Lil Kim's debut, Hard Core, still sounds bracing, ribald and funky nearly 20 years after it came out. But the MC has not released an official full-length since 2005. The only way to hear from her now is through the occasional mixtape, and one of these arrived last month. Lil Kim Season combines originals with re-workings of contemporary hits – Drake's "Summer Sixteen," Rihanna's "Work," Desiigner's "Panda" – and plenty of signature Kim-isms. Case in point: "He said that he proposed on his last album/Damn, I never heard his last album."
"We still workin,'" the rapper tells Rolling Stone. "We ain't gonna stop." Kim has plans in the works for new videos – especially one for "Mine," her collaboration with Kevin Gates – and more music, though she won't share many details. In May, she'll join the rest of the extended Bad Boy family for a show honoring Notorious B.I.G. at the Barclays Center. RS caught up with the rapper to discuss her latest release.
When did you decide it was time to put out a new mixtape?
We kind of decided at the last minute – we had around two weeks to finish it. When we started a couple songs that we put out, like the "Panda" record, we were like, "Oh, gosh, let's just finish it." We kind of had an idea, but we didn't know when we wanted drop it.
Are you used to working that quickly?
I've always had that ear. I know what songs I like. All the songs that we did over, those are my favorite artists, and those are some of my favorite songs that are out right now. There's a lot of great songs out right now. As far as the original beats, I know exactly whether I like it or not, within the first couple seconds of the intro.
When did you first hear "Panda"?
"Panda" got really big in New York being that Desiigner is from my hometown, Brooklyn. That was an automatic "I gotta do this record." It gave me the opportunity to do my Hard Core flow on it. All the new guys that come out of Brooklyn, I'm always cool with them. I always show love, because I know how the struggle is. I did Bobby Shmurda's record when it came out; I did Desiigner's record; I didn't get to do 2 Milli's record, but I would have done that had I been in the right place at the right time. I did a couple shows with 2 Milli. I'm always connected with the new guys – I just be so proud of them coming from my hometown. From the beginning of my career, I've always supported the new artists. Sometimes the new artists don't embrace me, but that's not my problem. Somebody gave me that chance.
What inspired you to work with Kevin Gates?
I liked "I Don't Get Tired." I don't care what nobody says; I loved that song. He put out a tape after that; I loved that tape. He's crazy in all the right ways. He's a good crazy. If you know him, you know that he's a spiritually good person. We talk on the phone sometimes, and he'll give me some pieces of knowledge that I can keep with me.
Are you singing more than you used to?
Everyone needs to go back and remember my older music. I even used Auto-Tune back when no one even was touching it – I used it on The Notorious K.I.M., on a song called "I'm Human." I sang on all my albums; this is nothing new to me. It's just that people haven't heard from me in a while, so they only remember most of the singles that were put out. People need to remember how different every song I put out [was]. "Kitty Box" sounds like something that would be out now. I was ahead of my time, all the time.
What do you think about New York rap right now?
The one thing people need to understand is that in music, everything moves in cycles. Just be patient and wait your moment. That's why we just had Lil Kim Season. You're in season; you may be out of season for a little bit; everyone comes around full circle. You have to know when the music is changing, and it's coming full circle. I always reinvent myself. I've never left the scene; I've never missed a beat. I was always in the clubs; I was always at somebody's show; I was always in the midst of it. So I feel like a new artist sometimes to people – that's a blessing. New York music is definitely making its way back – it's a blessing.
Puff Daddy just announced that Bad Boy reunion show.
Yes, the day before Biggie's birthday. We're gonna count down till his birthday comes in. It's gonna be great. This time I think we almost got everybody. Kima, Keisha and Pam from Total haven't really been rocking together, but they're all gonna be there, which is super awesome.
Did you play the new mixtape for your daughter?
Some songs she already knew because she hears them on the radio and heard them in the house when we were playing it. If I put on a beat that she likes, we automatically know – she starts bobbing her head.