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Eye on the News

Katherine Ernst
Lil’ Kim 101
A clown act joins the academic follies.
25 April 2005

Even to the most jaundiced university-watchers, it seems as though academia has been making a mockery of common sense and intellectual honesty with more than usual frequency these past few years. A few highlights: a Columbia University assistant professor wishing a “million Mogadishus” upon U. S. soldiers during the invasion of Iraq, Hamilton College’s unsuccessful bid to hire convicted Weather Underground terrorist Susan Rosenberg as an “artist/activist in residence,” and University of Colorado-Boulder prof Ward Churchill, the infamous faux-Native American who recently made national headlines by comparing the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack to Nazi Adolf Eichmann. So thank God there’s at least one nutty professor whose antics provide some comic relief (unintentionally, on his part) along with the obligatory eye-rolls.

Our comedian is Syracuse University English professor Greg Thomas—famous on campus last semester as the grand pedagogical poo-bah of “Hip-Hop Eshu: Queen B@#$H 101.” Tee hee. “Queen B@#$H,” for those of you not in the know, would be dirty n’ diminutive rapper Lil’ Kim (ne: Kimberly Jones), recently convicted on three federal counts of perjury and one of conspiracy. But it gets better, folks: the New York Post reported that Thomas will soon be “teaching a course . . . analyzing Kim’s lyrics on the American judicial system” in the wake of her legal troubles.

Go ahead and laugh, you ignoramus—for Thomas’s course was no exercise in celebrity worship or an “easy ‘A’.” As he told the New York Daily News in November: “It’s about her lyricism and the lyrical persona . . . new notions of sexual consciousness, sexual politics in her rhymes, how she deals with societies based on male domination in her rhymes and societies based on rigid gender categories and constructs.” (Phew!) In other words, Lil’ Kim is a hip-hop Virgil guiding students through the wonderful world of Gender/Womyn’s studies—and her Dante is not some Birkenstock-clad granola prof but rather a cool dude known as “G” to his students. After all, as Thomas wrote on allhiphop.com, “Kim’s whole system of rhymes radically redistributes power, pleasure and privilege, always doing the unthinkable, embracing sexuality on her kind of terms.” (We can assume Professor Thomas chucked his Paradise Lost lesson plans, since Milton’s “rhymes” didn’t aspire to touch on such themes.) So a drum roll, please, for an accurate sample of these awesome, sea-changing, worthy-of-college-level-studying lyrics (from her 2000 hit song, “How Many Licks?”)

    12 A.M. I’m on the way to the club
    After three bottles I’ll be ready to f--k
    Some niggaz even put me on their grocery lists
    Right next to the whip cream and box of chocolates
    Designer p---y, my s--t come in flavors
    High-class taste niggaz got to spend paper
    Lick it right the first time or you gotta do it over
    Like it’s rehearsal for a Tootsie commercial

Her kind of terms are some terms, huh?

This past (and future) Lil’ Kim course of study at private and respected Syracuse University represents the sad arrival of the inevitable. Deconstructionism, coupled with academe’s ongoing extreme “progressivism,” keeps bearing rotten fruit. When a philosophy that sees everything (no matter how low, base, or silly) as a text takes root in an environment that considers knee-jerk, America-hating dinosaur Noam “Zionist Conspiracy” Chomsky and the aforementioned Ward Churchill as living, breathing proof of its covenant with tolerance and enlightenment, it should come as no surprise that Lil’ Kim 101 and 102 exist. Or that a dean could pass off as scholarship the following classroom “lesson” (as reported by the Syracuse Post-Standard) without squirming:

    “Ya’ll know that Jay-Z joint? I got 99 problems?” [Thomas] asks his students. “How the chorus go?”
    “If you having girl problems, I feel bad for you son,” Thomas says along with the class. “I got 99 problems but a b@#$h ain’t one.”
    “The chorus draws an equivalence between a girl and a b@#$h. Is the girl a positive or negative?” he asks. “Negative,” they say in unison.
    “(Jay-Z) says his problems are bigger than a b@#$h.”
    Then he plays a Lil’ Kim joint. One where she uses Jay-Z’s line about 99 problems except her meaning is different.
    “It’s a whole difference articulation of the same words,” Thomas says.
    “Jay-Z says they’re beneath him. She says b@#$hes are not her number one enemy. Men are. See how it’s been flipped?”
    Scribbling notes, several students nod.

And for those of you who still think Lil’ Kim 101 and 102 borders on, er, barbaric idiocy, Thomas has dubbed you someone with “puritanical, colonial values.”

Should we care about such collapsing of the distinction between “high” and “low” art, between timeless, revered text and flippant pop culture? Does it matter that a university has put King Lear on the same plane as “Suck My D--k,” another Lil’ Kim gem? Or that it employs a cliche lefty prof who had the following to say about Kim’s convictions (mind you, her trial revolved around a shoot-out at a New York City radio station): “How do we communicate the political absurdity of this brilliant Black female artist facing hard time in the age of George ‘Weapon of Mass Destruction’ Bush, and all these corporate lies?” (Note to Professor Thomas: It’s not that absurd that Lil’ Kim is facing hard time when videotape was the key piece of evidence against her). We should care because academe’s progressive silliness is now seriously hurting the students it claims to enlighten.

Years ago an employer would see a B.A. in English from a prestigious university as a sign that a potential hire could read, write, analyze difficult texts, and know a thing or two about the accumulated wisdom of Western literature. Now the employer has to wonder if the degree means our potential hire can tell us how lines like “I got that bomb ass c--k, a good ass shot/With hardcore flows to keep a nigga d-- rock” function to keep those repressive men in their place. In short, our potential hire will soon find himself digging further into the want ads.

Degrees are cheapened when true classics become a footnote, and MTV stars become literary giants. Poor William Shakespeare. If only he had thought to bling-bling his sonnets up a bit.

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