I remember exactly where I was when I first heard Lil Mama. I was a college sophomore at Duke University watching this amazing new invention called cable. Being the product of a single-parent home, cable was that thing I saw in hotels and waiting rooms. As a curious, sheltered kid, I wanted a window to the real world outside of Duke Camelot. Well, if you call the real world a place where illiterate rappers stand in front of rented whips. That’s right folks, I first saw Lil Mama on a show called “106 & Park”.
Lip Gloss had my attention almost immediately. I felt like I was back at my ghetto high school all over again. Hearing rhymes over a lunch table beat reminded me of Hip Hop’s innocence. And of course, there was another thing that caught my attention: Lil Mama was dumbing her rhymes down. Even though I was ridiculed by my friends who said “Lip Gloss” the way Allen Iverson contemptuously said “practice”, I knew there were multiple layers to Lil Mama that go beyond her attempt at mainstream acceptance.
The 3 Personalities of Lil Mama:
1. The Hood Chick
Most likely, this is the first thing you’ll notice about Lil Mama. Thanks to the extinct nature of A&R and the highly competitive Hip Hop industry, Lil Mama is scrappy as a mug. Any person who survived a childhood where her father was incarcerated, her mother passed away, and her family looked up to her for support is going to be hardened. Unfortunately, this isn’t mentioned when people clown Lil Mama for looking old or when she “caught the spirit” during Jay-Z’s performance. Yes, Lil Mama plays herself often. But if the cameras followed your entire life, I’m sure we can create a gag reel too.
2. The Imitator
I’m not feelin’ this side, but it’s starting to rear its ugly head. As a proud owner of Lil Mama’s Voice of the Young People (please don’t laugh), I was happy to see Lil Mama have pop sensibility along with a compassionate understanding of the streets. But as I see her career progress, the songs she’s releasing (Dough Boy, On & On & On) don’t have a message or a clear artistic direction. Even the clothes she wears looks like Lady Gaga circa 2008. Nicki Minaj may be “overshadowing” Lil Mama’s contrived image, but Nicki Minaj can never be Lil Mama. I think it’s time for Niatia Kirkland to rediscover the truest part of her artistry.
3. The Hip Hop Purist / Voice of the Young People
This is the side to Lil Mama that she doesn’t perform, but lives. And every now and then, you see it. She’s able to learn from the legendary emcees from Hip Hop’s golden era and package it in a way that is palpable to today’s generation. Lil Mama’s latest video, Scrawberry is a perfect example. Yes, the hood chick and the imitator make a cameo, but this video is where The Hip Hop Purist takes the lead. With a sample from Special Ed’s I Got it Made and a deliberate attempt to mimic MC Lyte’s rhymes, Lil Mama shows us what she’s capable of. I HOPE (and slightly pray) that Lil Mama gives up the major label formula of repackaging mainstream trends. She has too much talent and too much passion for children. I see it in her.