it's your birthday lil' kim
The sexiest rapper in the world speaks like a child. Her words are as round as bubbles. Her intonation high and excitable. She sounds fickle and capricious, like a precocious seven-year-old describing her favourite toys. Lil’ Kim is actually talking...
Photography Steven Klein
But which Lil' Kim? The MTV Music Awards Kim with electric blue hair and lilac asymmetric catsuit slashed low, exposing one smooth silicone-perfect breast? Or bombshell Kim, platinum locks bobbing lightly off her waist in a silver chainmail Versace halterneck? Or Hardcore-era Kim, the brunette in an eau de nil trousersuit, reclining fireside against a backdrop of admirer's bouquets? Lil' Kim, hip hop showgirl deluxe, has an image for every occasion. A true fashion icon, she is able to exploit its language of continual self-redefinition like a pro. And her self-redefinition has been considerable.
She's come a long way, this baby. Born and raised in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, Kimberley Jones was kicked out of her family home by her father at the age of 15. She first stepped up to the mic as the tomboyish girl in hip hop collective Junior MAFIA, and rose to fame in 1996 with her explicitly pornographic debut album, aptly titled Notorious KIM, it's no wonder she seems like she's lived a thousand lives.
''I can't believe I'm a fashion icon. I love it! I hope it never changes because I love fashion and I love the chance to dress up,'' says Kim breathlessly. She is currently in transit from her home, a mansion in New Jersey, to the recording studio. She wears a pink Iceberg sweater, Gap jeans with embroidered beaded flowers on them, Timberland boots and a red mink coat. It takes a minimum of five hours and five people (stylist, manicurist, hairstylist, make-up artist and pedicurist) for this low-key version of Kim to be constructed into fashion-plate Kim. The Kim who appeared as a Louis Vuitton logo-patterned nude, part-human, part-consumer good, on David LaChapelle's Interview cover. Or the enlarged Iceberg Jeans Kim, who gazes at us through wisps of silky blonde fringe on the back of London's buses.
So not only is she the ultimate 'Geneva diva', fingers encrusted with rocks the size of ice cubes, wrist encircled with Cartier, Lil' Kim is the embodiment of high maintenance living. A showgirl who lives to show out, every party entrance a platform to upstage all other women in the building, every day an opportunity to work a fresh look. No wonder she's fashion's obsession du jour, fending off modelling offers from Calvin Klein and Dolce & Gabanna. Iceberg, she tells me, want to throw a special party in her honour in Milan.
New York Fashion Week was busy. Front row at Oscar De La Renta in a honey-colour fur, sporting freshly bleached brows. Front row at Sean John, Puffy's new clothing line. Hosting a press conference for MAC with Mary J Blige - the two were recently appointed the faces of MAC's Viva Glam 3 lipstick, of which proceeds go to Aids charities. Another Interview story, this time with Donatella. Kim immediately brightens at the mention of Italy's most famous blonde. ''I got the chance to go to her house and she was so sweet to me!'' she exclaims. ''She told me ''come into my room'' and she let me go through her closet and pick what I wanted. She's definitely one of my favourite designers, along with Gucci and Iceberg and Louis Vuitton.''
Of course, Kim has been rocking a look of luxury ostentation for the best part of five years. It's important to remember that she and street-sussed R&B and garage kids in the US and UK were sporting logo T-shirts from Iceberg, printed jeans by Moschino and patent leather puffs and gold jewellery during years when high fashion's dominant aesthetic was either ultra-minimal or bohemian and eclectic. 'Ghetto fabulous', the opulent cultural fantasy of an urban working class, existed way before designers like Versace and Galliano decided to alight upon it and deem logos and nouveau riche brash the next big thing. ''People in the hip hop industry are really starting to get more involved with the fashion world,'' observes Kim, ''which is great because we love to dress up.''
