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In 2002, "My Neck, My Back," Khia's bass-heavy ode to oral pleasure, took over the urban airwaves. Despite the song's explicit exhortations, it became an international mainstream hit for the young Tampa rapper (born Khia Finch). Her debut album, Thug Misses, sold 800,000 copies independently. Then the rumors began. First there was the well-publicized beef with Miami rapper Jacki-O over their self-dubbed "Queen of the South" title. Then she experienced conflicts with her label that resulted in her 2003 follow-up album, Street Preacher, being shelved indefinitely. Then an urban legend circulated that Khia had passed away, either from the debilitating results of AIDS or by the hands of an enraged ex-lover. It's no wonder that when you ask the surprisingly ebullient and eloquent hip-hop starlet to address some of the increasingly hard-to-believe rumors that circulate about her, her tone becomes bluntly jaded.
"You know what? I been dead, so I'm so used to it," Khia tells New Times. "The industry is so full of shit. Radio personalities are there to make jokes and stir up gossip, just like the tabloids and the magazines. All they do is make up these ridiculous stories."
Maybe, but four years after her breakthrough hit, Khia is back to give the gossip mill something to grind about. She recently dropped her sophomore album, the gritty, multifaceted Gangstress, released on her own label, Thug Misses Entertainment. Khia's also taken to addressing the haters as bluntly as possible, facing up to her turbulent past, and making bold statements about many of her peers in the rap game.
To prove how real she is, Khia used a mosaic of her 19 mug shots as the cover of her new album. The photos, taken between 1994 and 1999, look like a hairdo hall of shame. In some, her eyelids are heavy and her expression is resigned. In others, Khia beams happily, as though she's posing for holiday photos in a mall photo booth.
"I was bad; I didn't even care!" Khia says. "I was smiling, defiant, gangsta-leaning back in the day. But I didn't want to put myself on the album cover butt naked. I wanted them to see that this is Khia. It's a Gangstress move, 'cause look at me now. Lil' Kim ain't the first person to go to jail. There's plenty of us who ride big and ball and fall just like the guys do."
The first single, the woozy "Snatch the Cat Back," is beginning to get radio and television airplay. "I have my off-the-chain sexual songs," Khia says, "but I always try to put some conscious songs on there too. Definitely, it's for the thug misses, for the ones who try to be so tough. I know they gonna love those songs, coming from me."
More somber tracks on the album include "Forgive Me for My Sins," "For the Love of Money," and "I've Been Called a Bitch," the chorus of which proclaims that Khia has never been called a ho and never will. It's not exactly what you'd expect from a woman whose last hit song demanded a tongue bath for the most intimate crevices of her body.
"I'd rather be called a bitch than a ho," Khia explains, taking pains to make her terminology clear. "I can be a bitch because I'm dealing with a lot of corporate people. But I ain't gonna never be called a ho."
Khia sees a big difference between her brand of blatant sexuality and that of her posturing peers. "I don't approve of it, just thinking that whoring is something to be proud of," she says. "I might be saying 'My Neck, My Back.' But I'm still saying, 'Respect me, please me, make me feel good.' I ain't gon' be like, 'I'll suck your dick, pay me,' and it's all about money. It's about demanding respect and loving yourself."
In the future, Khia's musical wish list includes working with Missy Elliott, Lil Wayne, Mannie Fresh, and Lil Jon. Khia recently recorded a duet with Janet Jackson, and their collaboration provided fresh mulch for the gossipmongers, with reports that Khia dissed Jackson and Jermaine Dupri. When questioned about the anti-Janet quote that was attributed to her in an article on SOHH.com, Khia is flabbergasted. "Oh, that is ridiculous! Why would I say anything like that?" she fumes. "Why would I not want to be a part of her album? It's Janet Jackson are ya'll crazy? I don't know where they get these stories from!"
Maybe that's why Khia's been busy writing some stories of her own. Yes, the gangstress has written an autobiography called Gangsta Love, which she hopes to release by the year's end. "You'll definitely be able to see where the mug shots and the songs come from," Khia says. "It's definitely something I want to bring to film. We need a Girlz N the Hood! Guys always show their stories. But us women, we go through a lot of shit out here, and we need to bring it to life."