Just a day in the life of Hip-Hop Eshu: Queen B***h 101 couldve answered all the questions posed about the course last semester, including whether or not it would deal with the upcoming trial of Lil Kim. Somewhere along the line, someone decided to simply re-title this course that developed out of my on-going research on race and sex in the context of empire, as if it were now a course on celebrity biographynot lyricism. Wasnt the course description from the ten-page syllabus on-line? Who is Eshu? How did this West African orisha or trickster-god provide a profound framework for our hard-core work? What does it mean here that the fifth element of Hip-Hop is knowledge, according the Universal Zulu Nation? We were so academically ill that a lazy, ignorant set of folk could ill-afford to find out.
Around mid-term, thirty-plus students and I were set to analyze three texts in one session: (1) a song-skit from Lil Kims sophomore solo album; (2) an article called Law and Disorder by Dasun Allah and J.F. Ratcliffe on government surveillance of rappers; and (3) an open letter by Sylvia Wynter, a powerhouse intellectual critic. Her title was No Humans Involved. She examines the N.H.I. acronym used by Los Angeles police officersaround the time of the Rodney King beating--to refer specifically to Black and Latino youth: No Humans Involved. She asks all her colleagues, at Stanford University and beyond, who is in charge of the system of knowledge in which such practices make sense? Who is in charge of changing this intellectual regime in which not only America but humanity is characterized in white and middle-class terms? The piece by Allah and Ratcliffe (which was first published in The Village Voice--by Allah--and then revised for republication in The Source with Ratcliffe), it called to mind a new phrase: Rap COINTELPRO. This refers to the FBIs de-classified counter-intelligence program that violently destabilized the Black liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s. Now, from New York to Miami and Los Angeles, rappers are openly subject to systematic surveillance like the organized activists of old. As head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover said Black youth must be shown that the only revolutionary is a dead revolutionary, an infamous line that omits exile and prison as other options, of course. Finally, there is Lil Kim, of Hip-Hop Revolution: Pardon me, Your Honor/May I approach the bench?/Theyre trying to assassinate me/Like they did to Larry Flynt/Uh-hum. Excuse my persona/I may be hard-core/But Im not Jeffrey Dahmer! Enough said.
This was a brilliant response to the roar created by her classic debut, Hardcore. There were lovers as well as typically hypocritical haters. This was when her persecution was strictly rhetorical, or verbal, a trial of bourgeois public opinion. Gorged with double standards, the puritanical moralists said--in public, at least--she was a bad woman, as if this werent the highest compliment paid her foremothers in Black folklore and the Blues. How far removed from Black history and consciousness they must be. Lil Kim makes it beautifully clear to anyone who is not committed to illiteracy in the language and literature of Hip-Hop: Big Momma Queen B***h overturns male domination, lyrically, and rigid, homophobic gender identity on record--way more effectively than any elite Womens or Gay & Lesbian Studies program in academia. Her whole system of rhymes radically redistributes power, pleasure and privilege, always doing the unthinkable, embracing sexuality on her kind of terms. So she is more controversial than Dahmer, the white cannibal who fed on Black flesh? Her statement about moral crusades and criminal justice, that it is more criminal than just, this could be no more clear and in the tradition of Hip-Hop.
But art becomes evidence in the prosecution of emcees, who have always argued that the system is itself gangster; or that it makes prosecution and persecution indistinguishable. Why was it important for a U.S. court to try Lil Kim for perjury, of all things (i.e., not complying with the unquestionable state, allegedly), To do so, it mobilized fears of violence that the Patriot Acts do not allow in the case against U.S. militarism, state repression, imperialism, etc. This was certainly a test-case for Law and Disorder, or the so-called Hip-Hop Cops, and the use of lyrics and music videos in courtrooms as opposed to classrooms. It is certainly a hit on the much-needed justice her art represents, to the fullest, the sexual-poetic justice which was a great theme of our course. The conviction is meant to hide state repression, state lies and COINTELPRO injustice; and by state I mean the government (as when Public Enemy rapped, I got a letter from the government/I opened it, and read it/It said they were suckers!). There will be no corporate media coverage of this perspective on the state: The New York Post asked me for my perspective, as the professor of the collegiate course on Lil Kim; but since I gave it to them, Ive never heard back from them again.
Will sexism or sexual conservatism be a Trojan Horse for the government that would scapegoat her as an effective strategy for locking up Hip-Hop in general?
We see recycled certain old stereotypes here about Black women and lies, especially Black women who do not conform to white racist codes of sexual repression, as if this conviction could possible represent justice. Despite all the reports of 50 Cents ties to the NYPD, not to mention Eminems Secret Service agent security guards, any Hip-Hop that lacks the vision to see through state lies is not the real thing; any Hip-Hop that is too afraid to resist state lies and Rap COINTELPRO is fake as hell. This case was not about perjury at all, no more than the U.S. in Iraq is about liberation. Its about whether or not we cooperate with state power, however illegitimate, and this includes its power to persecute us--as usual. It is about the power of the government to criminalize and imprison us along lines of race, class and Hip-Hop affiliation, over here, when they dont send us to commit their own violence over there. And if lies were actually immoral, according to the U.S. state, its prison-industrial complex might not be large enough to house those who rule us.
How do we communicate the political absurdity of this brilliant Black female artist facing hard time in the age of George Weapon of Mass Destruction Bush, and all these corportate lies?
Lil Kim has always spoken a truth that everyone except her many fans seem to fear. As Sylvia Wynter might say, our intellectual and political struggles continue. No doubt, so will Hip-Hop Eshu: Queen B***h 101, for as long as her words are powerfully necessary; and that, they are.
Professor Greg Thomas teaches at Syracuse University.