September 23, 2002 12:00 PM

Eve once described herself as “a pit bull in a skirt,” and Alicia Keys, who duets with her on the hit “Gangsta Lovin’,” says she’s got “heavy bite.” But what makes Eve, 23, snarl loudest is missing a date with the manicurist. “I am such a girl, it’s disgusting,” she says. “I am the kind who must have her nails done. Bubble baths and everything.”

Maybe the bathwater has softened the woman who once called herself Eve of Destruction. “It’s not that I’m not hard anymore,” she says, “but I also have to pay attention to my femininity.” With her new CD Eveolution, a bit part in XXX and the female lead in the new Ice Cube comedy Barbershop, these days, it’s all about Eve. “She’s always been driven,” says Julie Wilch, 40, a medical publishing-company supervisor who, as a single mom, raised her daughter in the Philadelphia projects. (Eve says she has “no relationship” with father Jerry Jeffers, a chemical-plant supervisor who never married Wilch.)

Growing up, Eve Jihan Jeffers sang in choirs, helped take care of her little brother Farrod, now 8, rapped with a group called Dope Girl Posse and, for a month when she was 18, worked as a stripper, because, she says, “the money was good, but it was about trying to find myself. I don’t regret it at all.” Eve, who lives in a three-bedroom house in northern New Jersey, won a Grammy for “Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” her 2001 duet with Gwen Stefani. The rapper’s next task: telling her mom about her latest piercing. Says Eve: “She still lectures me.”

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