Born Kimberly Denise Jones c. 1976 in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Linwood, a former U.S. Army sergeant and bus driver, and Ruby Mae Jones, a department store clerk. Addresses: Record company--Atlantic Records, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, NY 10104 Phone: phone: (212) 707-2533, Fax: fax: (212) 405-5665,.
Provocative, explicit, street savvy, and controversial, Lil' Kim has proven that hardcore rhyming is not just for the boys, opening up new possibilities to other women rappers. Since her 1996 debut appropriately entitled Hardcore, Kim's influences surfaced time and again throughout the hip-hop world, most notably in the music of Foxy Brown and Queen Pen. Kim's style, unmistakably sexy yet never submissive, raised her profile to rare heights, and despite the fact that she did not release a second album, Notorious K.I.M., a tribute to her slain mentor and lover Notorious B.I.G., until the year 2000, her image was still fresh in the public's mind. Roles on television and in film, glitzy fashion and cosmetic advertisements, and glamorous photographs gracing magazine covers kept Kim in the spotlight.
Today, Lil' Kim's life of high public profile seems a world away from that of her upbringing, although the tragedies she endured as a youngster arguably influenced her music. Born Kimberly Denise Jones around 1976, the daughter of Linwood, a former United States Army sergeant and bus driver, and Ruby Mae Jones, then a department store clerk, Kim and older brother Christopher grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. As a child, she excelled in her studies at the Queen of All Saints Catholic School, but at the age of nine, when her parents divorced, Kim's life was turned upside down. Kim, her mother and brother were forced to stay with family members and slept on various couches.
Eventually, Ruby found herself unable to care for Kim and Christopher on her own and relinquished custody to the children's father, who instituted a set of strict house rules that Kim quickly rebelled against. Kim and her father fought and argued constantly, and at times their disputes would lead to physical violence. During one fight, according to Kim, she stabbed her father in the shoulder with a pair of scissors. In an attempt to ease tensions within the home, Linwood, who had since remarried, took Kim to see a therapist. Nonetheless, the arguments persisted, and Kim, barely a teenager, ran away from home to live with the first of several boyfriends, often selling drugs for financial support.
In the early 1990s, however, Kim's life began to change for the better after a chance meeting with an up-and-coming rap artist named Christopher Wallace. "We lived on the same block in Brooklyn," she recalled in an Interview feature, as quoted by Atlantic Records. "I always thought he was cute, and when I first started talking to him, I felt like I'd known him for years. I was working at Bloomingdales and friends of mine said to him, 'You know, Kim knows how to rap.' He was like, 'Please! She's too cute to know how to rap.'" Wallace, at the time about to make waves in the rap world as Biggie Smalls--later known as the Notorious B.I.G.--with his 1993 debut hit song "Party and Bullsh**," convinced Kim to try rapping.
Groomed for Rap Stardom
Assuming the role as Kim's mentor, Wallace, the person most responsible for enabling Kim to evolve into one of hip-hop's most visible stars, took the 16-year-old under his wing. "We were really partners--like Bonnie and Clyde for real--and we lived our life like that," Kim said to Steve Jones in USA Today. "He taught me everything I know.... Biggie still is the greatest rapper in the world. That's why God put him in this world, so that everybody could get a taste of what this game is all about." Despite the couple's close bond, Wallace later married another artist from producer and record executive Sean "Puffy" Combs' growing Bad Boy Entertainment crew, singer-songwriter Faith Evans, initiating a stormy and quite public love triangle that continued to invite speculation long after Wallace's death. According to a 1998 People magazine interview, Kim stated that she once turned down a marriage proposal from Wallace because she didn't feel ready, but admitted to other members of the press on numerous occasions that she resented the couple's relationship. At the time of Wallace's murder, he and Evans, though not divorced, were in fact separated, adding to the scandalous rumors.
Whatever the circumstances of their romance, the moment for Lil' Kim had arrived when she hooked up with Wallace. In 1994, Notorious B.I.G. released the album Ready To Die, an overwhelming success that allowed him and friend Lance "Un" Rivera to form Undeas, an imprint label under Atlantic Records. Channeling his growing clout within the hip-hop industry, Wallace launched the Brooklyn rap collective Junior M.A.F.I.A. (Masters At Finding Intelligent Attitudes) as Undeas' first signing. Comprised of Biggie, Kim, The 6's (Lil' Cease, Chico, and Nino Brown), The Snakes (cousins Trife and Larceny), and Solo MC Klepto, Junior M.A.F.I.A. made an immediate impact, entering the top ten of the Billboard 200 pop album chart in September of 1995 with the certified platinum album Conspiracy. And as the record swiftly climbed in popularity, peaking at number two on the Billboard R&B chart, Lil' Kim shined as the group's breakout star. She appeared on two of the record's standout tracks--the gold-selling single "Players' Anthem," with the Notorious B.I.G. and Lil' Cease, and "I Need You Tonight," with Lil' Cease and Aaliyah--as well as the platinum-selling single "Get Money," a duet with B.I.G.
