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Lil' Kim's Full Court Dress

Prim Makeover Fails to Sway Jury

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page C01

NEW YORK, March 17 -- The perjury trial of rapper Lil' Kim ended here today after the performer spent much of her time in court distancing herself from the provocative persona that has brought her both fame and wealth.

Kimberly Jones, which is the 29-year-old rapper's real name, tried to use an arsenal of ruffles and ringlets, bow ties and chignons to erase an image defined by pasties, exposed G-strings and plunging necklines. Her courtroom ensembles asked the jury to view her as innocent, naive, professional, hardworking, self-made . . . anything but an unsympathetic, self-indulgent sexual provocateur. On the red carpet, a nearly naked Jones might embrace the Madonna/Christina Aguilera/Britney Spears philosophy, in which a lack of clothing suggests sexual control, power and confidence. In Manhattan federal court, however, Jones was a believer in tweed blazers and blouses that buttoned to the neck.

Singer Lil' Kim arrives at court
Singer Lil' Kim arrives at court
Lil' Kim put a great deal of effort into distancing herself from her va-va-voom persona with prim buttoned-up ensembles. (Henny Ray Abrams - Reuters)

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But her Miss Marple style did not help. An entertainer's public image may be as fake as a spray-on tan, but sometimes it is indelible.

The jury found her guilty of perjury and conspiracy, and the Associated Press reported that she could face a penalty of as much as 20 years in the joint at her June 24 sentencing. Her assistant Monique Dopwell was also convicted.

Jones's legal woes had their beginnings in a 2001 shooting in front of the radio station Hot 97, where she had just made an appearance. The melee, in which one man was shot, was filled with rap cliches: feuding entourages, slur-filled rhymes insulting the competition, and gun-toting thugs who seemed to believe they were toughing it out in the Wild West rather than living high on the hog in Manhattan.

Two years after the shooting, Jones testified before a federal grand jury. Prosecutors said Jones lied about who in her entourage was present during the shooting. She said she made an honest mistake. Prosecutors said she thought she was above the law because of her celebrity. She said her celebrity persona is simply for entertainment purposes. Do not confuse scantily clad Lil' Kim with the demurely attired Kimberly Jones.

In October, Lil' Kim wore a black toga-style dress that had been slashed in all the wrong places to the Source Hip-Hop Music Awards. A mane of black hair was tossed insouciantly across one shoulder. On March 9, Jones arrived at Manhattan federal court wearing a frilly blouse that buttoned to her chin and was decorated with a thin, silky bow. Her hair was parted on the side and pulled back tightly into a schoolmarm's bun.

Lil' Kim's cleavage-baring MTV Billboard Awards getup. (Bill Davila - Reuters)
In August, at the MTV Billboard Awards, the rapper wore a black-and-white print evening gown with a corseted bodice that sat so low across her breasts that their areolae were visible. On March 11, Jones arrived for court wearing a bright red bow tie under an ivory tweed blazer. If Minnie Mouse ran a prep school, this could well be its official uniform.

Jones's rap star get-ups are styled to draw stares, tut-tuts and plenty of publicity, but her courtroom ensembles were just as studied, alternating between no-nonsense boardroom tailoring and girlie frills. There were businesswoman dove grays and pale blues as well as tea party ivory ruffles. If Lil' Kim looks as though she has been styled by a streetwalker, Jones looked as though the FCC had selected her wardrobe.

Entertainers spend so much of their time carefully crafting a public image -- sculpting a fantasy for public consumption -- that it is always startling, fascinating, disconcerting, when they abruptly try to strip it away. The vast majority of Jones's fame was built on her reputation for provocative attire. That image lured listeners to her music. It put her name into the cultural consciousness. It distinguished her from the crowd. Her style gave her an identity, the only one that the public has ever known.

And then, suddenly, she tried to push it aside and introduce someone new. She tried to convince a jury that the rapper was little more than an apparition. That the hustler dresses were just a costume. That the near-nudity was just part of an elaborate peep show. But Lil' Kim was a spectacle -- a Grammy-winning circus of saucy voice, extravagant cleavage, Barbie doll hair and tenacity. Kimberly Jones didn't stand a chance.

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