Lil' Kim - Biography
By Joanna Ricco
Rapper Lil’ Kim’s life takes on many characteristics of a modern Cinderella story, complete with a fairy godmother in the form of a large, well-connected man affectionately called Biggie. Born Kimberly Denise Jones on July 11, 1975 in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant area, she was raised primarily by her father after her parents parted ways before her ninth birthday. However, her father had kicked her out of the house before she turned 18 and Jones relied on her friends and the network of other rap enthusiasts she had come to know well on streets of Brooklyn. During this early transitional period, Jones was introduced to rapper The Notorious B.I.G., commonly referred to as Biggie. He quickly became an influential and instrumental part of Kim’s life, both artistically and romantically.
A part of Bad Boy Records, Biggie helped to form and promote the group Junior M.A.F.I.A., of which Jones (now known as Lil’ Kim, as she stands at only 4'11”) was a member. The group released one album, 1995’s Conspiracy (Big Beat Records), which included two chart-worthy singles – “Player’s Anthem” and “Get Money.” The group broke up two years later after the death of Biggie, but the short and well-publicized success of Junior M.A.F.I.A. became a significant springboard off of which Lil’ Kim’s solo career was launched.
Lil’ Kim’s first solo album, Hard Core, was released in 1996 on an Atlantic Records subsidiary called Big Beat Records. Lil’ Kim’s debut was not only the emerging of a new voice in the rap world, but a new sound altogether. Previously only the domain of men in the rap world, Lil’ Kim’s rhymes were sexually explicit and without apology, making her standout in the sea of new emerging acts. The album debuted at number 11 on the Billboard 200 and the first single “No Time,” a duet with Sean “Puffy” Combs, garnered considerable attention for the album as a whole after going gold. A remixed version of “Not Tonight,” one of the more graphically sexual tracks of the album, was made with Da Brat, Missy Elliott, Angie Martinez, and TLC’s Left Eye for inclusion on the soundtrack to Martin Lawrence’s Nothing to Lose. “Not Tonight” was nominated for a Grammy and went on to receive platinum certification.
Following Biggie’s death in 1997, Lil’ Kim was put under the watchful eye of his best friend Damion “D-Roc” Butler of Roc Management. She continued to lend her vocals to different projects, but also expanded her portfolio to include modeling work for Baby Phat, Candies, and Versace. In 1998, Lil’ Kim joined former collaborator Sean “Puffy” Combs, now known as P. Diddy, on his No Way Out tour. The tour created an even larger fan-base for Lil’ Kim, leading to her creation of her own label, Queen Bee Entertainment.
It was not until 2000 that Lil’ Kim put out a second full-length solo album, The Notorious K.I.M. (Atlantic), which initially received a lukewarm response. Lil’ Kim had chosen to move away from the sound she had established on Hard Core in favor of a retro 80s inspired sound. She has been noted as saying that her goal with each album has been to deliver something new that hadn’t been heard before. She accomplished that on Hard Core with her scintillating rhymes. On The Notorious K.I.M. she was doing so by introducing a glossy, 80’s-inspired production value to hard core rap. Perhaps the greatest critical blow to the album was the widespread criticism that Lil’ Kim was attempting to leverage Biggie’s death for her own gain. Clearly, there is no hiding behind the album’s title as a direct reference to the late rapper, but she has always maintained that it was in homage to him and that she felt his spirit while recording. Critics have also cited her use of Biggie vocal samples on the album as not being an essential element, just a reminder of a better artist.
Despite the critic’s squawking, The Notorious K.I.M. debuted at number four on the Billboard 200 and number one on the hip hop/R&B charts. These numbers led to a new record for the highest first week sales for a female rapper. After spending 25 weeks on the charts, it was certified platinum.
A collaboration with Christina Aguilera, Mya, and Pink on the 2001 remake of “Lady Marmalade” led to Lil’ Kim’s first Grammy win. The song was recorded for the soundtrack to Moulin Rouge! and stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 charts at number one for five weeks. This designation on the Billboard Hot 100 was also a first for any female rapper.
Lil’ Kim’s third album, La Bella Mafia (Atlantic), followed in 2003 and includes the singles “The Jump Off,” which hit number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100, and “Magic Stick” with 50 Cent, which reached number two on the Hot 100. La Bella Mafia was nominated for five Source Awards and took two for Female hip hop Artist of the Year and Female Single of the Year. She was also nominated for two Grammy Awards for Best Female Rap Solo Performance on “Came Back for You” and Best Rap Collaboration on “Magic Stick.”
While serving her federal prison sentence for conspiracy and perjury due to her involvement in the cover up of Damion “D-Roc” Butler and Suif “Gutta” Jackson’s placement at the scene of a 2001 shooting outside of Hot 97 studios in Manhattan, Lil’ Kim released her fourth album, The Naked Truth (2005 Atlantic). Due in part to her inability to adequately promote the album from behind bars, The Naked Truth did not fare as well as her previous releases. The first single, however, “Lighters Up” stayed on BET’s 106 & Park for two weeks and was in the Top Ten on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop Singles and Tracks chart.
Most recently, Lil’ Kim has shown a more demure side, dancing alongside Derek Hough on Season eight of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and is rumored to be working on an autobiographical film.