‘I’m a girly girl,’ says Lil’ Kim. ‘I’m strong but I’m very timid. Very dainty.’
This, it should be noted, is the same Lil’ Kim who wrote Shut Up Bitch, Suck My D*** and How Many Licks. She’s the New York rapper who took on hip hop’s big boys, the pint-sized catwalk model who dresses like a hooker and gets into beefs with rivals.
The convicted perjurer who spent a year in prison after lying to a federal grand jury about a 2001 shooting. The member of Notorious BIG’s Junior MAFIA who dated Biggie until he dumped her for Faith Evans. The diva who won a Grammy for chart-topping single Lady Marmalade, alongside Christina Aguilera, Pink and Mya.
Unfortunately, we can’t really talk about these things. Half an hour before our scheduled interview – which coincides with her headlining the Lovebox Festival, her first British date since 2001 – a US publicist calls.
She tells me Lil’ Kim will not answer questions about prison, Biggie, plastic surgery or her numerous feuds. Otherwise, the call will be terminated. ‘I am doing this to protect my client,’ says the publicist. ‘Lil’ Kim is a legend and she is in a different place now.’
I keep the questions inoffensive. Two members of her US management team and a faintly embarrassed British press officer are monitoring every word, ready to intervene if the Queen Bee is in any way traduced. I learn that Lil’ Kim is, for the duration of this phone call, wearing a T-shirt, panties and a pair of Louis Vuitton slippers.
That she has a lot of shoes (‘I have turned one of my bedrooms into a shoe closet’). That she has a tennis court in her backyard (‘I suck at most sports but I love playing tennis. And volleyball. And I can do double dutch pretty well’).
That she loves cooking tilapia fish (‘with asparagus and rice’). That she had three beauty parlours (called Salon Se Swa By Queen B) but fell out with her business partner and now has only one, in Charlotte, North Carolina.
That she gets sick of outlandish press stories (‘apparently I’m pregnant every damn month!’) and that she’s just done ‘some next-level things’ for a Hollywood movie but doesn’t see any relationship between singing and acting.
‘I ain’t acting when I’m on stage,’ she says. ‘That’s why all the little love bugs who’ll come and see me at Lovebox love me. They know it’s the real me.’
Just as things seem to be going well, I ask her what hip hop she likes at the moment, and the conversation grinds to a halt. ‘Don’t take this as a disrespect,’ she says, haughtily, ‘but I hate that kind of question.’
Why? ‘When you are a real artist who is serious about your craft, you love good music. Period.’
Well, what music have you been listening to lately? ‘Everything.’
Really? Opera? Free jazz? Thrash metal? ‘Every type of sound.’
After several minutes of guff about ‘good music being good music’, she says she likes 2 Chainz, Drake, Gotye and some Justin Bieber songs, as if confiding a state secret. She also reveals that, although her upcoming album (as yet untitled and with no release date) has been produced by Shondrae ‘Bangladesh’ Crawford, it also features a collaboration with songwriter Diane Warren, queen of the power ballad.
‘Nobody who knows Lil’ Kim and Diane Warren would think that the two would record together,’ she says. ‘She gave me what I think is going to be one of the biggest songs ever. It’s mainstream pop mixed with hip hop.’
Lil’ Kim is still one of the very few major international female rap stars. Is hip hop an inhospitable arena for women?
‘It can be but it’s getting easier,’ she says. ‘That’s where people like myself and Missy Elliott and Lauryn Hill come in, ’cos we had to break that barrier. But think about it – all of us came through a man. Even Missy came in through Timbaland. So it’s tough.’
Kim has become notorious for escalating petty feuds – with the likes of Foxy Brown and Nicki Minaj – to dangerous levels. Does she think she’s had to exaggerate certain confrontational traits that we might describe as macho?
‘I don’t know,’ she ponders. ‘I’m the first woman to come into the industry who actually dressed like a fricking girl! Before me, women in hip hop were predominantly dressed baggy. Salt-n-Pepa were sexy but you never saw them in bikinis and bathing suits. I brought a different type of sexy.
‘But, at the same time, you gotta get down and play with the guys. It’s a great treat. It’s like being a woman who can beat the guys at basketball and still get on the runway and look like a freaking drop-dead gorgeous model. That’s what it’s all about.’