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Big hit was no surprise for rapper
By TONY GREEN
TAMPA -- Khia believes that if you want something, you have to go out and get it. Which explains why the Tampa-based rapper sounds like a Fortune 500 CEO: dedicated, driven and, most of all, confident.
"To tell you the truth, I wasn't surprised when my first single (the smash My Neck, My Back) took off the way it did," said Khia, who has dropped her last name, Chambers, for professional purposes. "In fact, I expected it to do that all along."
That attitude has paid rich dividends for the Philadelphia-born mother of two, who didn't even get into rapping until a couple of years ago. My Neck, My Back(from her debut album, Thug Misses), has been familiar to area radio audiences since last year because of heavy airplay on WLLD-FM (Wild) 98.7.
In the past few months, the rest of the rap world has caught on. The song is No. 14 on Billboard's rap chart. The video is being played on Black Entertainment Television (BET) and in the top 25 on MTV. And it is the first cut on the soundtrack for Fox's Dark Angel, which also features veterans Public Enemy, Q-Tip, MC Lyte and Samantha Cole.
The record got the rap world's ultimate tribute recently, when salacious superstar Too Short recorded a male-centered response track, Your Neck, Your Back.
"When I first heard (Khia's song), it was at a club, with 2,500 people chanting it at the same time," said WLLD program director Orlando. "So picking that song to be a hit was a no-brainer."
Khia attributes a lot of her success to family -- the desire to do well for herself and her kids, as well as to honor the memory of her mother, who died in 2001. But her debut is hardly family-oriented. Start with the unedited version of My Neck, My Back, which contains graphic descriptions of oral sex that would make Luke Campbell blush. Khia is, in the parlance of rap, hardcore, and her album bears the "parental advisory" warning to prove it.
Shock value is not all Khia is trying to achieve, though. It may not be obvious to new listeners, she said, but her approach is all about taking charge of your life, body and feelings.
"A lot of women don't take charge in relationships," she said. "All I'm talking about is encouraging women not to be afraid to tell men what they like, instead of sitting around worrying about what their man likes. I may say cuss words and talk nasty, but I'm only talking about things that I have seen and experienced."
Besides, she says, why worry about a man's demands when a woman's life is demanding enough?
The daughter of a data entry specialist, Khia moved from Philadelphia's Germantown area to Tampa when she was 11. Through middle school at Dowdell Middle, her musical interests extended no further than singing in church and writing song lyrics in her spare time. She said she attended Hillsborough High School but left after her sophomore year.
"I got pregnant with my daughter in 10th grade, so I left school in 1991," she said. "And around my neighborhood, things like that didn't happen. You heard all this 'Ooooooo, Carol's daughter is pregnant' type stuff. So I moved out of my mother's house and lived with my baby's father, who was in the military at the time." She started writing raps for friends soon after moving out of her mother's house. After her child -- a girl, also named Khia -- was born, her baby's father, whom she declines to name, took the family with him when he was stationed in Hawaii. Her son, Rashawn, was born there in 1992. In 1994, Khia moved back to Tampa and took up residence in Temple Terrace.
Soon after coming home to Tampa, she decided to get back in the music business. Eventually, she worked her way into a job tending bar at Tampa's Club XS, a job she held from 1995 until early this year.
"That was a good move for me," she said. "It gave me a chance to interconnect with all the DJs in town, and get to know the scene. And it also gave me a sense of the kind of music the crowd liked, what stuff got them moving."
Soon she hooked up with Sarasota-based producer/DJ Don Juan, who produced an independent version of Thug Misses. They got together with Tampa-based Dirty Down records and producer DJ Taz, who added his dance-floor wizardry to the mix. My Neck, My Back hit the streets last summer and immediately caused a sensation in the bay area. Wild 98.7 added it to the rotation in August, which raised the temperature even more. The final boost came at theBillboard convention in Miami in February, said WLLD's Orlando. WLLD had sent copies of the song to other stations owned by Viacom, including Miami station 99 Jamz.
"So there we were, walking along South Beach," Orlando said. "And everybody -- black, white, old, young -- was singing that song. And we were like, 'This is crazy.' And a lot of (program directors) from throughout the country heard that, too, and they went back and requested copies."
That hype attracted the attention of Artemis records, which picked up Thug Misses for national distribution in April and released it three weeks later.
It may seem an extraordinary chain of events, but Khia says expectations all depend on your state of mind.
"I try to always maintain a positive outlook," she said. "I get that from my mom. That's one thing my mother taught me: to be confident and not to let anything get in the way of reaching your goals. I don't do anything not expecting to succeed. That's why this album is going to go platinum."
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