’etat of cultural relevance and the definition of “En-Vogue” taking place over two decades. The shift was merely confirmed with those numbers but it began years ago when Hip Hop became the poster child for extravagance and a generator for culture and style with its successful pivot into popular culture. Lil’ Kim depicted this pivot when she became the first female rapper to bridge the gap between rap and fashion as she tore down the Baby Phat Runway in a sprawling fur coat, crop top and sparkly underwear.

Kimberly Jones was the 4’11 Brooklyn rapper staking her claim in Junior Mafia. She was always heralded as someone who was revolutionary in her paving the way for femininity to take up space in rap, setting the stage for bold avant-garde female energy injected into rap by the likes Missy Elliott, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Remi Ma and countless more. That feat was created by Lil’ Kim’s fervent love and respect for fashion and it’s intersection with music, pushing her to create and collaborate with artists who push the envelope daily — the scarcely celebrated minds of the zeitgeist’s fashion’s hall of fame.

The spread of Hip Hop’s stylistic influences owed largely to the innovators behind iconic looks on red-carpets, in videos and various other mediums. Lil’ Kim built the strength of her eye through collaboration with other strong visions from people like world-renowned stylist Misa Hylton. “Ghetto Fabulous” is back with a new coat of paint and edited under an Instagram filter. Media tends to crown false innovators every day in the bid to whitewash the culture but those who grew up under the reign of Kim aren’t letting that shit sit. Minds like Hylton’s took part in contributing to the foundation of the modern-day Instagram Queen and no amount of “Boxer Braids” will change the true originators of the culture. In an interview with Vibe Magazine, Hylton stills consider hoop earrings and exciting hair and nail colors to be staples — the same envelope-pushing taste that found its way into her collaborations with Kim as the star’s stylist.

The “Crush On You” video was the perfect embodiment of the cash thrown into rap by labels to tout a legendary and luxurious lifestyle while also serving as a blueprint for the vibrant style that would so deftly define and intertwine itself within pop culture for decades to come. The infamous red, yellow, green and blue sets were inspired by The Wiz’s Emerald City and Kim and Misa decided to match the outfits to floor colors. A fashion movement was born. The primary-color furs and neon wigs have made resurgences with the likes of Nicki Minaj and Cardi B as well as the timelines of social media darlings like Kylie Jenner and Slick Woods. In her own words, “I had bitches rocking the red, yellow and green wigs!” The gag is, bitches never stopped.

Kim’s most powerful influence rested in her ability to embrace erotica in her rap style and aesthetic. In the realm of imagery, the squat that set her apart was an iconic beacon of Kim taking control of her sexuality and the narrative surrounding it. Here was a Black female rapper in a medium where women – specifically Black women – were treated and talked about like objects and she was rejecting that misogynoir by flipping the narrative and weaponizing her sexuality in her favor, paving the way for the likes of Nicki and Cardi to do the same.

Whether you loved it or hated it, you cannot deny that the purple, one-sleeve jumpsuit with accompanying embroidered seashell pasty would have broken the internet in its time. It had made it onto international front-pages the morning after the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, alongside a video of Diana Ross touching Kim’s naked breast in fascination. It almost makes you miss the early 2000s. At the time, the outfit was considered a fashion don’t. The world has since woken up to the fact that it was a fashion moment to be revered in its ability to “cause all this conversation” and single-handedly reshape Kim’s visual narrative. It would make her the subject of conversations for years to come, whether the underlying awe was borne out of worship or detest. She was an icon, realized.

Lil Kim during The 1999 MTV Video Music Awards at Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

The visionary Louis Vuitton photoshoot Kim did with David Lachapelle for Interview Mag proved to be another marker of Kim’s growing profile and her team’s stylistic prowess. As an inspired shout out to the logomania in Hip Hop, Kim, LaChapelle and Patty Wilson took the label-mania elevated by Dapper Dan and the likes of Hip Hop’s masculine braggadocios and re-interpreted it as art form rooted in feminity and a discussion about commodification and the power of the image — as if to state that Lil’ Kim was the next thing crowds would be clamoring for. They were on the money. The image wasn’t always intended for the magazine at first. Kim had agreed for the cover to go to Chocolate Singles, a free subway magazine, but LaChapelle had talked her out of it. According to Interview, he has said that “after she did this cover, the fashion people all went nuts for her, she became a superstar and shot off. We applied the [Vuitton] logo with an airbrush and stencil. It wasn’t for a season or two later that [designers] began to come back with logos!” Logomania still exists today as a mainstay of high-fashion meets street-fashion revival.

