The trouble with visiting a strip club at 11 o'clock on a Tuesday morning is that the elements which make a strip club what it is--unclothed ladies and nervously sweating businessmen--aren't there. No matter how hard you try, it's difficult to get aroused by a cleaner polishing tables.
In this respect, white-haired Lothario Peter Stringfellow's famous groin exchange in London's Covent Garden is no different to any other before midday. But it is here, among the erotically lit leopard-print armchairs and bloated golden cherubs that leer from its carpeted walls, that New York's most jet-lagged lady of rap, Princess Superstar, is to meet selected representatives of the British media. It is, frankly, an honour.
"Why are we in Stringfellow's? Because I am sex," the Princess coos, having slipped out of her photogenic silky number into a more pratical combination of blue Adidas tracksuit top, black hipsters and gold heels. "Lap-dancing has always been fashionable, though I've never done it," she adds, dipping her tongue into her cappuccino. "Once I was like down and out and I was like, 'Oh, maybe I should just strip.' And then I was like, 'No, 'cos that would ruin men for me.' I wouldn't like men anymore and that would suck."
Today, Princess Superstar claims she is 28 years old. In July last year, when she took NME thrift-shopping round Manhattan on rollerblades, she was also 28. We believe her to be under 30. Sitting to her right, gazing deep into her eyes, we will gladly believe anything she says.
This much is true: her real name is Concetta Kirschner, she has long blonde hair and she's not afraid to remove the majority of her clothes during photo sessions. She is also one of the smartest and best female rappers in modern hip-hop and her excellent fourth album, 'Princess Superstar Is,' a glitzy cartoon romp soundtracked by trippy pop and immaculate beats, is significantly more colourful, provocative and imaginative than, ooh, say, Missy Elliot's recent hype-inflated effort.
An independent woman in all senses of the term, Princess Superstar self-financed and co-produced her first three albums--'Strictly Platinum', 'CEO' and 2000's superb "Last of the Great 20th Century Composers'--and then released them on her own labels, A Big Rich Major Label and The Corrupt Conglomerate. Until she signed a licensing deal last year, she would spend the daytime working at the Financial Women's Association in New York's Union Square. "Oh yeah, typing was so quite enjoyable," Kirschner deadpans, although she admits to surreptitiously running her label from the office. Now she can afford to make music and construct rhymes 24-hours-a-day in her East Village Apartment.
If her first three albums found Kirschner asserting herself in the music industry and developing Princess Superstar as NYC's premier salacious'n'sassy lo-fi hip-hop Aprodite, then '...Is' paints a more sympathetic picture of the person behind the facade. But there are still peerless party tracks, such as 'Bad Babysitter' and the Kool Keith-starring 'Keith 'N Me', in which rap's most lucid basketcase entertains La Princess with threats of sexual practices illegal in some countries. "When I saw your face I'm a believer/Why don't you get the keys to my beaver?" sleazes Superstar, while Keith offers to dress her in a "catsuit made from ostrich."
"What I set out to achieve with this record is to continue to have the funny tracks and the party tracks and the sex tracks but then on a few songs I get a bit more real, personal, vulnerable," she says, thinking fo the more serious likes of 'You Get Mad at Napster' and 'Untouchable.' "But I don't wanna tread to far into that territory. I like the balance."
NME: So are your Superstar sex tracks taken from experience?
PS: In a way, but it's still like a character.
NME: But there must be plenty of you in your character.
PS: There's definitely a facet of me but it's definitely pushed.
NME: You're not as promiscuous as you make out, then?
PS: Er no, I'm really not. Hey! I definitely love sex, though.
NME: Do you have a boyfriend?
PS: Well, I was seeing someone, yeah. I don't have a boyfriend right now. Sort of broke up with him.
NME: Do you have a lot of boyfriends?
PS: I don't really have time. Kind of sad, really. But I'm about to go on tour so yeah, I'll have lots of boyfriends.
NME: You have groupies?
PS: Yeah I do, it's pretty funny.
NME: Where? In America?
PS: All over. Wherever I play.
NME: What do you look for in a man?
PS: He's got to have a wicked sense of humour. The brain is a big sexual organ. And he's got to be cute. I quite like English boys in school uniforms.
NME: Like what age?
PS: Well, they should be old enough to know what they're doing but they should still just wear the uniform.
NME: Do you come across them often?
