In 2002 "My Neck, My Back," Khia's bass-heavy ode to oral pleasure, took over the urban airwaves. Despite the song's explicit exhortations, it became a global, mainstream hit for the young rapper from Tampa. Her debut album, Thug Misses, sold 800,000 copies independently. Then the rumors began. First there was the well-publicized beef with Miami rapper Jacki-O over the self-dubbed "Queen of the South" title. Then Khia experienced conflicts with her label that resulted in her 2003 follow-up album, Street Preacher, being shelved indefinitely. And an urban legend circulated that she had passed away, either from an AIDS-related illness or at the hands of an enraged ex-lover. It's no wonder that when the surprisingly ebullient and eloquent hip-hop starlet is asked to address some of the increasingly incredible rumors, her tone becomes bluntly jaded.
"You know what, I been dead, so I'm so used to it. The industry is so full of shit. Radio personalities are there to make jokes and stir up gossip, just like the tabloids and the magazines. All they do is make up these ridiculous stories," she responds wearily. It's been four years since her breakthrough hit, and Khia is back to give the gossip mill something to grind about. She's about to drop her sophomore album, the gritty, multifaceted Gangstress, which is being released on her own label, Thug Misses Entertainment. She's also addressing the haters directly, facing up to her turbulent past, and making bold statements about many of her peers in the rap game.
To prove how real she is, Khia used a mosaic of her nineteen mug shots for the album cover. The photos, taken between 1994 and 1999, look like a hairdo hall of shame. In some shots her eyelids are heavy and her expression is resigned. In others she beams happily, as if she's posing for holiday portraits in a mall photo booth. "I was bad; I didn't even care! I was smiling, defiant, gangsta leaning back in the day. But I didn't want to put myself on the album cover butt-naked. I wanted them to see that this is Khia. It's a Gangstress move, 'cause look at me now," she laughs. "Lil' Kim ain't the first person to go to jail. There's plenty of us who ride big and ball, and fall just like the guys do. We all make mistakes, but I'm here to show my fans that you can do whatever you put your mind to, and it doesn't matter about your past."
Gangstress hit the store shelves July 11. Khia wants all of her fans to hit her up at www.myspace.com/khia. "I love MySpace. I want my fans to know it's not a publicist or somebody; it's me on the computer. I read all of my messages. I check it every day."
Khia is finally doing everything her way. "This is like my baby. I really enjoyed doing everything from scratch and making this album the way I wanted it to be," she gushes. The first single, the woozy "Snatch the Cat Back," is beginning to get radio and TV airplay. "I have my off-the-chain sexual songs, but I always try to put some conscious songs on there too. Definitely it's for the thug misses, for the ones who try to be so tough. We all make mistakes, but we all need to ask for forgiveness. I know they gonna love those songs, coming from me," she drawls.
More somber tracks on the album include "Forgive Me for My Sins," "For the Love of Money," and "I've Been Called a Bitch," the chorus of which proclaims Khia has never nor will ever be called a ho. Not exactly what one might expect from a woman whose last hit song demanded a tongue bath for the intimate crevices of her body. "A lot of females in the industry, their name has been scandalized. When you try to sleep your way to the top, the streets don't lie and people talk about you. It's like, yeah, Khia has been difficult to work with and she gon' put you in your place, but I'd rather be called a bitch than a ho," she explains. Khia takes pains to make her terminology clear. "A bitch handles her business, and a ho is just a ho," she explains with disdain. "I don't want to be a sex symbol. I want people to respect me as a songwriter, a producer, and a businesswoman. I can be a bitch because I'm dealing with a lot of corporate people. But I ain't gon' never be called a ho."
Khia's album doesn't waste time with stupid skits or stuff songs with braggadocious verses from other rappers. Gangstress is a showcase for her talent, period. "I'm not gonna say something that I wouldn't do. Definitely the real recognizes the real, and it's all love. The females can relate to me. They say, 'Khia, you so real.' You ain't talking about that bullshit, diamonds and tricking for a thousand dollars and I got a girlfriend. I talk about things that I been through and I believe in."
Which brings us to the rumor that Khia turned down the opportunity to perform a duet with Trina on the popular Miami rapper's latest album. That one is true. "For a lot of artists, music isn't really their life. It isn't really their dream. I mean, Trick got Trina out of Club Rollex. She was a dancer. It went from low-price tricking to high-price tricking.... This is what a man wants you to say, that they skeet down your throat, and these [rappers] just read it off a piece of paper like that's cool. So men are just looking at you, and they wanna fuck. They're not respecting you as an artist. And your female fans don't wanna hear that. You come onstage dancing with girls and y'all kissing. We don't wanna see that!" she huffs.
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Khia sees a big difference between her brand of blatant sexuality and that of her posturing peers. "I don't approve of it, just thinking that whoring is something to be proud of. I might be saying, 'My neck, my back,' but I'm still saying respect me, please me, make me feel good. I ain't gon' be like, I'll suck your dick, pay me, and it's all about money. It's about demanding respect and loving yourself," she explains.
She also has harsh words for the snowmen of the industry. "A lot of rappers is rapping about selling drugs, but they aren't really telling you about the downside of that life. If you talking about that mess, you selling your soul. Bitches is turning to hoes, and they need to ask the Lord to forgive them for their sins, and take responsibility for their actions. Even thugs need to know they need to get on your knees and repent because they're fucking up," she retorts.
In the future, Khia plans to open a performance space in Atlanta, and she expresses a desire to create a Thug Misses clothing line or wait for it a My Neck, My Back perfume. She dreams of working with Missy Elliott and her idols Lil Wayne, Mannie Fresh, and Lil Jon. She recently recorded a duet with Janet Jackson, and their collaboration provided fresh mulch for the gossipmongers, with reports appearing on several hip-hop Websites that Khia had made negative statements about Janet and Jermaine Dupri. When questioned about an anti-Janet quote attributed to her in an article on SOHH.com, Khia is flabbergasted. "Oh, that is ridiculous! Why would I say anything like that? Why would I not want to be a part of her album? It's Janet Jackson are y'all crazy? I don't know where they get these stories from!" she exclaims angrily.
Khia is busy writing some stories of her own. In addition to her increasingly message-based rhymes, she has written an autobiographical book called Gangsta Love, which she hopes to release by year's end. "You'll definitely be able to see where the mug shots and the songs come from. It's definitely something I want to bring to film. We need a Girlz N Da Hood! Guys always show their stories, but us women, we go through a lot of shit out here, and we need to bring it to life!"