Eve, the reigning queen of gangsta rap, sweeps into the New York City radio station Hot 97 with the same you-can't-stop-me air Allen Iverson has when he steps onto a basketball court. She's dressed way past the nines--she's hovering around the elevens--in purple boots, purple Anna Sui leather pants and a black mink coat. Her hair, once platinum blond, is arranged in cornrows dyed a shade of red that almost makes the braids appear to glow, like space-heater coils. Eve does an on-air interview hyping her new CD, Scorpion (Ruff Ryders/Interscope), and then records a few attitude-filled promos. "Who's that girl?" Eve asks. "I'm that motherf_____ girl!" When the session concludes, Eve softens. Her dog, Spunky J., a teacup terrier so tiny it's more of a cat than a canine, scrambles into her arms. Eve coos, "She's like a baaaby!"
It's tough being a woman in a mostly male profession. Now imagine being Eve, whose co-workers at Ruff Ryders include DMX, a guy whose musical canon features What These B______ Want and other numbers that will never be chosen as theme songs for Oprah. ("DMX is one of my best friends," Eve says. "That's like my dog for life!") Hard-core female rappers--Foxy Brown, Lil' Kim--compete with male rappers by using sex as a weapon. Eve has found a balance: she's tough enough to run with the big dogs and sensitive enough to hug a small one. Her 1999 debut, Let There Be...Eve--Ruff Ryders' First Lady, was uneven, but it established her persona--sexy but not pornographic, in your face but somewhat introspective. Now Eve feels she has improved. "On my first album I was like, 'Whatever you say,'" she says. "This album I was like, 'Hold up. I'm not doing that.' This is more me."
Eve, who bought a home in suburban New Jersey, hails from Philadelphia, a city that in the '70s and '80s was known for music, basketball and cheesesteaks and then went through a period during which it pretty much had only cheesesteaks going for it. Now Philly music (and b-ball) is making a comeback. "Philly has always had a music scene," says Eve. "I think we're just hungry again."
Although Eve, 22, worked for a brief time as a stripper ("That was probably my biggest struggle"), she nursed dreams of becoming a singer. She soon discovered that rapping got more attention. Eve made it onto the roster of Dr. Dre's Aftermath Entertainment label, only to be let go, and then found a home at Ruff Ryders. She reunites with Dre on Scorpion (he produced two tracks). Says she: "I was like, 'He better do something on my album--he dropped me from his label.'"
While her debut was a spare, streety affair, Eve's new CD is glossier and more ambitious. It's loaded with guest stars, including No Doubt's Gwen Stefani, reggae royalty Damian and Stephen Marley, and Eve's boyfriend, producer Stevie J. Her rapping is more controlled and confident, though she sometimes sacrifices coherence for rhythm, spouting half-thoughts and sentence fragments just to keep her flow going.
A few months ago, drained by career pressures, she experienced a depression. Says Eve: "My self-confidence was really low." But she recovered, she says, by strengthening her relationship with God. Now she hopes her album will be a source of strength to others: "I just want women to know how strong they are." Having taken her bite of the apple, Eve now wants to share.