Much has been said recently about rapper Lil’ Kim’s much lighter skin tone.
But next week one of the favorite daughters of Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy will re-enter rap’s limelight as part of the vaunted Bad Boy Family Reunion tour at the Barclays Center. It seems melanin has left not only Lil’ Kim’s face, but also the borough she called home and the music charts in general.
Things have changed since the halcyon days Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy Entertainment in the 1990s. Black megastars Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Prince are gone. And hip-hop and R&B, in which Bad Boy excelled, appear to have been relegated to the backwaters of the music industry as pop stars Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Meghan Trainor dominate the airwaves.
What about Beyoncé, Rihanna and Drake, you ask? They are a minority. The complexion of the pop charts has changed dramatically since Teddy Riley, Babyface, Jermaine Dupri and hordes of soulful artists ran the roost.
The same also could be said of much of urban America, and certainly NYC. Some brownstones in historically black neighborhoods are selling for about $2 million and, according to census data, and about 17 percent of African Americans who moved to the South from other states in the last decade were New Yorkers.
When that happens, many music executives don’t feel the urgency to promote black music, and we end up where we are today. Shows such as Bad Boy Family Reunion exist for nostalgia — a memory of a bygone era.
I’ve interviewed everyone from Prince to Quincy Jones to Dr. Dre, Beyoncé, and, yes, Puffy and Biggie. I write this as a relative outsider: an Indian from England who’s lived in Brooklyn for two decades, filled with fond memories of NYC’s musical legacy and sadness that much of the city’s soul seems to have left.
As Chris Rock has told The New York Times: “I went to a block party in Bed-Stuy a couple of years ago, I remember a bunch of black kids singing along to Miley Cyrus, ‘Party In The U.S.A.’ In Bed-Stuy!”
We can’t be too mad at Lil’ Kim. Her logic may be skewed, but she’s probably just trying to fit in.
Jeff Vasishta lives in Crown Heights.