What my Lil' Kim Halloween costume taught me about feminism in fourth grade
The first time I heard Lil’ Kim rap, I was hooked by her talent—but I was even more fascinated by her ability to give her male rapper counterparts a run for their money. The track was the 1997 Billboard-topping single “It’s All About The Benjamins.” And if you were a fan of rap in the ’90s, then you know that this song—and the Bad Boy record label—was huge. The most memorable verse on the record (uncontestedly so, as far as I’m concerned) belonged to none other than Lil’ Kim. Her delivery and lyrical wordplay outshone all the men on the song, and from that day forward, I routinely dug into her musical archives. I needed to experience more of the pint-sized rap phenomenon that somehow got an exclusive pass to the all-boys’ club. (I’ve still never told my parents that I listened to Lil’ Kim’s Hardcore album at a much younger age than I should have.)
I just couldn’t get enough of her voice. She was my idol before I even knew what she stood for.
As the girl who always wanted to be able to play with the boys, Lil’ Kim’s ability to hold her own in a male-dominated world subconsciously spoke to me. During a Halloween costume party in fourth grade, I discovered the true depths of my appreciation for Lil’ Kim.
Aside from my birthday, Halloween was the day of the year I looked forward to most. Being an only child meant I was often by myself, so I had a very active imagination; dressing up in costumes was a major part of my childhood. The worst thing that could happen to me on Halloween (besides the neighbors running out of candy) was discovering that someone else had my same costume. I always aimed to be creative and out of the box, often dressing up as characters or people I looked up to.
In third grade, it was Cleopatra. In fourth grade, after hearing her rap for the first time, it was Lil’ Kim. I didn’t quite know how to tell my parents that I wanted to be Lil’ Kim for Halloween (for obvious reasons), but I was determined to put together a costume that helped me channel my newfound love for the raptress.
I ended up getting a pink wig with bangs (Kim was no stranger to experimenting with colorful hair) and a Lil’ Kim-inspired outfit that was appropriate enough for a fourth grader.
I actually told my parents that I was dressing up as Pink, another one of my favorite artists at the time. I feared they wouldn’t approve of my actual costume choice because of the mature content in Kim’s lyrics.
I’d always hated being told that I couldn’t do something because it “wasn’t for girls”—whether it was playing sports or watching Monday night wrestling. Being excluded or shunned because I enjoyed something that society arbitrarily claimed was for boys got under my skin then, and still does. I am lucky that I understood early that there was nothing I couldn’t do (or shouldn’t be able to do) if I felt compelled to do it.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, Lil’ Kim became a representation of this for me.
As “the only female in [her] crew,” which she boasted in her “It’s All About The Benjamins” verse, she took the male-dominated hip hop world by storm and competed just as hard as any of the men around her. She never allowed her gender to stop her from climbing her way to the top.
I remember seeing Lil’ Kim’s Hardcore album cover plastered in the small room that held my dad’s music collection, and knowing that she was a force to be reckoned with. Since the beginning of the genre, male rappers have boasted about their sexual encounters and their love for “doing the do” on records. And then came this 4’11″ woman with a high-pitched voice doing the same thing, but critics shamed her ten times more intensely simply because she was a woman. Most notably, civil rights activist C. Delores Tucker spoke out against Lil’ Kim’s sexually suggestive music, dubbing it “gangsta porn rap.” However, despite backlash from critics, Lil’ Kim continued to kick in the door, allowing female rappers to express themselves explicitly and unapologetically for decades to comes.
Kim took the misogynistic hip hop industry and turned it on its head, transforming it into a space for female empowerment. It goes without saying that she paved a way for female rappers who often rap about the same things she was heavily scrutinized for in the ’90s. She challenged gender roles and served as a vessel for feminist views in hip hop.
To be quite honest, no one understood who I was that Halloween in fourth grade, but I felt so powerful. I knew what the costume meant to me.
Long after Halloween ended, I held on to my Lil’ Kim wig. I wore it around the house, to bed, and even once to visit a loved one in the hospital. To me, it was way more than a wig—it was my superpower. It was that extra push I needed to pursue anything that my little heart desired. That pink wig helped me channel the strength that I saw in Lil’ Kim. Her no-holds-barred approach to music was refreshing in a world that often tells women we are weaker or lesser than our male counterparts.
If it weren’t for Lil’ Kim, I would care too much about what people think of me. I wouldn’t have taken half the risks I’ve taken in my almost three decades of life. Whenever I feel discouraged or unmotivated, I play some Lil’ Kim, remember that pink wig, and feel like I can take on the world.