Lil’ Kim rose to fame as a tough, raunchy gangsta girl, the Queen Bee of female rappers with rhymes that cast her as a powerful figure — a female Don in the male-dominated world of rap.
Now, as she prepares to release her latest album Tuesday while behind bars, the diminutive diva has added a new element to her persona — victim. In Kim’s eyes, she’s been preyed on by an overzealous government trying to punish hip-hop and jealous former friends who ratted her out in the courtroom.
“There’s no reason why I should be going to jail. There’s no reason why. There’s no reason. I didn’t shoot anyone, I didn’t do anything wrong the way they would say,” she told The Associated Press in her waning days of freedom. “It’s not as bad as it could have been, but do I think it was fair? No.”
Kim reported to a federal detention center in Philadelphia on Monday to serve 366 days for lying to a grand jury investigating a 2001 shootout involving members of her entourage and a clique loyal to her archenemy, rapper Foxy Brown.
On her new album, ironically titled “The Naked Truth,” Kim casts herself as a scapegoat of a government bent on cracking down on gangsta rap through investigations and prosecutions. In recent years, the “government against hip-hop” theme has become a rap mantra, as reports of police surveillance of rappers have surfaced and prominent rap figures have gone to jail or been indicted for various crimes.
“Unfortunately, me as a woman, I had to take one for the team, and when I say for the team I say hip-hop, because I was the poster child for the federal government, for their investigations,” she said, curled up on a couch in a posh Manhattan hotel suite, enjoying one of the last comforts of celebrity life before heading to prison.
Lil’ Kim, born Kimberly Jones, rose to fame more than a decade ago as a member of Junior M.A.F.I.A, an oversexed female sidekick in the rap clique created by her lover and mentor, the Notorious B.I.G. The 4-foot-11 rapper stood out with her flamboyant, Mae West-like personality and B.I.G.-written rhymes.
After Biggie’s death, Kim continued to shine, serving up platinum albums while morphing into a glamorous, outrageously clad style icon, through the miracles of high fashion and extensive plastic surgery.
But things fell apart for Kim after she was indicted for perjury for refusing to acknowledge the obvious presence of two friends at a shootout outside New York’s top rap radio station.
She was convicted in March. Though several high-profile rappers have been sent to prison after attaining fame, Kim is the first prominent female to do time — a fact not lost on her.
“There were so many more criminal cases in the industry that aren’t paid attention to, but yet I’m on trial for allegedly lying to the government ... I’m going to jail for a year. Does that makes sense to you? You’ve got people who get convicted for gun charges that don’t do a day,” she said bitterly.
It’s a rare flash of anger from a woman who offers no tears, confessionals or regrets about her situation. During her trial, she wore a stone face to the courtroom, and displayed no emotion before cameras tracking her every move.
“I think that whole situation was emotional. But that’s who I am. I handle it in my own way in my personal time,” she said. “Basically how I handled that whole thing is I kept God first. That was the main thing that helped me get through the whole thing and helped me to be able to walk into the public with my head held up high.”
Recording “The Naked Truth” was another way of handling the stress of her conviction.
“My record company (Atlantic Records) was like, ‘We’re going to give you a week,” Kim recalled. “I was like, ’What? I want to go into the studio tomorrow.’ That’s my passion, and that was the one thing that popped right into my brain, like studio, I need to go. It was more a release, not much really a relief, but a release, definitely.”
The album features collaborations with Snoop Dogg and The Game. She hopes it will showcase her versatility and prove her skills as a lyricist. She boasts that she writes all her own rhymes and beams when she mentions her latest single, “Lighters Up,” which has drawn vocal comparisons to Lauryn Hill.
“The reason why I love that comparison is because she’s so universal, she’s so versatile, and that’s what I’ve always been and I am and I’ve also tried to convey that. But for some reason people didn’t understand it, but now they do.”
Settling scoresStill, “The Naked Truth” is about more than artistic merit — it’s about settling the score with those she sees as her betrayers. Though none of her enemies — Foxy Brown and her former Junior M.A.F.I.A. partners among them — are mentioned by name, they are the subject of piercing jabs.
In the interview, Kim declined to discuss them, curtly dismissing Foxy Brown by saying: “Let’s not mention her ... she’s not on my level to me and I don’t deal with that.”
She also holds out for another reason: more details about her feuds will be revealed in an upcoming DVD which she promises will “explain what I went through, what really happened, and how deep it really is.”
With good behavior, Kim could be free in nine months. While some have suggested that doing time might make her seem even more gangsta — and therefore increase her record sales — Kim reacts with disdain at the mere mention that prison might enhance her rep.
She says the bid will make her “a strong woman.”
“That’s what I am, and that’s what it’s going to make me — even stronger. The bottom line is, whoever’s tried to ruin me, my career and my life, they’ve done (messed) up now, because it’s only going to make me stronger.”