A Bawdy Lifestyle, and How to Shake It
Friday, July 29, 2005
NEW YORK -- On the sets of the hip-hop videos she appeared in, Karrine Steffans was the dancer who never said no. Wear gold star pasties? Sure. Add chaps, and an ostrich-skin, rear-exposing thong? No problem. But that was a few years and a vulgar nickname ago.
Today, to hear her tell it -- and she has in a very public and frank way -- Steffans is not that woman anymore. At 26, she is a best-selling Los Angeles author who has set the hip-hop world talking with her controversial memoir, "Confessions of a Video Vixen." And as she strolls through the lobby of the Omni Berkshire hotel on her way to yet another promotional event, she looks almost conservative. Not Liz Claiborne conservative but conservative for a woman who claims to have spent much of her early twenties hopping from one hip-hop heavy hitter to the next. She's now dating Bill Maher. Yes, that Bill Maher.
Flanked by her book publicist and bodyguard, Steffans is clad in a black button-down, Express jeans and black open-toed high heels. Her mop of blond hair seems to be the only holdover from her video days. This morning she sat down with British Elle. The night before, she signed books for about 250 people. Later, there is an interview with Television New Zealand and a panel discussion with Iman at the Harlem Book Fair.
First-time authors rarely get that kind of love. And they surely don't make it into the popular comic strip, "Boondocks," where one of the characters condemned Steffans for telling tales out of school and then wondered where he could pick up a copy. Readers no doubt buy or browse the book for gossip about Steffans's dalliances with some of hip-hop's most famous artists. Flipping through the pages, it's clear that the gang is all there.
P. Diddy. Ja Rule. DMX.
And from each of them, when asked through a spokesman or manager about the relationships Steffans alleges in her book: No comment, no comment and no comment.
Her book has been out for a month and her interviews in most urban radio markets have pushed people into the stores, and pushed the book up bestseller lists. It's risen to No. 3 on The Washington Post's list of area bestsellers and No. 7 on the New York Times's. Her publisher says 110,000 copies have been shipped, and the book is going into its sixth print run.
Just what Steffans's motives are has been the hot topic in beauty and barber shops all across the country. But what she sounds like, en route to a panel discussion about beauty at the Harlem Book Fair, is a budding social activist. In her view, with her groupie-gone-good tales of hip-hop's seedy underbelly, she is following in the footsteps of rappers like Lauryn Hill, Eve and Queen Latifah.
"We know what happens to little black boys that have no dads, we've heard that, we get it," Steffans said. "But no one is really saying that young women who are born without fathers have real serious issues especially when their mother had no father and the mother has issues. . . . When I talk about it, people are actually listening."
In her memoir, Steffans lays out the story of her difficult childhood and helter-skelter life in hip-hop's inner circle. She grew up in St. Thomas, as she describes in her book, with a mother who was domineering and abusive. Her father, she wrote, was largely absent.
She moved to the United States when she was 10, and with her accent and outdated clothes, she didn't fit in. At 13 she was raped by a guy she met at a house party. By 16 she was a stripper, often dancing for professional athletes, and pulling down a grand a night. At 17, she moved in with Kool G Rap, a fading rapper, who was 10 years her senior. The union produced one child, a son to whom Steffans dedicates her book.
Her relationship with Kool G Rap, which she describes as tumultuous, introduced her to the increasingly commercial world of rap music and gave her ample motivation to seek a different life. It was the beginning of hip-hop's shiny suit era, and as she watched videos on cable television, Steffans wanted in.