Ambitious adventurers kayak in the East River. Teenagers argue foul calls on the basketball courts. Fratty white-boys in sunglasses and sandals fistpump to EDM blasting overhead. And in the distance, on the perpetually clogged Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, traffic grinds to a halt. Brooklyn Bridge Park is a sprawling 85-acre recreational complex abutting the waterfront on the northern, hyper-gentrified end of New York’s artisanal capitol, and on this muggy morning in early August, the place is already packed.

That's probably a good thing. Because it is here, at the park’s Pier 2 Roller Rink, all velvety-smooth blue tiles surrounded by see-through plexiglass, where a group of wide-eyed pre-teens from Trenton, N.J., will have their childhood dreams turned into a reality. Here, an unlikely hometown hero will re-emerge. Here, among smiling little black boys and little black girls, Niatia Jessica Kirkland, the rapper, dancer, and actress professionally known as Lil Mama, will do the exact same thing that once made her so infamous—she’s going to show up unannounced.

Raise your hand when I should come out, she yells to her younger brother, the street dancer ArnStar, as she shields herself behind a brick column. Where they at?”

In a pink, oversized Yankees jersey and white Reebok Blacktop Battlegrounds on her feet, it’s hard to picture Lil Mama nervous. Not at this point in her career. Not when shes got no fucks left to give. Seems like it was just yesterday—2007, to be exact—when she hit with her first record, “Lip Gloss.” The world was at her fingertips. A deal with Jive Records. Studio sessions with Dr. Luke, Cool & Dre, and Scott Storch, hitmakers du jour. T-Pain and Chris Brown on her follow-up single. A 17-year-old with unmatched potential.

And then, it all changed.

Her mother died. Her second single bricked. Then her third. Then her debut album flopped. Shit was bad. But she could dance. She could act. She could talk. She had moxie! So she rebounded. She got a gig judging America’s Best Dance Crew. Things were good again. Until they were bad. Really bad.

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