Ride or Die Chick, Down-Ass Bitch, Bonnie and Clyde. We’ve all heard the songs, all sung along to the lyrics romanticizing the merits of that very special woman so loyal to her man. She’ll hold his stash, hide his gun, take the weight and go to jail for him—all in the name of love.
Now, in the case of hip-hop’s reigning female MC, life has truly, and bizarrely, imitated art. The first high-profile female rapper to end up behind bars, Kimberly “Lil’ Kim” Jones has emerged as a poster girl for the “no snitching” code that has penetrated hip-hop culture in recent years. Sadly, as she has found out, being that down-ass chick isn’t as romantic as it sounds.
In January, nine months after being found guilty of perjury in a case stemming from a 2001 shoot-out in front of New York radio station Hot 97 (WQHT), Kim sat in a federal detention center outside Philadelphia—the end result of a soap opera of a year she’d like to forget. In 2005, she endured not only an ill-fated trial, but also the very ugly, very public disintegration of the people she considered family for over a decade—Biggie’s crew, Junior M.A.F.I.A. Damion “D. Roc” Butler, a former boyfriend of Kim’s, and another associate, Suif “C Gutta” Jackson, entered guilty pleas in connection with the shooting, contradicting Kim’s previous testimony. Two more longtime cohorts, Antoine “Banger” Spain and James “Lil’ Cease” Lloyd, testified against her in court. Cease even produced a straight-to-DVD documentary, The Chronicles of Junior M.A.F.I.A., which aired dirty laundry and blamed Kim for the crew’s demise—this despite the fact that she’d been the group’s main breadwinner during the eight years since Biggie’s death.
In September, just days after she entered the maximum-security federal prison outside Philadelphia, she started hearing the stories her fellow inmates had told the press: She’d been locked in solitary confinement, she looked “like a wreck,” her hair had been butchered. The next week, her fourth solo album, Naked Truth, was released to great critical acclaim, selling over 100,000 copies and debuting at No. 6 on Billboard’s national albums chart. Two months later, though, it had fallen all the way out of the Top 200. Kim’s three previous albums have all been certified platinum, but with little promotion, and no follow-up to the popular lead single, “Lighters Up,” Naked Truth has yet to go gold. It’s sold a woeful 326,000 copies to date.
In January, a third of the way through her 366-day bid, Kim spoke to XXL over the telephone. Her sentence stipulates that she has to complete 80 percent of her time before being eligible for parole. But with rumors of a potential early release circulating, she was quick with a giggle and eager to address all the issues—including a surprising new hobby that might give a new meaning to her song “The Jump Off.”
XXL: First off, how are you feeling?
Kim: Oh, I’m good, I’m good. I mean, however, no one wants to spend their New Year’s, or Christmas or any of their time at all here.
How did you spend the holidays?
I just spent it, you know, praying. I always go to church on Sundays and Bible study on Tuesdays. So I spent it—when it came in at 12 o’clock, I spent it in my cell reading my Bible. And just before that, me and a couple of cell mates, you know, associates in here, we were watching TV. Just doing what we do, just being women doing our hard time. Fortunately for us, too, they let us do karaoke and stuff like that like on Christmas—just to give us a little bit of spirit [laughs].
What songs do you sing when you do karaoke?
Oh chile, they sing everything. They even got my songs on the karaoke list [laughs]. It’s so embarrassing. And they all do my songs, you know. It’s a blessing. Like, I get along with everybody. I respect everybody, but at the same time, I carry myself with an aura that demands respect, too.
When you first got in there, did you have any fears that people would treat you differently? Or about having a hard time with other inmates?
Nah, I’ve never had any fears, not at all. I knew there could possibly be a few people in there that could be that way, so I was, umm, how can I say it? I was prepared for it. I was, you know, expectin’ it. But honestly, I didn’t get any of that. The hatin’ and the haters that did show themselves, they were inconspicuous until they left outta here and gave false interviews about me, you know what I mean. And it was so false, talking about they cut my hair. Nobody cut my fuckin’ hair. But sometimes people be lookin’ for they little two minutes of fame.
For the most part, everyone’s been extremely, extremely cool. Like, Philly has showed a lot of love. I can honestly say that it’s the state of brotherly love. When I go to sleep at night, I have my headphones on and I listen to the radio sometimes. There’s a DJ here by the name of Golden Girl. Oh, I love her to death. I will always love her, because she is always giving me support. She says things over the radio like, “Keep your head up, girl. We love you, we’re praying for you!”
There were reports you were unhappy because you wanted to go to a minimum-security camp in Connecticut.
Yeah. I was like, “Why am I here? This is not a damn camp. What the hell is this?” I was like, this is some bullshit [giggles]. I’ll tell the truth, I was upset at first. But I have my own cell [here]. And from what I heard, the camp is like a dorm of 16 beds. Every girl is in that room, and somebody’s ass is in your face and somebody’s foot is on your leg. So for the most part, here you kinda have a little bit more privacy. Instead of me having to deal with 1,500 to 2,000 girls every day, there’s about 200 girls on my block. So on my block, you get to know everybody quick, and you kind of become a little family, you know what I mean? You kinda have to look out for each other, because if our block is dirty or if something’s goin’ down on our block, we all get penalized for it. So we have to watch each other’s back, you know. Jail is jail—you got your normal fights, your normal arguments, your normal situations. But you know, if you know how to hold yourself down, you’ll be fine. And if you know how to do what you do and just stay, you know, to yourself.
It must be tough. There must be days when you just don’t wanna deal. There must be some bad days.
Yeah. Oh yeah, definitely. Ooh yes. Let me tell you, I was fine until Thanksgiving [laughs]. But when I tell you that if looks could kill, I’da had another charge, I’m serious. ’Cause I was just, you could see it on my face, and my girls was like “Kim, you all right? You all right?” And I’d be like, “Yeah, I’m aight.” But you know, knowin’ that I’m just on fire inside. Just the holidays is the worst, the worst. I think for any guy, any woman locked up, it’s the worst. My assistant warden, when I go to work, she talks to me a lot. And so does my associate warden. They all say, “You’re going to be a little depressed around the holidays. But don’t worry, it’ll get better, it’ll get better.”
What do you do to keep yourself motivated?
My fan mail is what keeps me going. I got a letter from a 10-year-old girl, and she said, ‘Dear Lil’ Kim, I am so sad that you are in jail, and I pray for you every night. I started selling lemonade so that I can make money to bail you out of jail.’ [Laughs] I tell you, I was in tears. It was just the cutest thing, and you could tell it was so sincere. She sent me a picture of herself, and my friends were around and they were all crying. They were like, “This is just the sweetest thing.” I will [remember] her for the rest of my life. And when I come out, I’m gon’ look for that little girl.
Read the rest of this feature in the May 2006 issue of XXL (#80).