At 4ft-11in tall, 22-year-old Brooklyn rapper Lil Kim is on the petite side, but there wasn't anything diminutive about the reception for her at the Notting Hill Carnival last August

When Lil Kim took to the stage for her debut London outing, pandemonium broke out. As the crush looked like it was going to turn into a riot, the plugs were pulled early. As for Kim, she lapped up every minute of it. "I loved London," she drawls, on the blower from the States. "The people are friendly and generous, and the crowd was really awake. They had a lot of love for me. It was a surprise." Lil Kim's reputation had gone before her, in the most notorious way possible. Her album Hardcore proved one of contemporary R'n'B's most explosive releases of recent years. Slick funk grooves soundtracked Kim's triple X-rated rhymes set in the bedroom, at the party, and even in the cinema. Was she a record company puppet, or the smartest cookie of the Junior M.A.F.I.A, collective? Opinions are still divided. Her teenage troubles - drugs peddling, a conviction for stabbing her father, homelessness - all seemed to solidify the belief that she was as tough as she talked. And Hardcore was a rocket success, making the highest ever debut entry by a female rapper on the Billboard chart.

But 1997 took its toll. She is, for instance, emphatic that the explicitness of Hardcore is a one-off. "I'm changing, and the next record will be more mature, more intimate and personal," she promises. "Hardcore was a part of my life that was before, about the things I used to go through." The Notorious BIG's death means she also lacks the man who was her lover, her father figure, her mentor and image consultant. His murder hada huge emotional effect on Kim, who only got through the first few weeks following his death with the help of close pal Mary J Blige. "I miss him making my decisions for me," she confesses. "To tell you the truth, I don't know how I got through that experience, how to say how anyone would be thinking in that situation. That's the one question I can't answer."

Lil Kim wishes she had the money she has now when she was 19-year-old Kim Jones. "I was in college studying psychology," she reveals. "I was always a college person, but I had to do other things," she adds, cryptically. "I don't want to have the time to go back to studying. I want to concentrate on being rich, and business, and acting. (Sean) Puffy's been helping me out - he's my manager."

1998 seems there for the taking for this top graduate from the school of hard knocks.

Lil Kim supports Puff Daddy at Wembley Arena (0181-900 1234) on 13 Jan