LIL KIM INTERVIEW ON: November 1999
We might have known the century wouldn't draw to a close without one last bombshell dropping into our laps right on cue. Presenting Lil' Kim, the rapper who's large on life, libido, and self-liberation. Her moment is NOW!
Paparazzi Loves Lil' Kim because her clothing has such a precarious relationship with her body that she makes Elizabeth Hurley and Rose McGowan appear modest. (Which was why Kim's demure appearance on the day of our interview was so shocking.) One would also assume Kim's ability to work the spotlight means she's a diva in the biggest sense. Surprise again: though she did, in true diva style, arrive three hours late to this interview, her manner once she got there could not have been more caring and apologetic. Doesn't she know that being a celebrity means never having to say you're sorry? But beyond all the outrageous outfits, Kim's fans love her for having one of the sharpest tongues in the rap business. Now, the twenty-three-year-old rap star (nee Kimberly Jones) is about to release the follow-up to her 1996 platinum seller, Hard Core (Atlantic). With her new effort, titled Notorious K.I.M., the blonde wee one Invokes an undying devotion to her late mentor, rap artist Biggie Smalls (also known as the Notorious B.I.G.), stakes her legitimate claim to one of hip-hop's great legacies, and reminds us of her place as a major player in one of hip-hop's great soap operas......
ANITA SARKO: YOU came on strong as a bare-it-all blond sexpot when you debuted with Hard Core. How have you changed in the three years since its release?
LIL' KIM: I think I'm more sophisticated now, more mature and graceful. I'm taking better care of myself. After I came out with Hard Core, I had to ask, What am I doing that everyone likes so much? It took me almost three years to realize the answer: I was just being myself. Now there are so many women out there who are doing what I did. But I'm Lil' Kim. I'm the one who started all this.
AS: Some people questioned whether Lil' Kim was really you or a character created by Biggie Smalls [Lil' Kim's onetime producer and boyfriend]. Having a famous mentor can be both a positive and a negative. Often people will assume that your ideas are actually somebody else's, and that you're just the front person.
LK: I admit, there were a lot of people telling me what to do. A lot of people's hands were in the pot. I didn't understand back then, so I let them. But I was also being myself, and that shines through. I have my own record label now [Queen Bee Entertainment], and no one pulls my strings this time around.
AS: The teachings of Lil' Kim seem centered around a woman who's taking responsibility for her own life, taking care of herself. Your message seems to be: Do whatever it takes to make yourself happy.
LK: My last album was about taking care of myself, doing what I needed and what I wanted. With my new album, I wanted to do what I felt in my heart.
AS: How did Biggle's death, In 1997, affect your work on Notorious K.I.M.?
LK: After he died, honestly, I wanted to remain a baby for a while. His death forced me to become mature too soon. And he was everything to me. My father, sister, brother. He would tell me when to go to sleep, when to wake up. It was crazy. So I wasn't very confident about this album. I was very depressed, very scared and nervous. Biggie had always been there to tell me what to do.
AS: How did you meet Biggie?
LK: We lived on the same block in Brooklyn. I always thought he was cute, and when I first started talking to him, I felt like I'd known him for years.
AS: How did you get Involved musically?
LK: I was working at Bloomingdale's, and friends of mine said to him, "You know, Kim knows how to rap." He was like, "Please! She's too cute to know how to rap." [At that time female rappers were wearing baggy jeans and Timberlands.] Then I just happened to pass him on the street, and he said,"Kim, I heard you know how to rap!" I blushed, and he said, "You don't know how to rap." He was a very good manipulator; he could get you to do anything he wanted. So I said, "Yes, I do," and I started rhyming. He knew that I needed work, but he also knew that with the energy he could put behind me, I could be the dopest.
AS: And the rap group Junior M.A.F.I.A. was the first thing he put together with you?
LK: Yeah. Biggie thought I was just going to be this little female in the back, this girl he'd put in the group because he loved me. But when we came out, everyone loved our songs "Get Money" and "Player's Anthem," and we blew up.
