Lil Mama Deserves a Second Chance After Bum Rushing Jay Z, But Will Hip-Hop Give It to Her?
Can the "Voice of the Young People" still represent for the hip-hop youth after abandoning them for so long?
When Lil Mama burst onto the scene with her infectious 2007 hit “Lip Gloss,” she was an 18-year-old rising rapper committed to the self-appointed role as the "Voice of the Young People," which was also the title of her debut album released in 2008. But since then, her momentum and buzz on the music charts has subsided. The teenie boppers and young adults who spent their allowance on Lancome Juicy Tubes and Mac Lipglass seven years ago have evolved. Some have the title of businesswomen or graduate, others have turned into trap queens or become moms. Whatever they identify with these days, they all managed to do so without the "VYP" Lil Mama.
The former chart-topper took a lengthy hiatus from rap to focus on her other passion: dancing. She devoted herself to being a judge for seven seasons on the reality competition series America’s Best Dance Crew. Now she finds herself once again trying to get back to the music and what brought her to the limelight in the first place: her knack for delivering catchy rhymes. With the release of her safe-sex ode “Sausage,” her first attention-grabbing single in about five years, she's matured and giving millennials some sage advice.
"Sausage" picks up were “Lip Gloss” left off as far as simplicity goes and lyrics that you can't get out of your head, all over a solid boom bap rhythm. However, the focus is less on looks this time. Lil Mama is promoting a more mature message of safe sex. “Eggs, bacon grits (sausage) / You better use a condom if you taking that (sausage),” she rhymes on the hook.
It becomes clear through the positive message on “Sausage” that the "VYP" has been resurrected. Lil Mama does a noteworthy job of bridging the old school with the new. The rapper uses more than a dozen sonic references of hip-hop hits old and new. The infusion of throwbacks like Slick Rick’s “Mona Lisa,” Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” and Kelis’ “Milkshake,” with contemporary tracks like Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” and Cheddar Da Connect’s “Flicka da Wrist” showcases her creativity. Mama is in touch with what’s hot right now while simultaneously being respectful of the forefathers of hip-hop who paved the way.
But is that enough? The accompanying visuals quickly amassed more than one million views on YouTube after its May 29 release -- now it's at 3 million and counting -- and reminded critics, who once questioned the validity of her role on ABDC, that if nothing else, Lil Mama can dance her ass off. Meanwhile, some fans took to social media to blast the rhymer for an array of what they perceived as misfortunes and flaws in her artistry. Some spectators berated her for the Mary J. Blige tribute, in which she mirrored the singer’s “Not Gone Cry” look by donning a deep-dark lip, blonde hair and side-swept bang with a scarf around her head. Others called her out for going overboard, saying she used “any and everything that’s been trending on black Twitter.”
Watch Lil Mama's "Sausage" Video
The divide makes you wonder if another female rapper was to have delivered the same effort would fans be this harsh. No, she’s not selling sex and wearing cleavage-baring clothing, but neither are female artists like Tink, Angel Haze, Rhapsody or Sia. Lil Mama is doing what she does best -- creating easily digestible rhymes over solid beats -- and like other rappers -- both male and female -- she is using her platform to address issues near and dear to her heart. Even if it means promoting condom-wrapped sausages and denouncing chapped lips.
Nevertheless, it’s almost as if Lil Mama still has a stigma surrounding her, a scarlet letter branded on her chest dating all the way back to the 2009 embarrassing stunt she pulled at the MTV Video Music Awards. If you recall, Lil Mama's infamous moment then was when she pulled a Kanye West and walked onstage without permission to serve an impromptu pose with Jay Z and Alicia Keys during their award-closing performance of “Empire State of Mind.”
Despite being “out of line,” according to Hov, the Brooklyn native continued to live out her dreams, transitioning from music to acting. She eventually landed her first big role portraying the late rapper Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes in the 2013 VH1 biopic, CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story. Both the film and Lil Mama received great reviews from critics, she even went on to perform alongside TLC members T-Boz and Chilli after the movie wrapped. However, her own music career has remained in limbo.
She still hasn’t released a follow-up album to her debut in more than five years, let alone a chart-topping single to mirror "Lip Gloss," but somehow Lil Mama still has her feet -- if not at least one foot -- wedged in hip-hop. After all, she has the guidance of a living hip-hop legend: MC Lyte. When Lil Mama’s mother lost her battle with cancer in 2007, it took a toll on the rapper and MC Lyte provided the female advice she needed to pull herself through the dark time. Over the years, she relied on Lyte's mentorship to help her focus on her craft. The pupil and student collaborated in 2014, on Lyte’s vibrant dance track “Ball,” the third single from Lyte’s long-awaited comeback album.
One would think that a co-sign from MC Lyte and TLC would propel Lil Mama to reach the heights she did with “Lip Gloss.” But perhaps it's deeper than rap and falls on gender. If you take a look at some of the top female rappers in the game, their co-signs come from men. Iggy has T.I., Nicki Minaj is signed to Lil Wayne’s Young Money label , Lil' Kim was supported by Biggie and even Remy Ma and Lauryn Hill received the approval of Fat Joe and Wyclef, respectively.
The industry seems to require a lauded testosterone boost for a female rapper to succeed in hip-hop. We don't agree that that should be the case, but the proof is written throughout music history. Even without that push from a male rapper in the game, Lil Mama has emerged as a successful businesswoman who is still part of the conversation when female MCs are mentioned -- for better or for worse.
She has expanded her career beyond music into television and acting, achieving the ultimate goal many rapper's only dream of achieving. For that she deserves respect. “Sausage” may not be the sonic meal everyone wants to put on their plate, but it's far from unsatisfying. If there's one thing we've learned from Lil Mama it's that she's resilient and already cooking up another song for you to love (or hate).
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