That fall, Junior M.A.F.I.A. embarked upon their first major tour, opening shows for the Notorious B.I.G. nationwide. Meanwhile, Wallace and Kim hatched plans for the rising star's solo debut, Hard Core. Upon its release in November of 1996, Hard Core took the number 11 position on the Billboard 200, marking the highest-ever debut for a female hip-hop artist in the chart's history. It, too, eventually went platinum and spawned several smash hits, including "Crush On You," also featuring B.I.G. and Lil' Cease, and "No Time," a duet with Puffy, who also produced Hard Core, that spent nine weeks at number one on the rap chart and earned Kim yet another platinum award.
Sexual Exploits Sparked Debate
But Hard Core also inspired heated debate. While Kim was no stranger to harsh lyrics, as evidenced by her performance on Conspiracy, she pushed herself even further with her solo debut. Scantily dressed and sprawled across the album cover spread-eagle, Kim without inhibition rapped about sexual exploits in graphic detail, especially on the tracks "Queen B****" and "Not Tonight." Not since H.W.A. and B****es With Problems in the early 1990s had a female rap artist taken accounts of sexual appetite to such limits. Moreover, many believed that as one of the most visible women in hip-hop, Kim, regardless of her undeniable talent for rhyming, set a difficult standard for others with her sexed-up image. Following Kim's popular success, as well as that of her one-time friend Foxy Brown, other female rappers felt it necessary to adopt glamorous, provocative attire and boast about sexual experiences in order to sell records.
All the while, Kim was a hot topic of conversation among music critics, who credited her with ushering in a new era for commercial rap--one where women adopted the same hard rhythms and explicit lyrics as their male counterparts. "Kim is a revolutionary figure in the sense that she's a woman who is articulating the same perverted thoughts that men have been rhyming about for years," concluded one reviewer for CMJ, while Spin stated that "Kim is possessed of so much natural panache and audacity that she packs the attack of a 50-foot woman." Suddenly, Kim stood at the top of her game, but would soon receive devastating news that would change her life forever.
On March 9, 1997, the Notorious B.I.G. was shot to death as he left a music industry event at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, possibly a reaction to the 1996 shooting death of Death Row rap star and actor Tupac Shakur that may have resulted from a growing rivalry between Combs' Bad Boy Records and Death Row Records. Luckily, both murders led to a thawing of tensions within the hip-hop community rather than more violence. But as a member of Combs' growing empire and participant in the prior dispute between the two labels, Kim was devastated by B.I.G.'s assassination, a shattering blow that continued to haunt her for years to come. "Trust me, after B.I.G. died, the drama did not stop," she told Jones. "I just try to deal with it and hope that it turns out all right."
Aside from personal suffering, another consequence of Wallace's death was a falling-out with Undeas Recordings CEO Rivera. While struggling to cope with her loss and waiting for a new record deal to come along, Kim maintained a high profile by contributing to recordings by Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott ("Hit 'Em Wit Da Hee"), the Lox ("Money, Power, and Respect"), Puff Daddy ("It's All About the Benjamins"), Jay-Z, Mobb Deep ("Quiet Storm" remix), Funkmaster Flex, Black Rob, Jermaine Dupri, and even rocker Tommy Lee's Methods of Mayhem, as well as to the film soundtracks for Booty Call, Don't Be a Menace While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, and Nothing to Lose, the later featuring a remix of "Not Tonight" re-titled "Ladies Night" with Angie Martinez, Da Brat, TLC's Left Eye, and Missy Elliott.
Acting Roles and Endorsements
Additionally, Kim forged a career in other areas of the entertainment business, pushing the young star further into the consciousness of American pop culture. In 1999, she debuted on television in the season finale of Pamela Anderson's series VIP, landed a role in the film She's All That, starring Freddie Prinze, Jr., and secured advertising endorsement deals with MAC Cosmetics as spokesperson for Viva Glam III lipstick (with proceeds going to the MAC AIDS Fund), Candies shoes, and Iceberg jeans, then returned to the music industry in 1999 as CEO of her own label, Queen Bee Records, an Atlantic imprint. Soon thereafter, the label launched with the release of a debut album from Lil' Cease, The Wonderful World of Cease-A-Leo, featuring the Cease/Kim collaboration "Play Around." Also that year, Kim earned two Soul Train/Lady of Soul awards and presented honors to other artists for the VHI Fashion Awards, the MTV Video Music Awards, and the Source Awards.
