Words Amy Linden
Photos Clay Patrick McBride

NEW YORK CITY’S Central Park South is a mixture of dyed-in-the-wool, Waspy Manhattan mega bucks and the glitz of the nouveau notorious. Side by side stand the symbols of those who will be keeping their fortunes for a while and those riding some IPO wave of excess. Stroll down CPS and you’ll see Chanel-clad, whippet-thin dowagers bumping bony shoulders with powder-puff trophy wives of the men the whippets are still collecting support checks from. And if that wasn’t enough socio-economic eye candy, there’s the park itself: an urban oasis and tourist mecca.

Lil’ Kim is no tourist: she was born and raised in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, but she can’t resist the lure of a handsome cab ride though the park. So Cam’ron associations be damned: it’s horse and carriage, me and Kim, 34 bucks, twenty minutes. Kim has rolled up a good three hours late but looking like she spent the time well: she’s a sexy smurfette with style to spare. Tinier than even someone tagged Lil’ should be and cute as all get out: clad in skin-tight, embroidered jeans, a school-bus-yellow, wrap-around halter top and a long blond wig that gently licks her shoulders.

Our driver has no idea who his petite passenger is, but is smitten as Kim sweetly asks if the top of the carriage can be pulled over to give us some privacy. It’s a futile attempt, and as we make our way through the park, Kim is greeted by passers-by who gawk at her with a hometown blend of amazement and indifference. She waves and smiles like some project Princess of Wales and when school boys call out her name, Kim giggles. The attention is part of the game and being a willing player is what helps makes Kimberly Jones Lil’ Kim.

Although the character didn’t come to fruition until the formation of Junior M.A.F.I.A. in 1996 (the group’s debut, Conspiracy, went gold and Kim’s 1997 solo joint, Hardcore, went platinum plus), there has always been a lil’ bit of Lil’ Kim inside of Kimberly Jones. The gal who sashayed onto the stage of the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards rocking a skin-tight, one-shoulder unitard, a purple pasty and a smile, is the same kid who sang in front of the TV.

Maybe she wasn’t crooning about her dick-sucking skills back then, but make no mistake, Kim always harbored a secret hoochie. “It was always in me,” Kim offers, as our ride clipclops tentatively through the confines of the park.