Kim was born on July 11th, 1975, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, a neighborhood immortalized by Spike Lee as the tension-filled setting for his 1989 masterpiece Do the Right Thing. Kim's childhood and adolescense were characterized by unrelenting misery and a total absense of security and stability. Her parents divorced when Kim was still a preteen. Her relationship with her father was volatile and charged with tension. When her father moved to another state, Kim was essentially left homeless. She began living with her mother again, but money was so scarce that Kim and her mother occasionally lived inside the family car.
Kim's luck began to change dramatically when she met the man who would become her lover, mentor, and friend, a fat, charismatic drug dealer and larger-than-life father figure named Christopher Wallace who rapped under the name Biggie Smalls. B.I.G. took an immediate liking to the diminutive MC and made her a core member of a group he was putting together called Junior M.A.F.I.A. (for Junior Masters At Finding Intelligent Attitudes).
From the very beginning of her career, Lil' Kim's life has all the makings of a hip-hop soap opera: beefs, betrayal, infidelity, and sexual competition gone awry. The melodrama began when former friends B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur had a falling-out after Tupac became convinced that B.I.G. and Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs were involved in a shooting/robbery that left Tupac wounded but hungry for revenge.
Combs and B.I.G. tried to deflate a conflict that somehow got blown up into a media-promulgated coastal rivalry, but Tupac continued his attacts not just on B.I.G. but also on Lil' Kim. In "Hit 'Em Up"s most notorious lines, Shakur bragged about fucking Notorious B.I.G.'s wife Faith Evans, which must have been especially painful for Kim, whose high-profile affair with her mentor made her arguably the most famous mistress in hip-hop history.
Kim's already stormy relationship with Notorious B.I.G. grew even more complicated and stressful when she became pregnant with B.I.G.'s seed. She gone public about having the pregnancy terminated.
In 1996, Kim released her first solo album, Hard Core. The album's title boasted a cheeky double meaning, referring both to the disc's overwhelming sexual explicitnes and to Kim's rugged, violent lyrics. Kim was hardly the first female rapper to flaunt her sexuality, but Hard Core nevertheless took raunchiness to X-rated extremes. Men all over the world were fascinated by a rapper who could spit hardcore gangsta shit and star in their most perverted sexual fantasies. Kim was smartly and lucratively marketed as a down-to-earth round-the-way girl who'd do things in bed that would make porn stars blush.
Hard Core went double platinum and scored three hit singles: "No Time" (with Puff Daddy), "Crush on You" (with Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s Lil' Cease) and "Not Tonight" (Remix). Kim turned the "Not Tonight" (Remix) into a raucous celebration of female empowerment by inviting Left Eye of TLC, radio personality turned rapper Angie Martinez, Missy Elliott, and Da Brat to contribute verses.
On March 9, 1997, B.I.G. was killed in Los Angeles at the age of twenty-four. B.I.G.'s death cast a long, dark shadow over Kim's otherwise thriving career.
The year 1997 was the best of times and the worst of times for Kim. She should have been ecstatic over the runaway success of Hard Core, but whispers began circulating that she wouldn't be able to make it without B.I.G. Haters insisted that without her Svengali behind her she would recede into obscurity. Such hate speech exemplifies hip-hop's innate sexism: if a female MC is spitting hot verses, heads assume there must be a dude ghostwriting for her, but if an estrogen-fueled MC kikcs nothing but garbage, heads assume she's writing her own lyrics.
The similarity between B.I.G.'s and Kim's flows and lyrics only fueled talk that B.I.G. was writing Kim's lyrics and that she would flounder in his absense. so the stakes were extremely high for her first disc since B.I.G.'s passing. Needless to say, she did nothing to quiet talk that she was crassly exploiting B.I.G.'s legacy when she named her second solo CD Notorious K.I.M. Then again, if anyone in rap had earned the rights to call herself "Notorious" it was the 4'11" dynamo born Kimberly Jones.
Notorious K.I.M. proved that Kim's gift for provocation was as sharp as ever. On the single "How Many Licks," a female answer to Too $hort's classic sex rap "Freaky Tales," she invites convicts to masturbate to her image, rapping "This verse goes out to my niggas in jail/Beatin' they dicks to the XXL magazine/You like how I look in the aqua green? Get your Vaseline." Kim was out to prove that female rappers can be just as nasty as male MCs, but she fell victim to hip-hop's vicious double standard.
-Excerpt from Rap-Up: The Ultimate Guide to Hip-Hop and R&B by Devin and Cameron Lazerine