Kim's wardrobe is currently increasing at such a rate that she's having clothes stored on rails in the basement of her Jersey mansion. ''I have a whole room for my wardrobe already but it's not enough.'' Not enough to contain the collection which expands rapidly every time Kim pays a visit to favourite shops like Patricia Field, Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman, ''I must spend tens of thousands of dollars a month of clothes. I mean, sometimes I can't even count. Sometimes it's over that.'' The average budget for wardrobe on a Lil' Kim video is $50,000. ''The pink fur Donatella gave me was close to $30, 000. I also have a chinchilla that's worth $20-30,000. I have a lot of belts worth like $4,000 each.'' She currently has her eye on a pair of Dolce & Gabanna beaded boots that cost $20,000. ''I can't find them in my size though. I love boots, I love belts and I love coats,'' considers Kim. ''I really love accessories; they bring out your outfit so much, but most of all I'm really into boots. Prada have these really, really beautiful boots at the moment.''
'Lil' Kim, sit on my face'
'You are the bomb. I want to rub your breast all over my face'
'On the cover of 'Hardcore', is the picture of your vaginal area real? My friend seems to think that it's stuffed'
Emails post on the message board at www.lil'kim.com
Extreme wealth. Extreme fashion. Extreme sex. The world of Lil' Kim, like the gilded world of '80s sop opera Dynasty she namechecks on Hardcore, exists in total opposition to the mediocre hegemony of good taste. Like her dress sense, Kim's sexuality is bold brash and aggressive. On Hardcore, you're acutely aware that even the group of men slavering over her are actually her construct. Instead of kicking off her career like so many lame British starlets with some tasteful 'lad mag' wet-look shots, emblazoned with insidious 'phew Kim!' straplines, she took the initiative: donned a leopard skin bikini, opened her legs, thrust her crotch and looked hard as hell. Like Missy Elliot's Hot Boyz - possibly one of the most fabulous objectifications of men ever in pop: 'you're a hot boy a fun toy' - Kim's tracks ooze lasciviousness, smothering the male listener with her oestrogen-thick flow. The ultimate nemesis of rap's locker-room boys-together chauvinism, Kim constructed herself in the image of some peachy, booty-grinding, rap-vid babe. She pumped up her breasts from an A-cup to a C-cup. Took some cues from classic sex symbols like Marilyn Monroe and cheesecake calendar girls like Pamela Anderson. And then proceeded to ram her sexuality so hard down men's throats they choked. Or were, at least, very scared.
Does Kim read the messages on her website? She giggles. The kind of giggle that might be elicited by seeing a dog peeing up against a lamppost. ''Yeah, they're crazy.'' Is she worried? ''No, I have good security.'' I wonder how men react to a woman who delivers lines like ''I don't want dick tonight, eat my pussy right!'' and assess their sexual prowess and financial virility in such excruciating detail on record. ''It's funny 'cos I never get the chance to talk to guys,'' she ponders, ''I haven't dated in almost a year. You know what it is: a lot of guys are intimidated by me. I know that because my friends tell me. I'll say to them, 'why is he acting like that?' and it's because they don't know what to say. A lot times I mistake it for them acting kinda funny and weird.'' I suggest it might be because they're frightened they won't come up to scratch in bed. ''Well, that too,'' she agrees. ''I've been doing a good job of making myself happy so anyone who's gonna come after me...they've got their work cut out!''
Hip hop's first bottle blonde pin up has forged a strong bond with Pamela Anderson Lee. Lil' Kim made her acting debut in teen movie She's All That last year. Pammy subsequently invited her to appear in an episode of VIP, her cable TV show. Kim also rapped on Tommy Lee's Get Naked single. ''Pamela and I are the same sign and we get on so well. We're like sisters that were separated at birth! She's someone I totally look up to in Hollywood. She's so beautiful and sexy. I love her to death.'' Despite once luxuriating in the role of mistress, Kim is surrounded by close female friends. Mary J Blige and Missy Elliot and, more recently, Pamela and Toni Braxton (who appears on The Notorious KIM).
