Wednesday (July 11) marks not only Lil’ Kim’s birthday, but also the release of her new single “Nasty One,” a fiery nod to her West Indian-meets-Brooklyn roots with the same level of seductive wordplay we’ve come to know and love from the Queen Bee over the past two decades. The track showcases both Kim’s lyricism and singing chops, the latter being something she’s tinkered with throughout her career, most notably on cuts including “No Matter What They Say” with Diddy and “Magic Stick” with 50 Cent.
In November, Kim will release her long-awaited fifth studio album, 22 years to the month that her solo debut, Hard Core, hit the streets. The new project is a return to form for the veteran MC, with some modifications. On-brand sexuality mixed with her signature street side are just two aspects of the legendary rapper’s persona that she’ll be exploring on this new project. There will also be some parlaying into uncharted territory, as evidenced on the “Nasty” single.
However, for Lil’ Kim fans, the new music only reinforces the archetypal presence that she’s maintained since she donned her first colorful wig back in the mid-1990s. It’s a testament to Kim’s staying power and, for her, a constant recognition of the current hip-hop landscape. In her exclusive interview with Billboard, Kim discusses her early uphill climb to insert sexuality into rap, from being banned overseas to performing at Disney World.
In listening to “Nasty One,” I can’t help but recall how many hurdles you had to jump over early on in your career to be this sexually free and expressive. Releasing this song, what does it mean to you, considering you’re the reason why women in hip-hop can even discuss these topics?
You know, it’s funny because I was on Instagram the other day and sometimes I go on my fans’ pages and go see what new stuff is out about me and whatever. Sometimes they post old stuff, and this one fan was posting video of a man in the UK showing my album when it came out and the Hard Core poster. He was doing it documentary-like [saying], “You guys need to never forget this girl was banned… Her music was banned, and now everyone—especially female rappers—is doing music just like her. You’re dressing like her, you’re singing like her, you’re talking like her. You guys need to always remember this woman that opened that door for you guys to be able to do that, because she broke down those barriers.”
And then there was another video right behind that of me being interviewed, and I was like, “You know when I first came out, I was so nervous because I was receiving so much negativity for me being sexually free. But it made me bigger.” It was so weird. I was nervous when I first came out like, did I do the wrong thing? Should I not have said this? Should I not have rapped like this or dressed like this? So for me now, to be able to go back to that, and it’s so accepted… I almost feel like I need to do something more, even bigger than that! So it’s comfortable and it’s cool for me to be able to do a song like “Nasty One.”
It’s funny because any time a female rapper boasts that kind of empowerment, it’s like they need to remember where they got that power from.
Yes! But you know what? If I could say things to girls now: I want them to use that power in the strongest way. In the song I say I’m nasty, but really only with my boo. And if you treat me right, and if you give me what I need as a woman and you respect me, then I’m gonna give you ten times what you’ve given me.
Where did the Caribbean vibe come from on the song?
Well, I’m from Brooklyn, so that’s all that needs to be said [laughs] and I have West Indian in my family so it’s just there: it’s in my heart, it’s in my soul. And it’s something I’ve done very well. Like with “Lighters Up,” which was one of my biggest singles, it had a Caribbean feel. My label, eOne, brought the [“Nasty One”] beat to me in the studio, and there was a guy who had an idea for it as far as the hook and everything. But I had an idea for how it should come across so I made it super Caribbean. I’m not gonna lie: it took me a long time to write this record, from the verses and even how I came up with the bridge part. That was…when I used to go to the underground dancehall clubs when I was a teenager, that was the type of song and beat that would be playing.
You’ve taken your time with putting out this single. When did you decide it was the right time to strike?
You know, I didn’t [laughs]. I had a different kind of idea for what my single would be like. Not that I even had an idea of what I thought the single would be, but every couple of weeks we would have a meeting with the record company. They would come in and have a big conference music meeting, and I would play songs. Everyone was like “This is the one! This is the one!” I was like, “Really? Ok!” I guess that’s just when you know… when everyone’s feelin’ it. And honestly, I want a happy medium of my music. I don’t want to be a duplication of exactly what I did back in the day.
