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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.”
“Um, adultery,” she laughs. “Not ?to say that that was the demise of my relationship. Men think it’s a huge sacrifice to watch where their dick goes. Well, it’s the same with a woman. Everything is challenging. There’s temptation in everything. But love is a decision. Commitment is a major sacrifice. But you do it with grace, because it’s what you want. And the minute you don’t want it, I will not hold you to it. I will let you go freely.”
Was “Tell Her” inspired by her real-life situation?
“No, actually it was written before that all went down . . .” She pauses. “I’ve never in my life cheated on a boyfriend or in my marriage, but I thought, ‘What if you were actually the other woman?’ So I wrote this song.” She sings, “When will you tell her about me? What do you tell her about me? Because I’m a nice girl . . .”
“I wrote that song never knowing — or maybe I did know — that I would come face to face with another woman. And in that song, I’d have to be tender with her. Because things happen, you know what I mean? And although those things are horrible, they’re really human. And those are the things that differentiate being a woman from a girl. I had to kind of live up to the lyrics.”
As we pass through the kitchen on the way back to her truck, Kim grabs the hot comb. “I gotta bump this,” she says while dragging the utensil through her locks. “She frizzed up.”
Once on her front porch, Kim waves to a passing car. When she is asked if she can define the differences between living in Silver Lake and South-Central, if she can unpack the metaphors in her taking what conventional wisdom would call backward steps — moving from the allegedly hip, progressive, artistic enclave back to the hood — her words flow in a rush.
“The thing about Silver Lake is that it’s a great, great, great artistic, Benetton-ish atmosphere. Prior to living [in Silver Lake], I lived in West Hollywood for years. I never really went east of Vermont before that.
“A friend described it as a kind of black hole, and that turned out to be true. I kind of never went outside of Silver Lake, and I became a Silver Lake snob. I’d go south, but I’d never go west. Even when I played the Temple Bar [in Santa Monica], I’d be like, ‘We’re gonna go back to the Eastside to eat.’ My friends would be like, ‘Nigga, if we don’t go to this Swingers right here, we’re all going home. We live on the Westside.” She laughs.
“You know, Silver Lake did give me an opportunity to feel like I was stepping out of a comfort zone. When I moved there a few years ago, it had kind of a bohemian, funky East Village kinda vibe. It was close enough to downtown while downtown was establishing a scene to allow me to have cool sets with DJs and musicians, to hook up with a lot of visual artists, which was really, really cool.
“What it did on a spiritual level is that it kind of secluded me from my own people. Not that there ain’t black folks in Silver Lake. But there’s certain kind of black folks that live in Silver Lake. I mean, I still have some great friends that live there. But I think that when you’re around too many other and you’re the only chocolate chip in the ice cream, it does get kinda frigid. It’s kinda lonely. You find most of the conversation is defending or being the person standing up against the norms established by the lies of history. I think a lot of people thought that because I was married to a white dude, I’d abandoned my politics or awareness of shit, and that was never gonna be the case.” She shakes her head and laughs softly.