By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Kimmy Kim is a cultural smoothie, blended from identities across the strata of blackness. Born and raised in a middle-class family in upstate New York, where she studied ballet, violin, piano and gymnastics as a child (“Oh, yes, my parents worked me”), she attended college in Philly, where she continued to study dance but also fell in love with hip-hop and began to sing and write. When she moved to L.A., she landed in Palms, which is where she was living when she first met the Peas. A tongue-in-cheek diva (she answers her phone with a Diahann Carroll–esque “Hello, dahling”) who can be playfully profane, she’s an unabashed girly-girl with a love for shoes and quirky clothing. But she’s also a Daughter of Bonet — straight-up boho, complete with Nag Champa burning in her house.
Family portraits are everywhere in Kim’s home; a drawing of Angela Davis is prominent in the front room. The kitchen boasts a vintage fridge and stove, with a hot comb resting on a front burner. “Oh, yes, darling, straight-up old-school,” she laughs. The house has a quiet, peaceful air; she bought it after divorcing her husband and moving from their Silver Lake stomping ground. “It reflects the state of my spirit,” she says. “It’s a struggle and it’s hard sometimes, but I’m happy.”
The jewel in the crown is the home studio, Copper Gypsies, that Kim herself converted from a garage. We enter, and she plays unmastered tracks from her album-in-progress, Pharoah’s Daughter, due next spring on her own One bRave inDian records. (Check Kim’s MySpace page for her chuckleworthy explanation of the album’s title.)
When teased that her label’s name conjures the tragic Negro proclamation meant to mark you as better-than-ya-average-nigga (“I got Indian in my family”), Kim immediately responds. “Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no. I’m a black girl. My mom was black, my daddy’s black. That’s it. Now, because of the way I look, I get questions and assumptions about my racial background all the time. But I am a black girl.
“Beyond all of that, though, I’m really into feathers and dream-catchers. For me, it comes from growing up in upstate New York. That whole region, my county, everything is named after some kind of tribe, and it just really resonates with me. When I was thinking about what I want to accomplish on this label, which isn’t just to launch my project but to work with other artists, I really want the brave Indians.”
And Copper Gypsies is a representation of that?
“Yes,” she nods. “I made the name plural because it will eventually be a collective of visual, graphic and recording artists, writers, as well as textile and clothing designers who really do balls-to-the-wind art. It ties into the label, because I love to embrace black and brown, you know, colored folks.”
She’s definitely positioned to pull such a collective together. While she’s best friends with fellow indie-music Afro femmes N’dea Davenport (of Brand New Heavies fame) and Joi, has local soul boy Rahsaan Patterson on speed dial, works with the gifted Italian photographer Chiara Santarelli (who shot the photo accompanying this article) and considers director Nzinga Stewart like a sister, she’s also plugged into the wider L.A. community of stylists, designers, photographers, club promoters and musicians. Quiet as it’s kept, there’s a small renaissance of underground Negro creativity bubbling in Los Angeles.
Kim presses play. A huge, longtime fan of the U.K.’s broken-beat sound (4hero produced a track on the new album), she’s let its influence run wild over her new material. The layered-stuttered-fractured beats that anchor the grooves meld easily with her hip-hop and classic R&B roots. A standout is the postbreakup kiss-off “Barbie”: “That’s what you get little boy for fuckin’ with them Barbie dolls/Like the sailors that were led by the sirens/down the course of that path, then they died/That’s what you get little boy for fuckin . . .’ ”
Listening bounces me back to lunchtime, when we’d met at Casbah Café in Silver Lake and discussed the changes in her life since I last interviewed her, in 2002. Then, she was beaming: newly wed to a French DJ and thrilled to be promoting Suga Hill. (Her debut self-released solo CD was 2000’s Surrender to Her Sunflower, whose trippy-hippie title now makes her chuckle.) With the new album, she’s rocking the title of happy divorcée.
“Yeah,” she smiles. “My marriage is something I have no regrets about. I really believe that’s what made me a woman. I thought I was prior to that. Now, I’ve always been a lady. But there’s a difference in becoming a woman. It’s painful. It’s a beautiful emerging. Something has to kind of die.”
She pauses thoughtfully.
“I hold on to that little-girl spirit within myself,” she continues, “but definitely today I stand a woman. Because of what I’ve seen, dealt through, talked through, translated through. It wasn’t just an interracial marriage, it was an intercultural marriage, filled with a lot of things that in black culture will get you killed but in French culture is just standard.”