Despite their artistic differences, women in hip-hop--from old-school pioneers like Roxanne Shante and Queen Latifah to new artists like Bahamadia and Da Brat--have found themselves united by virtue of being an alienated community within an alienated community. Their assertions of female strength and healthy sexuality have won them both street cred and market share, but forgettable exceptions like Boss aside, they've often played a typically female role--the angel on hip-hop's other shoulder, chiding gangstas for their cas- ual misogyny and horny bastards like Sir Mix-a-Lot and 2 Live Crew for their booty-chasing ways.
With the recent debuts of Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown, getting rude and lewd is no longer the exclusive province of male rappers. At any rate, considering that sex is selling better than ever, it's surprising that it's taken this long for a few female rappers to shed the loose-fitting unisex uniform of hip-hop and give the boys what they apparently want. The musical merits of these two rappers are negligible, but their sales figures are not: both records are in the top ten on Billboard's R & B album chart.
One particularly disconcerting thing about these scantily clad vixens is that they both identify themselves with groups of men. Foxy Brown, who takes her name from the notorious Pam Grier blaxploitation film character, is a member of the Firm, the posse of rappers that also includes Nas, AZ, and Cormega, and pledges her eternal allegiance to it on "(Holy Matrimony) Letter to the Firm," the opening track of her Ill Na Na (Def Jam/Violator). And on "M.A.F.I.A. Land," Lil' Kim, who came up last year with the otherwise all-male collective of Notorious B.I.G. proteges called the Junior M.A.F.I.A., declares, "I used to roll hard with tons of bitches / Now I just hang with my niggas."
The 17-year-old Brown, who threatens to spill out of a skimpy leotard on her album's cover, engages in predictable hip-hop braggadocio by name-dropping the designers she likes; on "Foxy's Bells," her remake of L.L. Cool J's "Rock the Bells," she boasts that she "flows like CK One" and that "sooner than Chanel Foxy Brown will rock the bells." Most often, though, she contemplates what her sexual assets can get her. On "Foxy Boogie," she raps, "Girls we got the weapons / Niggas got to have this"; later of course "this" exacts a price. Cushioned by the silky croon of new jackers Blackstreet, "Get Me Home" is a head-versus-crotch debate on a potential sexual encounter in which the first thing Brown observes about her smooth-talking suitor is his apparent prosperity.
Given her youth, Brown's materialism might be forgiven, and there are flashes of maturity on the record. On the title track, which brilliantly employs a loop swiped from the Commodores' "Brick House," she celebrates her independence: "From here on I solemnly swear / To hold my own like Pee-wee in a movie theater / Yeah I don't need a man's wealth / But I can be bad by my damn self." Meanwhile on the chorus guest Method Man celebrates Brown, asking "Who's got the illest pussy on the planet?" Brown equates sexual prowess with power--a logical link in the midst of hip-hop's ubiquitous chest beating--but the song ultimately reconciles her charged sexuality with her autonomy.
The difference between Foxy Brown and Lil' Kim is like the difference between Playboy and Hustler: unlike Brown, who dabbles in fashion and politics, Kim gets right to the meat. Her album, Hard Core (Undeas/Big Beat), is unabashedly pornographic, from the cover--a soft-focus shot of lingerie-clad Kim astride a white bearskin rug--to her unrelenting description of sexual exploits. The album's intro follows a man into a theater showing a movie called Hard Core, where we vividly hear him get himself off with the aid of a "large order of butter" he purchases at the snack counter.
In one brief skit titled "Scheamin'," Kim sizes up potential lays by the girth of their wallets, but for the most part she's a no-strings-attached dream girl. "Dreams" is a litany of fantasies about a who's who of hip-hop and R & B stars: "What the deal on that Prince cat?" she asks. "He be lookin' fruity / But you can still eat the booty." And "If I fucked with Mista / They be suckin' blackberry molasses out of my ass." She begins "Big Momma Thang," an ode to casual sex, with "I used to be afraid of the dick / But now I throw lips to the shit." Later, after she asks "What's on your mind when your tongue's in the pussy?" she quickly dismisses "marriage" and "baby carriage."
If there's any artistic value in Hard Core, it's along the lines of something Susie Bright wrote last year in her anthology Sexwise: "In the American arts community, when authors, musicians, or actors get explicit about sexuality, we assume they have lost their marbles. Only vacant, low-IQ people think about sex all the time, right? It's superficial, it's for lower species, it's for dilettantes who don't care or even realize that people are starving in India." But explicitness in and of itself is not necessarily art, and graphic sexuality is not always the same thing as free sexual expression. Despite Kim's propleasure postures ("If you ain't licking no clits / We don't need it"), she too often reduces herself to a good fuck.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Foxy Brown photo by Michael Lavine.