Master Class: The Style Legacy of Lil’ Kim
When she first stepped foot onto the scene, the only thing truly “lil” about rapper Lil' Kim was her stature—the 4’11” Brooklyn-born rapper made her debut with a big flow and even bigger style. Not only was Lil’ Kim the lone female member of Junior M.A.F.I.A., she was and still is one of a handful of female rappers in the male-dominated industry. Set against the backdrop of male rappers in baggy jeans, sports jerseys, suits, and chains was Lil’ Kim scantily clad, draped in fur and designer labels, rapping about sex, money, and fashion from behind a pair of Chanel sunglasses. She introduced a new radical narrative and ultimately contradicted all archetypes within the rap industry. Lil' Kim’s style was inimitable, revolutionary, and daring—she owned her sexuality unapologetically in bright, barely-there looks that catapulted her into style-icon status, flipped the script on objectification in the rap industry and paved the way for many female rappers to follow.
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The double entendre of Lil’ Kim’s double platinum debut album Hard Core defines the rapper’s ethos so explicitly: simply put, it was raunchy. The album cover—Lil’ Kim on all fours, atop a bearskin rug in a room full of roses and champagne—in addition to the promotional image for the album, where the rapper perches in a spread-eagle squat, sporting a leopard print bikini and fur-trimmed robe, established Lil’ Kim as an immediate sex symbol. Yet despite her public perception, Lil’ Kim wasn’t afraid to do what she pleased. In fact, the self-proclaimed “Playboy pinup girl” embraced edgy sex-appeal as her distinctive style—bikinis and lingerie as outerwear, bejeweled pasties, vibrant furs and designer heels. Lil’ Kim’s unapologetic attitude helped usher in a new era of rapper: one that could simultaneously be overtly sexy and utterly hardcore.
It wasn’t just Lil’ Kim’s sexy style that set her apart, it was also her inventive use of color—custom technicolor wigs paired alongside bold mink coats, creating a monochromatic head-to-toe look. In the video for “Crush on You,” a single off her debut album, the star and others switch between different color-themed outfits reminiscent of the Emerald City scene from The Wiz. The now iconic video features the star in blue, green, red, and yellow minks, wigs, outfits, and accessories—perhaps one of her most well-known and copied looks. Stars like Beyoncé, Rihanna and Kim Kardashian have honored Lil’ Kim’s daring and unmistakable monochrome style, just as it has become a Halloween staple—you can hardly scroll through instagram around late October without seeing a nod to Lil’ Kim’s monochromatic dressing. In fact, just this Halloween, Beyoncé recreated some of Kim’s most iconic looks paying homage to the style star and the first Queen Bee, with brightly colored wigs and furs.
Aside from vibrantly-colored clothing, tinted wigs were an integral part of Lil’ Kim’s style. Eugene Davis, one of the hairstylists behind some of her wildest wigs, played a crucial role in helping Lil’ Kim find the brightest and boldest hair colors to pair with her outfits—particularly the ones featured throughout the “Crush on You” video. Davis explained that, “at this point no hip-hop or R&B artist had experimented with bold color” quite like Lil’ Kim, and he encouraged her to continually explore this particular theme.
Davis also had a hand in another of Lil’ Kim’s biggest style moments—her now-infamous 1999 VMA’s look. Lil’ Kim’s purple wig perfectly accented her breast-baring purple one-piece, complete with matching pasties. It was vivid, bold, and shocking. Misa Hylton, who crafted the one-sided purple piece from Indian bridal fabric, watched anxiously as Diana Ross jiggled Lil’ Kim’s pastie covered breast on live television in fear of it falling off. Fortunately, it stayed in placed, but more importantly this moment served as one of the defining moments of Lil’ Kim’s career—her dress became an instant talking point. Hylton recently discussed the iconic moment with Vogue saying, “The fashion statement Lil’ Kim made is the epitome of authentic style, courage, and standing in your power[...].” The look has become another one of Beyonce fan’s go-to Halloween costumes and has even showed up on the runway at Yves Saint Laurent Spring 2017 show.
In addition to dropping stacks of money at her favorite designer stores, Lil’ Kim loved to adorn herself in monograms and logos from head to toe. On the runway, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Gucci and Chanel were deep in the logomania trend, and Lil’ Kim took full advantage of their offerings. She famously sported, on various occasions, a Versace logo-printed blonde wig at a Versace show, a blue wig with Chanel’s interlocking C logo printed on the bangs, a Fendi bikini beneath a monogram jacket, paired with a headband and knee-high boots atop, and a Chanel snowsuit with earrings, a hat, sunglasses, and belt. Her love for the logo and the industry it represented was undeniable, and as the logomania trend resurfaces, it’s hard to ignore how Lil’ Kim was able to take such a symbol and make it her own.
Alongside photographer David LaChapelle, Lil’ Kim’s made ephemeral her style and love for logos through various photo shoots. Lil’ Kim posed for LaChapelle as a blue-eyed blow-up doll, an iced-out provocateur for “The Notorious K.I.M.” album cover, and even nude, painted head to toe with the Louis Vuitton monogram for the house’s ad campaign. Through LaChapelle’s lens, Lil’ Kim solidified her image as a sexy, chic, and undeniably tough figurehead of both the music and high-fashion industries.
Other than logos, there was one other name Lil’ Kim would regularly wear: her own. Like many rappers, she wore diamond-filled pendants, but her’s featured her rap moniker “Lil’ Kim” or a crowned “B” for “Queen B” as she was dubbed. She wore her name on earrings and even hanging from her ponytail in the music video for her single “The Jump Off” and across her bare stomach on the cover for her sophomore album, “The Notorious K.I.M.” She paired her Fendi monogram look with oversized “K” earrings and regularly repped her hometown Brooklyn on t-shirts.
Lil’ Kim is distinctively cool—she partied with Donatella Versace, walked a Baby Phat fashion show, sat front row at fashion week, and was a long-time muse of the then Louis Vuitton creative director, Marc Jacobs—even Alexander McQueen declared that she was his idol. To this day, Lil’ Kim’s influence on fashion, hip-hop and pop culture is undeniable. Her looks pushed all boundaries—they were, barely-there, and often covered in diamonds, pearls, and monograms—but she was always experimental, sexy, and genuine. Her unparalleled style, audacious attitude and rhymes laced with double entendres and designer names were revolutionary. She opened doors for female rappers that could wear risqué designer outfits but still rap as hard as the boys. With the resurgence of 90’s and 00’s fashion, her past looks are relevant now more than ever and her legacy continues to thrive. Lil'Kim isn't just a trailblazer—she set the worlds of hip-hop and fashion on fire and ultimately redefined a woman's role within the male-dominated music industry.