LIL’ KIM’S “How Many Licks?” video brims delectably with her signature personas fitting seamlessly into her repertoire. The 2000 video introduced fans to the “Lil’ Kim Edible Dolls”: Candy Kim, Pinup Kim, and the supervillainy Nightrider Kim. Nightrider Kim was an afrofuturist vision in a vampy latex bodysuit who saw what she wanted and claimed it, sucking a man into her high-speed ride as a caption read “She doesn’t satisfy you…you satisfy her.” Nightrider Kim sat comfortably next to Kim’s other gutsy identities, all of which championed her own sexual power and need for pleasure. Lil’ Kim’s personas have long been a point of contention among many hip hop listeners concerned with women’s representation in the genre. Early in Kim’s career, journalist and scholar Joan Morgan dubbed the rapper’s sex-focused lyrics “chickenhead rap,” and in her 2008 book, The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop—and Why It Matters, Tricia Rose claimed Kim “[relied] on the product reserved especially for [B]lack women: sexual excess.”
These arguments largely overlooked Kim’s role as an architect who crafted many elements of her career, including her aesthetic. The criticisms stacked against her appeared less rooted in her rap content and more rooted in her glam, hyperfemme appearance. In Rose’s book, for instance, Kim is compared to “less sexually-exploitative rappers like Missy Elliott and Eve.” However, this assertion neglects to acknowledge that sexual expression exists on a spectrum, as exhibited in Elliott’s contempt for unsatisfactory sex in 2013’s “One Minute Man” and in Eve’s pre-rap career as a stripper. The reality is, women’s sexual expression and hip hop have always coexisted, but the vitriol is reserved for unapologetically femme artists who are vocal about their sexual power. Hip hop scholarship and feminist critique often converge and are unforgiving when the male gaze becomes a point of fixation—an entity that nonmen must constantly avoid appeasing. Enter: bimbos.
Self-described bimbos are individuals who renounce the stigmatization of beauty and femininity and reject the notion that nonmen must prove their intelligence to be deemed valuable and worthy members of society. Bimbos are pro–makeup, pro–body modification, pro–sex work—basically pro–anything that will make them feel like their best, most authentic selves. Bimbos are everywhere: taking engineering classes, selling Bratz doll–inspired fashion on Depop, and building niche communities on TikTok. Users in this web corner can be found in colorful lace fronts with glossed lips, offering informational tidbits about how bimboification rejects capitalism. In this affirming space of varied identities, it’s not surprising that bimbo communities are also queer and expand across subcultures. Nonbinary sex worker Amala Azul does not see their aesthetic as typically bimbo but weaves bimbo ideology and doll culture throughout their work. They found personal resonance with Nightrider Kim, drawing connections between the “afrofuturistic, bimbofied, and cyberpunk” visuals and their own queer-femme cyborg-themed porn flick shot last year. Azul and creators like them are testaments to the fact that doll and bimbo identities are underscored by queerness—trans women have long called themselves dolls and embraced luxury (a reminder that queerness also helped to shape hip hop and fashion).
Although Kim has never publicly identified as either a feminist or a bimbo, her impact in these communities reverberates. When The Notorious K.I.M. was released in 2000, Kim was a fashion industry darling after scoring a modeling contract with Wilhelmina. She brought the doll persona to life in iconic David LaChapelle photo shoots and with a bustling Chanel wardrobe. The influence of the “How Many Licks?” video lingers in hip hop today. Nicki Minaj’s Barbie persona and exaggerated, doll-like facial expressions became her trademark performance style. Then, of course, there is the lineage of the Doll moniker in hip hop, first linked to Kash Doll but eventually exploding into a cosmology of its own: Some of the most well-known include Dallas-bred Asian Doll; U.K. powerhouse Ivorian Doll; and DreamDoll, a New York rapper who landed a Lil’ Kim feature on her own 2018 album Life In Plastic 2. Each of these rappers is distinct in sound but shares the universal commitment to be their own version of fine.
As the creator of Cosmic Cove Toys, Azul draws inspiration from favorite artists, naming Asian as the rap doll they most identify with. The rap dolls leave them with the lasting lesson: “[They] showed me to have unshakable confidence in myself, that living authentically is worth the struggle and judgment. This confidence affords me so much peace. When I trust myself and I only look to top myself, my work bosses up.”