Sean Healy Presents Lil' Kim
We have all been unfair to Lil' Kim.
Try to imagine how scary it must have been to be the first female rapper to lay bare her sexual proclivities for the entire world to examine. Even if Notorious B.I.G. ghostwrote her words (as has been alleged), it's still hard to live up to being a freaky Barbie doll with an extremely bendable body. Yet folks haven't given her credit: The sexually voracious façade was as much about empowerment as Madonna's. At Key Club last night, this all became clear.
The title of Lil' Kim's 1996 album, Hard Core, wasn't just an allusion to the kind of bedroom activities she enjoyed. It was a description of her attitude in general. One of our favorite recorded moments of all time is the just barely decipherable, minute-long back-and-forth between Kim and Biggie that follows Kim's searing, scene-stealing verse on Junior Mafia's “Get Money.” As she snorts and spits retorts at one of the greatest rappers ever, it's obvious Kim had no problem playing not just for the boys, but with them.
She is 37 now, and like all women in the public eye, Kim has taken her share of lashings for her appearance. (Even we've contributed). But at the Key Club, she came out around 11:45 looking like royalty. She was draped in a red velvet cape, while a couple of unsmiling dudes reminiscent of Public Enemy's S1W security detail were posted onstage with flags throughout the show.
It was a little difficult to determine if she (or her backup singer) was the one rapping at times, but Kim sounded fine, even if the precise clip and sharply vicious growl that characterized her debut have largely dissipated into more of a purr. Her three costume changes weren't surprising — the white leotard dripping with silver tinsel and topped with a furry white jacket that made her look like she had wings was our favorite. But we were surprised by how much dancing she did, and how adept at it she was. Who knew Lil' Kim had it in her to slip on a sparkly white glove and do a pretty damn good Michael Jackson impersonation to “Billie Jean”?
In fact, her show would've worked even better on a much larger stage. Her backup dancers, versatile enough to transition from corsets and burlesque for “Crush on You” to black unitards and choreography that looked copied from the musical Cats for “Quiet Storm,” were excellent. Her keyboardist and drummer never overpowered the DJ, as seems to happen often in hip-hop shows. Kim also brought out a few unexpected guests, Da Brat and Lady of Rage, not to mention a really funny and animated Kurupt.
One moment reminded us how Lil' Kim turned the tables on men, and validated women who love rap. Kurupt had just been performing “Xxplosive,” and we joined him in singing, “Fuck a bitch, don't tease bitch, strip tease bitch.” As usual, we felt a little guilty.
But as he exited, Kim strolled across the stage, looked out for a moment and paused. “Ladies, some days, we just don't wanna fuck,” she said. The ladies screamed. Then she lit into “Not Tonight,” the song that contains the declaration that makes her the baddest bitch of all time because she said it first, and in no uncertain terms: “The moral of the story is this: you ain't lickin' this, you ain't stickin' this.” And we sang along with the chorus with absolutely zero qualms.
Personal bias: Very few verses feel as good to rap along with as Lil' Kim's, especially when you're angry.
The crowd: Interesting mix of girls in dagger-like heels and tight dresses, old-school hip-hop heads and gay guys.
Random notebook dump: At the Key Club, you are screwed if you're short and don't show up early enough to get a good vantage point.