Lil Kim Is The Baddest Girl Alive
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.
I’ve always done [wild things] except that now I have little more money, I would say and a little more reason to do over-the-top things. Even when [I was younger] and I would go out to a party, I would always be different. My friends and I would all have the same amount of money and all go to the same store and I would come out with something different. It was always in me to be over the top.” She leans in as if to impart some deep secret. “One of my girlfriend’s parents called me an exhibitionist!”Kim giggles. “I guess I can be to a certain extent, but,” she fixes me with a serious look, “Not in a bad way.”
In an industry loaded with brats and bastards, Lil’ Kim is universally adored. Why? She is genuinely nice, no mean feat in the music industry. Even with a case of low self-esteem that would keep a crew of feminist shrinks working overtime (tell Kim she’s pretty and she immediately deflects the compliment by complimenting you and recalling how she was teased for having facial moles), Kim is proud to be pleasant. “I’m a very fair person,” she offers. “I’m not evil and I’m not rude.”
She may not be rude, but Kim sure is raunchy. Of course, sex sells. Selling sex to men is not that, uh, hard. The talent comes in selling sex to women. The talent is persuading those who are often objectified to see past the cursing and the peek-aboo bras, the Blow-Job-Barbie image, to find the woman that lies within. Sure, some have decried Kim’s antics as those of a porn star, but her cleavage-popping theatrics are actually more akin to burlesque than the grimy, grainy world of 16 millimeter. Kim is less a threat to family values than she is a drag queen trying to grab attention, using what God (and a plastic surgeon) gave her. She means no harm and that’s why many women adore her. Or perhaps more accurately, don’t condemn her or dismiss her as just some skank, as is often the case with Kim’s perceived rival in the raunch department, Foxy Brown. Maybe women dig Kim because Kim digs women.
“I love my girlfriends,” Kim offers. “They keep me grounded and not only that, women need women in their life. Period. You need a woman that is gonna be as real as you are. That’s the only people I subject myself to, only real people. People who are sorta like myself, who understand.”
You may be surprised to find out who Kim’s new gal pal is. None other than Pamela Anderson Lee. The busty bombshells met in the usual have-my-people-call-your-people manner, the meeting driven by mutual admiration. Since then Kim and Pamela have kept up a fairly steady phone relationship as well as a professional one. Kim filmed a guest spot on Pamela’s hit series VIP and raps on “Get Naked,” the rap-metal romp from Pam’s man Tommy Lee’s solo CD Methods of Mayhem. Speaking of the newest member of his motley crew, Tommy offers via email “WE LOVE THE QUEEN BEE!!!”
In a pop culture universe, Kim and Pamela make sense. Both women rose to the top of their respective heaps on a wave of sexual energy, both are seen as tools of more influential or persuasive men and both are frequently underestimated as far astheir business skills and intelligence. Asked what she saw in Pamela, Kim answers quickly.
“Myself. I’m Black and of course she’s white, but we’re the same. I would love to look like her [some might argue that Kim’s recent fondness for blue contacts speaks to her desires]. Pam was saying that she said to Tommy, ‘Me and Kim are gonna be friends for a long time,’ and I said, ‘You know something Pamela? It’s hard for me to be real, for me to be myself around you cause I love you so much. It’s just hard.’ But she was like, ‘Oh, girl don’t you worry. I think with us being around each other more and calling each other more, that will help. We are gonna be fine.’ She was so down to earth and I would think someone of her status in Hollywood would not be. She was just beautiful. She said, ‘I think you and I were separated at birth.’ And I was like, ‘I know, ‘cause we were just born to be sisters.’”
Things may be cool between Kim and the estrogen set, but it’s the men in her life who have been causing her grief and, by extension, helping to further the multiple delays of the release of her second album, Notorious K.I.M.
Like an episode of a day-time talk show, Kim has found herself the unwitting participant in a hip-hop version of Smart Women Who Choose the Wrong Guys. One could argue as to whether this weakness, so common amongst women, also extends to her personal life. Especially when Kim, while discussing the possibilities of love since the death of her true love Biggie Smalls, mentions that she is “dating” Steven Seagal. Seconds later, she would amend her confession by stating that she and the Buddhist actor are “just friends.” But if Kim’s romantic instincts aren’t in question, her business ones often are.
For more than a year there has been public drama between Kim and Lance “Un” Rivera, once an old friend and founder of Undeas Records, through which Kim’s Queen Bee imprint is distributed. In the four month period, between interviews with Kim, Un went from being co-executive producer of Kim’s forthcoming CD to being completely ostracized from the recording process. The mere mention of his name brings disgust to Kim’s face. “He’s very evil,” she says firmly. “I don’t wanna have anything to do with him anymore. He lied to me several times. I tried. I gave him my hand and said, ‘Let’s do this, again. You helped me blow up my videos for ‘Crush On You’ and ‘Ladies Night.’ Let’s do this again.’” Kim’s eyes narrow. “He shitted on me!” she exhales. And adds for the record. “Lance has absolutely, positively nothing to do with this album. Nothing.”
