by Guest Contributor Sarah Todd, originally published at Girls Like Giants
Since Azealia Banks’ 2011 breakout hit “212″ captured my heart, mind, soul, and dancing feet, I’ve been reading up on the 20-year-old rapper and soon-to-be superstar. Almost every interviewer asks Banks about Nicki Minaj, which gets old fast for her, you, me, and the bourgeoisie. (With the possible addition of our lady Rye-Rye, they are the only two black female rappers currently generating major mainstream buzz. They also went to the same “Fame” high school in NYC. Ergo, endless comparisons.)
But one comment Banks made about Minaj in an interview with GQ UK stuck out to me:
It could just be that we were both inspired by Lil’ Kim. She did her thing with it, but I was kind of going to do a little bit of that same thing, with the characters, the pink and the Barbies. I wrote a song called “Barbie S***”. I was thinking “I’m going be black Barbie, that’s going to be my thing.” Then all of a sudden she [released it]! I was like, “F***! Did she have someone on my MySpace page? Is someone watching my Twitter? This is way too coincidental!”
The characters, the pink, the Barbie: was it really such a coincidence? I’m not so sure. As Banks notes, Lil’ Kim rapped about being “Black Barbie dressed in Bulgari” back in the early double-0s. There’s a French rapper who goes by the name Black Barbie. Atlanta rapper Diamond calls herself “black Barbie,” too. All signs point to the fact that Barbie’s big in the hip-hop world.
This common denominator set my mind whirring. What is it about Barbie–as a name, image, and persona–that appeals to these rappers? And what, exactly, does claiming a black Barbie identity mean in the context of hip-hop culture? For the purposes of this post, I’ll limit myself to talking about how Minaj and Lil’ Kim–who also happen to be two of my favorite rappers–use Barbie to represent and challenge mainstream standards of beauty and femininity. Continue reading