African American women have long struggled in the media. From images such as Mammy, Saphire- the ever dedicated 'lady of the night', and the Jezebel- the 'lady of any night', the stereotype of how African American women fit into the dominant culture of American media has sadly influenced many current representations of women of color. This is not to say that all women have fallen into these 'image formulas' as many women have not. Artist such as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and even Etta James along with countless other pioneering soulful singers and performers laid a foundation of woman portrayed with real body types, discussing real topics relative to both men and women and inspiring generations of women. Their images although impressionable, have been diluted with time, technology, and types.
The 'types' of women that are presented in the media today are just that, types, or women who have adopted or created 'image formulas' in order to succeed in mainstream media- often haunted by negative images of women of color. Several women have benefited by images or types that were stamps of fame including the girl group, the hip hop homegirl like Lauryn Hill or Queen Latifah, maybe even Eve, and last but not limited to these categories is the bad girl sex kitten, your Lil' Kim, Kaya and now Nikki Minaj.
All of these formulas are proven to be successful, although there are several ladies that no doubt have been successful despite image limitations such as Rah Digga, Missy Elliot, and Mia X. Many woman, however have used the images that have been prescribed by record label consultants and pressures to conform to a type of image that would be profitable. One of the most profitable images aforementioned is none other than the 'bad girl sex kitten'.
This image was perfected by Lil Kim, a female rapper, in the mid 1990's. Kim, who could be said to have borrowed images of Josephine Baker, Lena Horne, or even Ertha Kitt, but if asked i'm sure she would say Marilyn Monroe or Mae West (who's inspiration has yet been confirmed..hint hint), epitomizes the bad girl swag with the attitude, clothes, hair and make-up to be the girl every girl wants to be and guy wants to know. In 1996 with the release of Hard Core, Lil Kim became one of the best female recording artist of the decade. She certainly created an image that, like a science formula or math equation was sure to produce the desired result every time; in this case profit.
With the arrival of Nikki Minaj, many of the 80's babies and the like can say with no thought that Nikki Minaj has adopted Lil Kim's image. Choice of clothes, hair styles and postures have associated Nikki Minaj with the images of Lil Kim. After watching recent youtube footage of a supposed 'stud' Nikki found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEoYwdK6ahw and following her transformation into the 'Barbie' that is viewed today, one would even assume that the surgeries and changes have been in alignment with the image that Lil Kim perfected some 10 years ago.
So why beef? My question exactly, how could these women who essentially have adopted a similar type of female rapper image have not become rappin' bff's? The association is short of admiration, as imitation is the greatest form of flattery. The question must have monetary considerations because Nikki Minaj is the newer model of the Lil Kim mode. Nikki may be surpassing Lil Kim's fame, as the world today is more connected technologically than '96. The website www.theybf.com comments that "for those keeping score in the Lil' Kim versus Nicki Minaj battle, Lil Kim’s highest first week sales was in the year 2000 with The Notorious Kim pushing 230,000 units" (p.1), Pink Friday, Nikki Minaj's newest release sold 423,000 just shy of the record holding Lauryn Hill for first week album sales.
The differences are clear between Nikki Minaj and Lil Kim especially when one considers the time in which both of these artist reigned as queen. There images however are tied to a ever growing legacy of African American women in the media. For their contribution to this legacy goes without criticism, many images are argued to be hyper-sexual, pornographic and at worst 'un-lady like' or aggressive attitudes; all fueling negative stereotypes of women of color. At best these women have found a niche in which the image of the bad girl sex cat has made them success's and leaders of their decade of rap music. A beef therefore over image, because an image has been repeated because of its profitability, would only seem like a continuum of shared and at times stereotypical images by many women of color.
With all due fairness, Lil Kim and Nikki Minaj should just make a collab song and pull a Nas and Jay-Z or even a 50Cent- Kayne West type beef and make music and money not war. If Lil Kim is unsure of here vigor in an ever changing rap game than her fears would better serve her by aligning with one of the most profitable female rappers of 2010; Minaj has paid homage to Kim's image and whose very success is proof of the potency of an image perfected by the rap legend.