According to TheFashionLaw.com, Lil Kim was the first Black woman to be on the cover of Nylon magazine, which was accompanied by modeling contracts with nights filled with front rows at shows by fashion’s dearest. Kim’s exuberant attitude towards fashion garnered gag-worthy looks that generated excitement any time she left home. That buzz caught the attention of fashion houses like Marc Jacobs, Versace and Armani, who found Kim to be a muse. That kind of power reveals that Kim’s influence was virtually unavoidable. The aesthetic she, Hylton, LaChapelle, Patti Wilson, Emil Wilbekin and other artists created had seeped into and become the culture, morphing into the version we see today.

Kim’s influence can be tracked in the careers of more performers and artists than I can think of — namely, artists that have already received CFDA Fashion Icon Awards. Icons like Beyoncé and Rihanna. Kim’s penchant for high-fashion risk-taking opened doors for current fashion vanguard Robyn ‘Rihanna’ Fenty to waltz into the CFDA awards to collect her award in sheer dress dripping in crystals. Did her tits bother you? Too bad beloved because they “were covered in Swarovski crystals girl!”. Rihanna’s daring fashion moment honored the legacy of the fashion-forward Black girl that Kim introduced to the culture — fearless, fabulous and cheeky-ass-hell depending on where you look from. Ri Ri has stated on the record that Kim has served as inspiration, even in her Fenty Puma lines with early-2000s inspired pencil heels and old-school-glam hip-hop silhouettes. The clearest stylistic shout out though had to be the green fur get up at the 2015 iHeart Radio Awards. Yes. Just, yes.

Not only is Lil’ Kim’s influence found littered through Beyonce’s stylistic archive, the singer/mogul dedicated Halloween to giving homage to Kim’s most iconic moments. It felt like a meeting of forces but what was truly special about it, was the reminder of Kim was simply THAT Bitch. The Queen Bitch. Supreme Bitch. Forever flying in the face of convention, reminding Black girls and women that, that is possible and also encouraged. Bey saluted Kim on her website with the caption, “Hip Hop would not be the same without our original Queen B.”

One can only guess why it’s taking this long for the CFDA to wake its ass up. I could surmise (or downright extrapolate) anti-Blackness as the reasoning but with Rihanna and Beyoncé as past winners, that argument isn’t watertight, even considering the fact that Bey and Ri Ri are light-skinned. That being said, these two past honorees have both cited Kim as inspiration and considering the love affairs high-fashion brands have had with her and her image, her omission from the running is downright weird.

Regardless, Lil Kim’s legacy is in intact and the space she took up as brown-skinned fashion paragon and model in the ’90s and early 2000s will always be revolutionary. Even with her groundbreaking rap and growing profile, her wearable declarations of fashion superiority exposed her to backlash and criticism compounded by the color of her skin. According to the petition created to get the CFDA to give Kim her flowers, “Lil’ Kim received backlash for her unique and brave style, while females in the future are now receiving fashion icon awards and praise for doing the very same thing.” Kim created the space for the risk-taking fashion icon in music, touting a style and daring vision that elevates those influenced by her into visionaries – earned and otherwise. 

The reality is that the extent of Lil’ Kim’s impact on the culture cannot be close to quantified, on any level by any means. The luxury coupled with sartorial risk-taking has overtaken music and fashion… No amount of misogynoir will conceal the power a Black woman has had in fashion (high and street) as well as the music industry. Men and women alike have soared on the back of Kim’s sacrifice and sacrilege of the established misogyny in Hip Hop. I’d even go so far as to say we wouldn’t have been blessed by Cam’ron pink-fur ensemble of Kim and crew hadn’t gifted the culture with a new brand of affluence. This isn’t a debate anymore and we are passed conversation. Lil’ Kim is long overdue for her Fashion Icon Award and she’ll be there to snatch it up whenever they get with it, simply because she’ll always be That Bitch.

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