As a female in hip hop, Lil Mama never really had it easy. There was a long line of females before her, all with a similar thread. First you must work hard, then you have to figure out a way to get everybody’s attention. Eventually, you blow up. And that’s when the pressure comes. For some, it happens faster than others. For Lil Mama, it happened before her 18th birthday. The ending doesn’t always fare well for girls raised by the hip hop industry. And the jury is still out on Lil Mama’s fate.
Enter her recently released “NY NY LA LA,” a song featuring Snoop Dogg that Lil Mama says, in an exclusive interview with BET.com, came to be after a conversation with the rap legend at an after-party for the film Takers. Snoop told Lil Mama how much his kids loved her music, and then they talked about collaborating. With the success of her “Lip Gloss” single, Lil Mama was a breath of fresh air when she came out. In a culture that was overly misogynistic and downright disrespectful to women, Lil Mama was a good choice for a new younger generation that was being raised on a diet of not-so-nice hip hop. But like the kids listening to her music, Lil Mama had to grow up too.
“It was a lot of pressure…my whole career. Developing with music. A part of me was being broken down. I was going through multiple things at the time,” she says of the time since she dropped her first album. In 2008, Lil Mama released Voice of Tte Young People on Jive Records, and she quickly became a priority. Her video rose to the top of the countdown on 106 & Park, she was nominated for Best Female Hip Hop Artist at the 2009 BET Awards, and she soon became a regular judge on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. But today, Lil Mama is an independent artist.
“With my first album, it took a lot of time. And I had to go back in and work on more and more records. Sometimes, when you put out an album, it’s kinda draining. I’m just working on music now… I feel like the music I’m making this time now is an enjoyment for me,” she says.
According to Lil Mama, she is not working on an album per se. She doesn’t know if she’s going to put one out yet. She explains, “When I go into the studio, I just want to focus on just doing me. I sit in the studio and I listen to music, and I’m inspired by the music to create whatever comes to my mind and whatever comes to my spirit.”
That mind and spirit is, undeniably, a hip hop one. Some would say it was a New York state of mind. And though lucrative, that mind and spirit can also be dangerous, particularly when it inspires you to get up out of your seat and ambush a performance by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, two of the biggest artists in music. (Lil Mama later apologized.) It’s the same mind that made Kanye West snatch a microphone out of Taylor Swift’s hand. The same spirit that led Ol’ Dirty Bastard to jump onstage at the Grammys and proclaim that Wu-Tang was for the children. For men in hip hop, that mind and spirit has been rebellious and entertaining. But for a woman, it can be perceived differently.
Traditionally, there has only been room for one woman to be the center of attention in hip hop. From Roxanne Shante to MC Lyte, to Lil Kim, to Foxy Brown, to Eve, to Missy, to Nicki Minaj, they’ve all had their moment. But the moment right now belongs to Nicki Minaj, so last week, Lil Mama made some headlines based on things she said during an interview in Vibe. Apparently, Lil Mama thought that Nicki Minaj copied her style (the two showed up to the MTV Movie Awards with similar hairstyles, and Mama claimed that Nicki had sported the do only after coming to one of Lil Mama’s tapings). With Nicki’s rising popularity, many dismissed Lil Mama’s comments as just hating.
Eventually, all it really comes down to is the music. For Lil Mama, that will be the deciding factor. Like so many other female MCs, she has the utmost respect for Lauryn Hill, who “will relate to people in any time, no matter when it is.” Lil Mama says “Lauryn has millions of fans who still support her. She’s universal.”
The hip hop community has been known to roll with its artists through thick and thin as long as they’ve got a good record. Or in a case like Lauryn Hill’s, that one timeless record. But in the absence of the right music, which has been the case for many other females in hip hop, the audience hasn’t been so supportive. Lil Mama believes her music will be the defining factor. “When it comes to being an MC, that’s the most respected part of hip hop. When you’re an MC, people love to hear you rap,” she says, “and you gotta deliver.”