AS: What was It like to work with Biggie on Hard Core?
LK: Biggie was growing as a producer. I don't think he had grown to that point yet where he knew how to structure everything perfectly, but he knew what he wanted. When he was putting my album together, he knew what he wanted me to do. He'd go: "I want you to write to this beat." Biggie was a beautiful poet. He was like Langston Hughes. A lot of people always assumed that Biggie wrote for me. Yeah, he helped me out a lot, but I wrote all my music. I wrote everything. He may have written a few verses on my first album, but I'm gonna let you know right now, he was the only one that I would let do that for me. Biggie and I basically had the same mind, the same ear, the same ideas. He helped me the first time, so that means he's still helping me.
AS: And now Puff Daddy, Biggie's best friend, co-executive-produced your new record, Notorious K.I.M. How do they differ as producers?
LK: I think Puffy listens more from the consumer's ear, and Biggie listened more from the street's ear and from his own ear. Whatever Puffy puts out, he wants it to be the top-notch best. With Puffy, you'll write a rhyme and he'll go, "Change that; I don't like it. OK, now change that. No, I think you can write something better than that." So you'll sit there and rewrite the same song about fifteen times.
AS: Are you and Puffy both control freaks?
LK: Yeah, that's why we clashed in the beginning. I was picking my own music, but I was also listening to him. But I just wanted to do something different, something mellow. You know, something you can just cool out to. So when I got to the middle of the album I said, "This has got to stop!"
AS: Did he back off?
LK: After he saw that I had done a hell of a good job. He didn't realize it until he sat down and listened to every song, and then he was like, "Oh shit!"
AS: I love the track "Revolution," which has a guest appearance by Grace Jones.
LK: She was a ball of fire. I went to the Bahamas recently to finish part of my album, and she was there doing a show. She found me in the studio, and we partied for the whole weekend. It got to the point where I was like, Oh my God, I can't party anymore! [laughs] But I love her.
AS: Tell me about some of the other songs you've been working on.
LK: I have one called "My Aunt Dot," which is about menstruating. Before Biggie passed, he was like: "I know females call their periods 'Aunt Dot.' You need to do a song called 'Your Aunt Dot,' and you just need to freak it." He never got to tell me how to do it, but I guess I did it the way he would have wanted me to because everyone loves the song.
AS: What's the stupidest rumor you've ever heard about yourself?
LK: That I did a porno movie.
AS: I heard that!
LK: I would never do that! Never. ever. If I did that my career would be over right now. Because once you do that there's nothing left to the imagination.
AS: Do you think your audience has changed in any way since you started out?
LK: I have to admit, when I first came out, guys were loving me. Then all of a sudden it did a total 360. In my first three months on tour, my shows were packed with men. In the next seven or eight months, the whole front row was women. Now it's a mixture, with a lot of my fans coming from the gay community.
AS: Obviously all kinds of people relate to you.
LK: Yeah. People come up to me all the time and say, "Kim, you don't know how much you have inspired me." And I say to myself, God what am I doing? You know, in the beginning I didn't even want to be a role model to anyone because I didn't want to make any mistakes. I didn't want to be the one that people would point their fingers at if I messed up in front of them. But I understand now how important a responsibility it is. It took a while, but I understand now.
AS: But there's a difference between people who look up to you as a role model, who are inspired by you, and people who want to rip you off. Has that happened to you a lot?
LK: You mean like when people try to take my whole style and everything? [laughs] I'm sorry, but that is just so funny to me. You know, I'm a very spiritual person, and I believe that when God made you, he made you what you are. So when someone comes along and tries to clone you, they can't do it. God made everyone separately. If you're a certain kind of star, someone else can't come and be that same star. It can't happen.
AS: How did you meet your best friend, Mary J. Blige?
