avatar for Tyina Steptoe

Tyina Steptoe

Tyina Steptoe is an associate professor of history at the University of Arizona. Her work focuses on race, gender, and popular culture. She is the author Houston Bound: Culture and Color in a Jim Crow City, which won the 2016 Kenneth Jackson Award for Best Book from the Urban History Association and the 2017 W. Turrentine-Jackson Book Prize from the Western History Association.

"Hip Hop’s Queer Masculinities"
 Lil’ Kim’s “Queen B@#$h,” a song that appeared on her debut album in 1996, helped establish the rapper’s persona – a badass female emcee who enthusiastically expresses her sexual desires. The liner notes credit Lil’ Kim (Kimberly Jones), along with male collaborators Carlos Broady and Nashiem Myrick, as songwriters. A decade later, Notorious B.I.G.’s influence became apparent when his reference track for the song surfaced online. Producers and songwriters often record these rough versions of songs in order to give the intended performer an idea of how they envision the final product. The reference track for “Queen B@#$h” featured Biggie’s husky voice rapping lyrics from a distinctly female perspective:

Got buffoons eating my pussy while I watch cartoons
Sleep 'til noon
Rap Pam Grier's here
Baby drinkers beware, mostly Dolce wear

This paper analyzes the work of Lil’ Kim and her male collaborators, in addition to the work of Jermaine Dupri, who wrote or co-wrote every song on 1994’s Hummin' Comin' at 'Cha, the debut album of R&B girl group Xscape. These men often wrote lyrics that explicitly explored women’s erotic desires. The collaborations allowed young black men to perform aspects of femininity in the studio without drawing homophobic backlash. While previous generations of popular black male artists explored femininity (such as Prince’s alter ego, Camille, the voice behind “If I Was Your Girlfriend”), the climate of anti-queerness in the 90s left fewer opportunities for men who worked in genres that championed masculine hardness. Any appearance of femininity from these men could result in criticism. By focusing on the 1990s, this paper explores the limits and possibilities of gender expression for black musicians at the end of the twentieth century.