There are many reasons for the split. The first was Un’s decision to form Untertainment (which last year lost its distribution deal with Sony, much to Kim’s I-told-you-so delight) and sign rapper and ex-Biggie squeeze Charli Baltimore. As Kim sees it, that move was a middle finger salute. “He was like, ‘I got new artists,’ and I was like, ‘OK, if you feel that way, fine.’”
Back in October, before Rivera made headlines as hip-hop’s most infamous stabbing victim and alleged bootlegger, he was asked about Kim’s fury. “In the beginning of me forming Untertainment, I told [Kim] I was making these moves and she was welcome to be a part of them,” Un revealed via telephone. “She wanted me to concentrate on her more, but I had to grow as an executive because it’s not just about one artist. [Signing Charlie] goes back to me being able to grow as a business person and not being personal. That’s something that you have to deal with, like if you had Mariah Carey, you wouldn’t sign Whitney Houston? I supported Kim in her personal life, but it was messed up because we were all intertwined personally. It wasn’t just business. I made the decision that I had to.”
With Un out, the door was left open for another old friend, Sean “Puffy” Combs. The official bearer of the B.I.G. torch, Combs serves as Kim’s manager and co-executive producer on Notorious K.I.M. though Kim quickly asserts that he’s actually more of a consultant than musical mastermind behind the album. Perhaps Kim’s hesitance to lend Puffy credit for any major decisions on her CD is that, as a music mogul, the once shining light of hip-pop has seen his fortunes and status dim of late. His sophomore CD Forever tanked and on the personal tip, he’s currently under indictment for his involvement in the December 27 shooting at Manhattan’s Club USA.
Kim doubts that Puffy, to whom she refers as a brother (for his part he says Kim reminds him of his mother —you do the Freudian math), did any wrongdoing and, like P-Diddy’s boo Jennifer Lopez, swears that Combs doesn’t even own a gun. Whatever Combs’ criminal record might be, his musical record hasn’t been too happening of late, leading one to ask why Kim would hitch her artistic wagon to someone who is clearly off his game both in and out of the studio.
“Puffy is definitely public enemy number one a little bit,” Kim offers when questioned on her close ties to the troubled star. “But I’m very loyal to someone who I feel has been loyal to me. People go through ups and downs, and if you’re a real friend you’re gonna be there through the ups and downs because when he comes back up, who’s gonna be there?” Trying her best to explain their bond, she offers. “You ever had that one cousin who’s a fucking bastard when he wants to be, he’s a spoiled brat, he gets on your nerves, but he’s there? You love him.”
Puffy’s love manifests itself in varyious ways. Although Kim insists it’s not only about gifts, Combs is lavish when it comes to her. Kim shows me a diamond encrusted pendant that Combs gave her for Christmas. It’s a Chinese symbol that means “success.” Kim beams as she holds up the glittering pendant. “He’s been there for me and hopefully people will later see a different side to him.”
With the long-awaited release of Notorious K.I.M., Kim is hoping that the public will see a different side of her as well. Her acclaimed cameo with Mobb Deep on the remix of “Quiet Storm” showed Kim in fighting form, hurling out hardened rhymes like a pro. Ask her about her new CD’s direction and she reveals, “I had to move to some new places. I had to move to another place with sex.” She drops her voice as if she’s a bit embarrassed. “We all know I’m fucking, OK? I still do a little bit of that on the album. But over the past two years, I’ve realized that I have a bigger fan base, but I don’t have the fan base I want yet. I want people in China to say ‘Lil’ Kim’ like how they do ‘Michael.’ To me, the key to being a great entertainer is that on your next album you should always grow. And that’s what I did. Trust me, I love Hardcore but now it’s time for something different.”
To get to that different place Kim has hooked up with an array of talent, from Grace Jones and Toni Braxton to Rockwilder and Mario Winans. Much of what she recorded prior to her break up with Lance has been scrapped, and with her money and control situation worked out with her label, Kim has been in the studio or holed up at Puffy’s Hamptons hideaway, writing, recording and readying her new CD. “I know on this album I’m giving these niggas a run for they money,” she boasts. “The way I’m spitting on this album? It’s like Big is just all in here, ‘cause I just pray to God that I adapt to his flow.”
She might still look to her late love for some sort of guidance, but deep down, Kimberly Jones knows that with her second album, she is gonna have to prove her worth—on her own. Without Lance. Without Puffy. Without Biggie. For the first time in her career. Yet despite the obstacles of having to come back and reassert herself, despite the chaos that seems to swirl above her head like hawks over prey, Kim is sanguine and oddly confident. She even seems at peace. “I know that God is gonna take care of me and Puffy’s definitely not God. So he can’t do anything for me that I can’t do for myself or that God can’t do for me. Even Biggie. I love Biggie to death but he didn’t make me. I made me.” Kim smiles, brushing her hair out her cornflower blue eyes. “I’m happy with my career.”