It‘s after midnight and warm outside on this unusually busy stretch of Adams Boulevard. Cradling a mug of steaming water, Kim Hill adjusts the red feather boa around her tiny neck for the umpteenth time. Her big eyes flit anxiously between the small group of club patrons hanging out in front of Fais Do-Do’s entrance and a guy standing next to her.
”I just don‘t understand — I left it on the stage this afternoon. Why would somebody move it?“ By now Hill’s questions are not directed at anyone in particular. Her ponytailed head swivels toward the honking traffic while she talks. All movement and words come to a graceful halt as she takes a thoughtful sip. Even under stress, she‘s all lady.
Hill’s guitar is found. Thirty minutes later, seated on a barstool on Fais Do-Do‘s stage with a spotlight trained on her grinning face, the singer falls into a gentle strum of the chords to ”Hotel California.“ The room, now quiet, is crammed with a mid-20s crowd so exotically diverse in dress and ethnicity that they look like an audition for a Benetton ad. It’s a wonder any of them are old enough to recognize the song, least of all Hill herself.
Though lyrically retooled by Hill to portray a teenage girl‘s odyssey into the abstract and unknown, the haunting ballad is definitely a contrast to the below-level hip-hop funk the vocalist worked with on the Black Eyed Peas’ ‘98 disc Behind the Front.
”The blessing is that I’m able to perform so much of my solo material on the road with them,“ says Hill, who serves as featured vocalist for the group. ”It‘s great. We’ll be in the middle of the show, and the guys‘ll be dancin’, and they‘ll be, like, ’Kim, we want to take it someplace else — Kim, do “Sunshine,” do “Hotel.”‘ And I’ll be, like, flubbing for my mic, and Beat Pharmacie, the band, will just kind of chime in. The band did a bit of co-writing with me for my album.“
Hill‘s Surrender to Her Sunflower is a testament to her marvelous vocal and songwriting talent. Co-produced by Black Eyed Peas member Will Adams after Hill was signed as a solo artist to Interscope, the album features the singer’s dexterous soprano gliding across a 10-song expanse of laid-back, sensuous soul. Currently, indie radio shows like KCRW‘s Chocolate City regularly play cuts from the album, and it’s also making noise on the charts in Dublin, Ireland, of all places. Add this to Hill‘s recent video with Les Nubians for the album’s ”Sunshine“ track, which has been guaranteed rotation on MTV affiliates in the U.K., and one can only question the wisdom of Interscope when they informed Hill in May that they were passing on the project, to focus on other black female artists on the label like Mya and Sparkle.
”It‘s a compliment that they didn’t accept it because there weren‘t enough references to ass or screwin’,“ says Hill. ”I wasn‘t willing to make those compromises; there’s enough of that kind of music out there.“ Hill had previously been approached by the Peas‘ manager, and it was after seeing her perform at a BMI showcase in ’94 that the group asked if she‘d be interested in working with them. A week later, Hill and Adams wrote the lyrics for ”The Way You Make Me Feel,“ which ended up on the Behind the Front album. Hill is featured on most of the tracks of the Peas’ upcoming disc, which is slated for a September release.
After graduating from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia with a BFA in dance and a season as a dancer for the Philadelphia 76ers, the Syracuse-born Hill, who‘s also classically trained as a singer, packed her bags in ’93 and headed west, arriving in L.A. with $36.
”I ended up having to wait tables,“ says Hill. ”That was hard, but I was makin‘ great money. Then it really becomes a challenge: You’re makin‘ $700 a week, and you start blowin’ off theater and dance auditions. Of course, you‘re just starting out, so you’re doing music sessions for free, doing demos for different up-and-coming producers. But more often than not, when it comes time to cut the record, they‘re gonna call in the hot girl of the moment. It’s never the girl that busted her ass for six months laying demos with that aspiring producer.“
Proving that a record deal is not the be all and end all, the singer sells her CD through her Web site, www.kim mykim.com, where you can also see the music video for ”Sunshine.“ Currently touring with the Peas, Lit and No Doubt, in August Hill plans to return to her weekly Wednesday-night performance event, Scat ‘n’ Chat Lounge at Fais Do-Do.
”Since I‘ve been out here I’ve been very fortunate,“ says Hill. ”I was able to make a little bit of noise with acting, but I wasn‘t devoting any time to my music. I knew within a year of living in L.A. that it was going to be one or the other. It’s great if you can be a triple threat, but you‘re going to need to focus exclusively on one thing in order to really make it pop.“