The Rolanda Watts Show segment ‘Is Lil’ Kim Sexualizing Our Children?’ captured a 90s moral panic
When Lil’ Kim burst onto the charts with lyrics about being eaten out and “spread like a rainbow” back in 1996, the world was – to put it lightly – shocked. It wasn’t because she was a woman in rap; stars like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Lauryn Hill had all earned credibility and commercial success before her. The outrage came because Kim took agency over her own sexuality, dispelling the myth that women could either be sexed-up and glamorous or covered-up and credible. She took this shock and turned it into profit, carving out a reputation as an X-rated trailblazer.
Things have, thankfully, moved forward since the 90s, and pockets of modern society are now much more sex-positive. It’s easy to forget just how controversial lyrics about pussy and drugs were deemed to be in 1996 – especially when they came from the lips of a young black woman. This chat-show segment, aired in 1997 on the Rolanda Watts Show, perfectly encapsulates the moral panic she caused.
Entitled ‘Is Lil’ Kim Sexualizing Our Children?’ the conversation could have easily turned into a witch hunt. The clip opens with a performance of “No Time” alongside Puff Daddy, which the host applauds before diving straight into the topic at hand: “There are some parents who say, ‘Oh, the music is too sexually explicit! While our children’s minds are going down, we’ve got a young lady wearing barely any clothes up here!’” Kim responds simply that parents are the ones responsible for issuing guidance and points out that sex sells. It’s still true – but why blame society when you can scapegoat women, right?
The conversation then moves to the sofa, where Kim’s own mother talks about her divorce and the impact it had on her daughter’s life. “We all have choices, and sometimes we make bad choices – but we don’t have to be stuck,” she explains in a moment of extreme candour. The host then moves on to the juicy bits – what does she think of Kim’s lyrics? Most of us would rather be swallowed by the ground than chat sex with our parents, so fair play to Kim for agreeing to discuss lyrics like: “I don’t want dick tonight / Eat my pussy right.” When probed, Kim’s mother has the perfect response: “Well, sometimes I do say to her, ‘You know girl, I should have taken you to church more!’”
Although Kim talks eloquently about sex, censorship and her own experiences, excessive airtime is dominated by the usual eye roll-inducing audience questions, a conservative police officer and some dude from ‘Morality In Media’. They give the expected arguments: that kids shouldn’t be exposed to sex (they are), that radio stations should censor (they do) and that clean versions should be commonplace (again, they are).
In fact, the only other guest that truly speaks sense is rapper/DJ Ed Lover, host of Yo! MTV Raps and wearer of some seriously slick dungarees. When asked if Kim’s lyrics are disproportionately explicit, he highlights the crux of the problem: “No, she’s no more explicit than her male counterparts are.” He then compares her to fellow explicit musician Millie Jackson, ending with a concise statement of praise: “She’s outspoken, she stands up for the rights of women and I applaud her for having the courage to be that person.”
We see just how much this means to young girls when an audience member breaks down in tears at seeing her idol. It’s a reminder of just how important Kim’s legacy is – she blazed trails in a male-dominated industry and, more generally, a world steeped in misogynoir. Two decades later, Kim’s back with “Wake Me Up”, the long-awaited Remy Ma collaboration which, brilliantly, samples the iconic “Queen Bitch”. It might mark a comeback, it might not – honestly, at this point, who cares? Just sit back, press play and enjoy an example of the Queen Bee in her prime.