Girls seem inspired by her. At Kim's website, one girl relates how she ended up on probation after an argument where she defended the star's good name escalated into violence. Other girls attest to her beauty or declare they want prom dresses informed by her fashion sense. It's take 20 years for hip hop to get to this. An age where there are now more inspirational female figures than male. And such diversity. Wholesome and righteous like Lauryn. Furious and fucked up like Left Eye. Space age and psychedelic like Kelis. Lil' Kim, like Foxyy Brown (who was recently cautioned by the police for drunkenly loitering in the grounds of Kim's mansion and peering in at the windows), turned the double indemnities of babe and bitch into glorious feminine power. Who cares about the boring pomp of Puffy when you can dig the pumped-up cute of Lil' Kim?
Ironically, just as ghetto fabulous splendour becomes the height of chic, the scene itself may be on the verge of collapse. Puff Daddy's current court case, where he stands accused of possessing firearms, could see him serve ten years in prison. Sounding the death knell, in appropriately bombastic style, of rap's brief and bright ghetto fabulous years. Appropriate closure for a pop culture phenomenon played out like camp opera. The money. The murders. The feud and counter claims of Biggie's grieving women: Faith Evans, Lil' Kim and Charlie Baltimore. And presiding over it all, like some streetwise Liberace, Puff Daddy. Cream Versace suits and excessive gold jewellery really are a figment of fantasy on the inside. ''I'm very worried if Puffy goes to prison 'cos I've already lost one mentor in my life and that would be another one gone,'' worries Kim. ''He's basically like my manager. He runs my life. It would be another big dip for me. Another road to depression, another big change in my life.''
The first road to depression was, of course, the death of Biggie Smalls. Three years on, she still seems dulled by grief. ''I've gone through so much. And that's the reason this album has taken so long. I'm going through a lot of fighting right now, period. Dealing with his death. Dealing with a lot of things I didn't have to deal with before. I'm still trying to get over the impact of it. It never really goes away.'' Even her current heightened celebrity can't remove the sadness. ''It's a lot of work being a celebrity and it's not all fun,'' sighs Kim with genuine disheartenment. ''We go through money problems we go through depression we go through wanting to be ourselves, days when we can't, and we women all get our menstruation.'' Is she happy? ''I can't really say I'm happy at the moment.'' She sighs again and pauses. ''You know, I think I'm God blessed to be here and to be alive, so I'm trying to make myself happy. Hopefully one day I can become content.''
The Notorious KIM, four years in the making, is due out at the end of the month. ''There's a little bit more variety than the last album because the last album was mostly sex,'' explains Kim. ''This album has a whole bunch of things: sex, life itself and everything I've been going through over the last four years. Collaborations with Toni Braxton and Grace Jones feature. ''Grace Jones is a ball of fun. She just loves to have fun all day,'' exclaims Kim. Her favourite track is called I'm Human. ''It's basically saying inside we're all animals. Often when you first meet someone they're real cool, then when you have sex they turn into animals...hee hee!'' They are currently deciding on a single, with three possibilities in mind. ''I guess that's a good problem to have.''
Lil' Kim's clothing line, the Queen Beetique, will debut with a capsule collection in summer and a full range towards the end of 2000. ''I wanna have comfortable clothing and I wanna have sexy clothing. We'll have lingerie and also casual wear. I wanna do everything.'' MAC is currently looking into creating lip and eye colours named after her. And maybe in 30 years time, ageing glamour queen Kim will still recline on a white shagpile in her Malibu mansion, painting her predatory acrylic talons with her own divinely unsubtle Lil' Kim nail colour and having her toenail extensions buffed to perfection. Will she continue to wear a bikini in her old age? ''If I still look good then, definitely, yeah.'' Really, I didn't need to ask.
Text Bethan Cole
Photography Steven Klein
Styling Patti Wilson