PS: Oh yeah. I've played a lot of schools! No, I have yet to have an English schoolboy come to my show. That's why I'm telling you.
NME: What kind of uniform?
PS: Well, it depends. Gotta have the knee socks and the shorts and the blazer with a good crest of it. And a tie, and sort of with the moppy top hair."
NME: Sounds like you're describing The Strokes.
PS: Oh yeah, they're really cute. I don't really know their music but they're cute.
NME: The New York music scene does seem to be particularly inspired at the moment...
PS: Since when is New York not hot? New York's the shit. I mean I really don't think I'd be making this music if I lived anywhere else. I always think about if I'd ended up in California (she shivers). I'ts so inspiring in New York. There's so many amazing people to work with over there and you just bump into them and meet them and they you just politic...
NME: You just what?
PS: Politic--it's spelt the same way, a verb, to politic. Like, to network or whatever.
NME: Who've you done that with recently?
PS: Tony Blair (she lies). Heh heh! He's great. He looks quite good in a uniform. Does he have a son? How's old Prince Harry?
NME: Er, 16?
PS: Oh God, that's good! (she gurgles with mirth)
NME: What about Prince William?
PS: He's not cute enough.
When Concetta Kirschner was six years old, her father took her to her first concert, The Kinks, "in Philly", where she was raised. She's always had a "super-passion" for music, growing up with hippy parents who loved music. Her father would wake her at seven by blasting Led Zeppelin. She was born in New Work City and lived in Washington Heights and Spanish Harlem until she was three.
"And then we moved to a farm in Pennsylvania and I lived on a farm for awhile, and then all over, like in the woods. And then the suburbs of Philly. And now I’ve been in New York for ten years."
At 17, she moved to New York to study drama at university. But she felt she was "too weird" for the confines of the acting world, and started doing music, first playing guitar in an all-girl band named the Gamma Rays.
She began writing her own songs on four-track, left that band and called herself Princess Superstar. Grand Royal liked one of the handful of demo tapes she sent out, as did New York’s CMJ magazine who wrote about it.
"And then," Kirschner recalls " I got taken out to dinner and it was this whole whirlwind and I was like, ‘Oh great I’m gonna be a big star just like that.’ I had no idea how the music business worked. And then they started telling what they wanted to change about what I did. Some people were like ‘Don’t rap’. Some were like, ‘Don’t play guitar’. But this is the best, I love this story: this guy was like, ‘Ok you’re gonna be huge. We’re gonna call you Cream and you’re gonna be all decked out in jewels and shit and you’re gonna say, "I ain’t from the ghetto and I ain’t tryna go to the ghetto!"’ Like really cliched. And I was like, ‘That doesn’t feel right. I don’t wanna do that.’" So she didn’t.
Since then, Princess has graduated from her DIY indie roots to a cosmopolitan hip-hop sound, while her rapping – the subject matter tackled and the delivery—is really second-to-none. Because she’s a white rapper, Princess Superstar is often compared to Eminem, which doesn’t bother her. In ‘Welcome to My World’ from ‘…Is’, she announced ‘Everyone tells me I’m the female Eminem/Well all I’m going to talk about is getting fucked up the ass then!’
‘…Is’ also feature prurient cameos from US hip-hoppers High & Mighty, Jzone, 7even and Bahamadia, but perhaps most surprising is the appearance of frail folkie Beth Orton who sings on ‘Untouchable (Part 2)’. A fan of her last album, Orton came to New York and tracked Kirschner down. They share the same publicist and are now good friends.
"I have so many fans I don’t know about," she sighs. "Oh, you know who is a fan? William Orbit. He’s a huge fan. You should hear the message he left on my phone, I couldn’t believe it!" He was like, ‘ I think you’ve pioneered a whole new form of music. I think you’re completely brilliant and just unlike anything I’ve ever heard.’ I mean, I was blown away.
But I think I am on my way to pioneering a new form of music. That’s my goal: to be innovative."
In that case, Princess Superstar’s aim is true. ‘…Is’ , the latest, greatest installment of the Superstar saga, is the finest achievement of Kirschner’s career to date. There is, of course, much more to come. "I think I’m a pretty powerful example of taking your career in your own hands and shaping it exactly the way that you want it, doing the music that you exactly wanna do," she says. "And I think that I am doing something new."
She looks up and surveys her gaudy surroundings. Truly, one can only handle so much sex in one day. Roll on lunchtime.