Princess Superstar's rhyming skills have earned her the royal treatment in the U.K.-but stateside, the X-rated rapper is still pining for the throne
When she was a little girl, Concetta Kirschner's future was written all over her bedroom walls. Or, more accurately, stuck there with Scotch tape. "I had Miss Piggy in a karate suit, the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, Shaun Cassidy and pages ripped out of Interview magazine," she says. "I sort of became all the things that were on my walls." Add a glossy of Kool Moe Dee, and that wall could almost fully account for the deft mix of comedy, cheesecake, raunch, kitsch and cool that makes the artist better known as Princess Superstar unlike anyone else currently putting beat to rhyme.
"I ain't the female Eminern," she mock-snarls. "And I ain't the white Lil' Kim, either." Those are too obvious-although fitting-names to hang on a white female rapper with phone-sex lyrics. But humor is as essential to Princess's sound as are skills, sass and hot beats. Princess Superstar Is, her fourth and newest album, is her tightest effort yet, from the bass-heavy disco pom of "Wet! Wet! Wet!" to the booming, mock-apocalyptic "You Get Mad at Napster." The first single, "Bad Babysitter," drops references to Chanel and Fluffernutters over a bouncy beat and irresistible hook, and contains lines like "I'm a bad babysitter, got my boyfriend in your shower / Woo! I'm makin' six bucks an hour." Her persona is shtick, sure, but it's funny, well-executed and often self-deprecating ("My life's a dichotomy / And I'm smart, but did I use that word properly?"). And with a hot album and rising hype, this Superstar's shining moment could be at hand.
"It's time for a change in hip-hop," says fellow female rapper (and fellow Philadelphian) Bahamadia, who guests on Princess Superstar Is. "It's time that someone introduced something different, something more light-hearted to the process, and Princess definitely does that. She's very much an individual, and I think people are gonna accept her style." The 28-year-old Princess is already the toast of hip London, where she's the latest Yank to be embraced by the hype machine that's scolded us for underappreciating everyone from Jimi Hendrix to the Strokes. "In London, shit's insane," Princess gushes. "I'm being played on major radio stations, doing interviews with MTV." She excitedly recalls a recent shoot for a British magazine spread: "They got me a half-million-dollar Bulgari necklace-with a security guard! It was ace. But then I had to give it back, and I realized how much further I have to go."
Her trip has taken some unusual turns already. Born in Harlem, Kirschner grew up outside Philly, a Sicilian-Jewish fireball in leg warmers who loved Jazzercise and singing along to the Kinks. She came to New York to study theater, and spent much of the early '90s kicking around the East Village, waitressing and playing guitar in indie-rock bands. In 1994, a Delancey Street gold-jewelry sale and the acquisition of a home four-track gave birth to her Princess Superstar persona. After releasing two albums that vacillated between rap and rock, Princess shut herself into her apartment above an Avenue A pizza joint, gave away her Nintendo console and concentrated on perfecting her rhyming skills. When she emerged a year later, her jokey white-girl whine had become a fast-flowing purr, and hip-hop heavyweights like Prince Paul, Kool Keith and the X-ecutioners guested on her next album, 1999's Last of the Great 20th Century Composers. Her new disc brings back Keith and X-ecutioner Sinista, along with Bahamadia, High & Mighty and Company Flow's Mr. Len.
Princess's period of lyrical seclusion involved giving up more than one kind of joystick-there was no room for a boyfriend in her fortress of solitude. But with the new album finished, she's ready to put her imperial na-na back in rotation; New York magazine even devoted a recent piece to trying to find her a "nice Jewish boy." That hookup didn't pan out, but hope springs eternal for her next British tour. "Ohhh," she says, with a kittenish smile, "the groupies over there are great."
She leans forward and elaborates. "I mentioned in the [British weekly] New Musical Express that I really like English schoolboys in the knee pants, pull-up socks, blazers and mop-top hairdo. In Manchester, this one guy showed up in the front row wearing the full-on outfit. I sang love songs to him." When the shy young gentleman presented himself backstage after the show, she took him back to her five-star hotel and treated him to a little Superstar TLC. While she says that no Zeppelin-quality action ensued, Princess allows that he may have gotten as far as second base. "He was, like, 21-1 didn't want to scare him," she says with a giggle. Not all the lads overseas were quite so alluring, though. In Scotland, she says, "some of the guys wanted me to sign their stomachs-hairy stomachs! It was difficult with a ballpoint pen, but they didn't care. I was back a week later, and they still hadn't washed it off."
Stateside, hairy bellies are the least of her problems: Adoring press clippings and free designer clothes don't pay the Con Ed bill, "I'm in this weird in-between phase," she says. "I still don't have the money." Princess has been picking up extra dollars and pounds deejaying, but she's also had to take on some freelance work at her old day job as a secretary-as long as they give her a few hours off for that Times of London photo shoot. She shrugs: "That's my life: the least glamorous and the most glamorous all in one."
While patience, persistence and skills have brought Princess this far, she's not above attributing some of her good fortune to a higher power. "I went through a religious phase when I was 12 because my best friend Lori was a born-again Christian and she said I was going to go to hell unless I prayed," she says. "We went to a county fair and I won the ball toss." As her prize, Concetta chose a small mirror with a picture of a long-haired, bearded, spiritual-looking man on it. "Every night before I went to bed, I would kiss this mirror and pray. My father saw it and freaked, He was like, 'Why are you praying to this picture of Jim Morrison?' " She adjusts her Chanel ski cap and thinks for a moment. "I guess it worked."
Published in Time Out New York on February 7, 2002