Concetta Kirschner was sure herrap career as Princess Superstar was over six years ago. At least that's what she screamed down the phone back in 95 after reading an article I'd written discussing her brazen style of sample-swiping. Now, three albums later, the explicit spitting "cunning linguist" who boasts about being "kinkier than pubic hair" has deftly made the transition from CMJ pin-up to underground hiphop threat.
Her highly entertaining new Princess Superstar Is (Rapster/!K7) disc shows enormous improvements in her microphone and production skills, while the contributions from talented hiphop cult stars like Kool Keith, JZone (who plays her ho), Bahamadia and scratch scientist DJ Sinista should further enhance Princess Superstar's street credibility. Nevertheless, she's still considered a freak and knows it.
"The hiphop community definitely regards me as some kind of weird anomaly," laughs Kirschner from her New York pad, "but I think they respect what I'm doing because I write my own rhymes and I don't pretend to be someone I'm not.
"Some of the top artists working in underground hiphop were willing to participate on my album even though I could hardly pay them anything. It's an incredible feeling when you get that kind of respect from the artists you admire most."
When Kool Keith showed up at the studio to rhyme on the disc's first single and centerpiece track, Keith 'N' Me, Kirschner was exposed to a side of the certifiably eccentric MC that few people have ever seen: Kool Keith was actually on time and ready to rhyme.
"Keith was fabulous and totally professional. Not long after he arrived, I noticed he was standing off on his own muttering something. "What's that?' I asked. "Oh, nothing,' he shrugged. So I got him to sing it again and he went, "Baby, let me feel your love. I've got my shorts on and I'm taking 'em off.' And I was, like, "Oh my god, get in there right now and record that!' "He's not used to dealing with girls like me. There really aren't that many women producers, particularly in hiphop."
Perhaps even stranger than Kool Keith's coherent appearance is the cameo on Untouchable by moody Brit folkie and hook-singer-for-hire Beth Orton. It was actually the otherwise shy Orton who pursued Princess Superstar. "According to my publicist," chuckles Kirschner, "she was stalking me. She went to a Dan the Automator show in New York just because she thought I'd be there.
"This is gonna sound awful, but I said, "Is she the singer from Portishead?' Eventually we met at a bar, and she told me she loved my stuff and so did the members of Pulp and the Charlatans. So I went out and bought her record and I was, like, "She's that chick? Wow, she's amazing!' "We wound up writing a song together and recorded it in this tiny studio in London run by my manager's little brother. It turned out to be my favourite song on the album."
If Kirschner has hung onto anything from her pre-Princess Superstar rock and roll past, it's her sense of showmanship. So along with the requisite costume changes, stage dives are always a possibility.
"I'm definitely not one of those boring "put your hands in the air' performers who rhyme a bit with their DJ and then yell at the audience to show them some love.
"I'm from the Iggy Pop school. I no longer play guitar onstage, but I'm still jumping into audiences and doing all kinds of crazy shit. There was a time when I had to be drunk to do what I needed to do in front of a crowd, but since I've stopped drinking I've found that I can do all the same things and better.
"And people still think I'm drunk anyway."
— Tim Perlich