Things change, and I want to give my fans what I did and little bit of something new. And another thing too: my fans have seen me on some hardcore shit. They’ve seen me on some gutter “I’m a gangstress, I will shoot your ass if you play me or you steal from me.” They’ve seen that. I’ve done that. And last but not least… I’ve lived that. So it’s like, let’s see another side of Kim. Why not? Let’s see a fun side, a sexy side… well that’s always there, but a lot of the music I’ve been making is about relationships. I have a song on the album called “Missing,” and it’s basically what it is: “if you keep playing with my feelings and my emotions, they’re gonna find you missing.” [laughs] So that gives a little bit of Kim, a little bit of new. It’s good to see another side. My music doesn’t have to be super gangster all the time. It’s nice to remind people that this is what I do, but at the end of the day I was a kid when I released my first album. Now I’m like this woman, this sexy kitten that knows myself now. I like having fun. I deserve to have fun. I had a whole baby. [laughs]
So in taking your time in putting this project together, a lot of the music out now is so microwaveable: they’ll slap together a song and put it up on SoundCloud. Since you’re wired to take your time with things, how do you adjust to how artists are currently releasing music?
I always heard that term “microwaveable,” but I never knew what it meant. I love a lot of the new music; love, love, love. And you’ve gotta remember when sonically the music was changing, I was still up in the club. A lot of the people I came up with, they started to fall back because things were changing. I was still up in those clubs. I was still moving, I was still out there: knowing what the new dances were, knowing what was moving. Even when I went away, when I went to jail for a whole year, I came back and jumped right into it — not completely in music, but I still was out there. So I basically feel like I kind of grew up with the new wave because I was seeing it happen.
I liked a lot if it, and every time I went to the club, I was thinking, “How can I combine what I do with the new wave?” But then there’s some stuff where you’re like, “What the heck?!” For the most part, I love it because I love new things. But what I will say is the part that is hard for me is the “Okay, let me do this in two seconds, and throw this out.” Everything is a masterpiece to me; everything is a project I handle with delicacy and care. I don’t care if my fans say I take a little bit of time. I don’t wanna wait too long, because nobody’s gonna wait forever, but the bottom line is I don’t wanna give nobody no bullshit. Even if you didn’t like it, at least know I put my heart and soul into it. I didn’t just give you something to eat that I just bought from the store and put it in the microwave like you just said. I’m really cookin’.
How would you describe the rest of the album?
I have a few songs that are my favorites, and every song has a different vibe. I think people are gonna be shocked. Even when they hear “Nasty One,” they’re gonna be shocked when they hear that whole song is me. When we got to the video shoot, my glam team was like, “Oh is the other artist coming?” We were like “What?” They’re like, “Yeah the other artist on the song.” Then [my manager] was like “That’s Kim,” and they’re like, “Oh shoot! That’s different!” And I like different.
Who do you want to work with as far as artists and producers?
I do want to do a remix with Kranium for “Nasty One.” A remix could be cool. The main producers I want to work with are Cool & Dre. I like them.
It feels like there are more women rapping now than ever before. Why do you think it was so much harder to do that when you first started? It felt like there could only be one woman in the space at one time.
I feel it’s like that now. Well, they try to make it like that. When I came out, there were a lot more of us out there, I mean with No. 1 records and platinum records. Not just one person with a platinum record. And we were young. I was like a child star. My first hit record I made at 17. By 18, I was a full-blown millionaire. I didn’t know what to do. I was like, “I get to have my makeup done?” My music when I came out, I think people thought I was more mature because of how I talked, but remember when we did “Player’s Anthem,” I was 16. By the time we got our deal for it, I was 17. They were like, “Who is this girl talking like this?” If they had really known that when I made that record I was 16, they would’ve been like “What?!” I mean, I remember doing the Rolonda Watts show with my mom. [laughs]
If you could redo “Ladies Night” today, who would be on it?
That’s an interesting question. I have a lot of girls that I like. I’ll keep that a secret in case something happens. Well the one thing I will say is before, we could make four-minute long records. Now if your record is two minutes, it’s a hit, so it’s hard now to get four girls on a record or five girls on a record. It’s gotta be strategically done.
With your album coming in November, are you planning to keep more albums coming after this one?
I think right at this point in my career, it’s just my foot on the pedal until the gas runs out, but I’m gonna keep refilling that gas tank.