LK: It was about five years ago, and I was rapping with Junior M.A.F.I.A. Biggie took us on the road with him, and at one show where Mary was headlining, she and I bumped into each other in the corridor. It was like, Whoa! And she said, "Lil Kim?" And I said, "Mary J. Blige!" And she said, "Lil Kim!" And I said, "Mary J. Bilge!!!" And then we started screaming. I had this one song, "Backstabbers," about how I used to sleep with guys for money and how a lot of women stabbed me in my back, and she said, "I listened to that song over and over." And I said, "Really?" And she was like, "Kim, I love you." She gave me her number right then and there. We hugged for almost two minutes. We hung out from then on and she's my best friend now.
AS: I bet she's given you a lot of good advice.
LK: Yeah. She taught me always to go with my first instinct and always to be a woman. Back then I was always relying on guys. I'd say, Biggie wants me to do this, Puffy wants me to do that. And she said, "Kim, you are a strong, beautiful, and smart woman. You can make your own decisions." Whenever I felt like I couldn't do it, she would always tell me, "Yes, you can. And if there's anyone you need to learn from, it's me." One thing Mary's taught me is that I'm not the only one going through all this. As big as she is, she's going through similar things.
AS: Mary's obviously been a big influence on you. Has anyone else inspired you in the same way?
LK: Oh my goodness. Well, when I was younger I liked artists like Diana Ross and Betty Wright and Sade and, you know, I could go on and on, down to Prince and Janet Jackson. But I would say that the people who made me say I want to be in this business were Queen Latifah, Da Brat, Salt n' Pepa, and of course Mary J. Blige. They were definitely my inspiration to this game.
AS: Now that you've become so successful, has it put any strain on your relationships with your family? How are your parents reacting to your success?
LK: My mom totally supports me in everything because she knows the person I am.
AS: But I'm sure she's also hearing, "Oh my God! What a potty mouth!" Particularly from people who are jealous.
LK: Definitely. But my mom's got a Mercedes Benz, so she doesn't care. She's like, "OK, [makes a car noise]." [both laugh] "You want me to tell my daughter to stop cursing? Would you like a ride in my Mercedes?"
AS: That's beautiful! Do you still see your father?
LK: No. My parents separated when I was eight. My father was very militant and a scrooge when he wanted to be. I haven't seen him in about five years, and I haven't spoken to him in two or three. I was really happy to hear from him the first time he called, but he didn't have anything good to say. He said, "You know, I have a problem with the things you're doing. Can you tone it down a little bit?" I was like, "I haven't spoken to you in years, and you have nothing positive to say!" And he's supposed to be this Christian man and so spiritual. I love my father though. I wanted to go visit him for Christmas, but he wasn't home.
AS: Are you Involved with anyone romantically these days?
LK: No. And I don't even look anymore. For some reason, I just want God to handle it. I just want to say, hey, send me whoever he is. I'm so focused on my music that I don't even think about it.
AS: It must have been pretty tough for you when Biggie married someone else. [Biggie Smalls married R&B; artist Faith Evans in 1995, and separated from her a few years later.]
LK: Yeah. Obviously [after that happened] I had to ask myself, Do I want to be miserable for the rest of my life or am I gonna get ahead and move up? So I started getting myself together, making sure that it was about me. But just before he passed I saw that we had a future. Two weeks before he died, I spoke to him, and he said things he never would have said to me before. He said, "I love you so much and we're going to be together sooner than you think." And he said it repeatedly. To Biggie, once was enough - he was so macho. So I knew that there was a future. He said, "I want to make peace between us because I know I hurt you. You are a beautiful person inside and out, and I felt like sometimes I didn't deserve you and you deserve better." I said, "OK, I love you and I'll be there for you."
AS: Do you think you'll ever love anyone again the way you loved Biggie?
LK: Never! Biggie's the only person I will ever love and have ever loved, period. And whoever I marry will have to know that when I get to heaven, I will be with Biggie.
Interview By Anita Sarko on Nov/1999
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