The following year, Kim contributed a song to the Bad Boy tribute album to Notorious B.I.G. entitled Born Again, inducted Earth, Wind & Fire into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during ceremonies held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, and appeared in the summer of 2000 on the big screen again in the blockbuster film Scary Movie, directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans. Then in late June of that year, four years after her solo debut, Kim released Notorious K.I.M., the title and executive producer credits a tribute to Wallace. Although songs like "How Many Licks," featuring singer Sisqo, recalled the same explicit nature of Hard Core, Kim realized she needed to tone down her lyrics in order to receive more airplay on commercial radio.
Solo Career Took a New Direction
"With this album I knew I had to be creative and versatile," she explained to Jones. "I didn't go away from (explicit material) too much, though.... I felt the need to kick it like the fellas do, but from a female perspective." For example, on the track titled "Hold On," performed with Mary J. Blige, Kim discusses her life with Wallace and reveals that she terminated a pregnancy by him a year before his death. Not only did she want to express her feeling for her former lover with the song, but also wanted to pay tribute to women everywhere by identifying with some of their same sufferings. Moreover, Notorious K.I.M. proved Kim's ability to pen rhymes on her own. Since her stunning debut, many had credited Wallace for molding lyrics for her, saying that she was not an MC in her own right.
Lil' Kim came out with the album La Bella Mafia in 2003, for which she won the Source Hip-Hop Music Award for female artist of the year. Then in August of 2004 Lil' Kim announced the startup of her personal designer watch label, Royalty, which will be manufactured by celebrity jeweler Jacob Arabo. On a down side, in March of 2005 Lil' Kim was convicted on federal perjury charges regarding a shooting incident in Manhattan in 2001. She was acquitted of the more serious charge of obstruction of justice, but she still received a sentence of one year and one day in jail plus a $50,000 fine. She began her sentence on September 19. She spent her days before going into jail finishing up her album, The Naked Truth, and filming a few videos to go with it. Much of the album dealt with her feelings surrounding her upcoming imprisonment, but she put a brave face on all of it. She even mentions Martha Stewart, who herself just recently got out of jail, in one of her songs. The album was released in late September. People magazine said of it, "The Naked Truth is hardly perfect; it's too long and has too much filler. But it sure does leave you waiting to hear what she comes up with when she gets out of prison."
Able to assume all the credit for her songs and in complete control of her own musical direction, Kim--now a businesswoman and budding actor in addition to a revolutionary force in hip-hop-- intended to take her status beyond that of rap's most provocative performer. One day, she hopes to rise to the status of icons such as Diana Ross and Tina Turner, two of pop's greatest divas, without forgetting the people who enabled her to succeed. "People may call me a diva, but I don't like the word because it is associated with stink-nasty attitudes, and I don't have that," said Kim. "I'm not always real nice, but I am nice to my fans because they have nothing to do with what I'm going through."
by Laura Hightower
Lil' Kim's Career
Met the Notorious B.I.G., real name Christopher Wallace, at age 16; joined Brooklyn rap collective Junior M.A.F.I.A. and appeared on Conspiracy, 1995; released solo debut, Hard Core, 1996; made film debut in She's All That, formed Queen Bee Records, 1999; acted in blockbuster film Scary Movie, released album paying tribute to Wallace entitled Notorious K.I.M., 2000; released album La Bella Mafia, 2003; released album The Naked Truth, 2005.
- Selected discography
- Hard Core , Undeas/Big Beat/Atlantic, 1996.
- Notorious K.I.M. , Queen Bee/Atlantic, 2000.
- La Bella Mafia , 2003.
- The Naked Truth 2005.
- Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 29, 1999.
- Billboard, December 5, 1998.
- Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1997; May 10, 1997; May 16, 1997.
- Newsweek, September 26, 2005, p. 56.
- People, September 26, 2005, p. 86; October 24, 2005, p. 49.
- USA Today, June 30, 2000.
- Village Voice, February 9, 1999.
- ABCNews.com, abcnews.go.com/wire/Entertainment/ap20031014_474.html (October 14, 2003).
- Atlantic Records, http://www.atlantic-records.com (September 2, 2000).
- E! Online, www.eonline.com (March 18, 2005).
- E! Online, www.eonline.com (July 8, 2005).
- CNN.com, www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/07/06/lil.kim.sentence.ap/index.html (July 8, 2005).
- Rolling Stone, http://www.rollingstone.com (September 2, 2000).
- USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/people/2004-08-11-lilkim-watches_x.htm (August 11, 2004).
- Wall of Sound, http://www.wallofsound.com (September 2, 2000).
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