Rifling through the history books to get acquainted with the legends of hip-hop lore can be testing to say the least, with many not knowing where to start. To help you ace that test, we over here at Bonafide will be putting together detailed memos providing the lowdown on rap’s great and wonderful. Like concise CliffsNotes, these ‘Cheat Sheets’ will cover all bases, telling you everything you need to know about everyone worth knowing.
Celebrating the pint-sized icon’s 51st birthday, we pay our respects to hip-hop’s reigning queen of raunch; rap’s original sex-pot – the seductive and stately first lady of x-rated wordplay – Lil’ Kim. Spotlighting the life and legacy of the enigmatic rapper, we profile the diminutive but larger-than-life siren of Bad Boy’s shiny suit era; the stylish, rugged and regal femme fatale that we’ve come to know, at times loathe, and love; the one and only Notorious K.I.M.
The pocket-size wonder rhymer was born Kimberly Denise Jones on July 11, 1974 (although some sources contend she was born in 1975) in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York – the famously fertile breeding ground of hip-hop greatness – home to a whole host of rap luminaries like Big Daddy Kane, Jay-Z, and – of-course – Kim’s mentor, reported lover and friend, the Notorious B.I.G.
Held in high regard by many as hip-hop royalty, Kim is often referred to as rap’s Queen Bee. Long before Beyoncé assumed her throne, the beloved subject of this profile was crowned the best femcee rapping, and coronated Queen of New York. To many, the title seemed a fitting one, as she was aligned with none other than Frank White himself – for a time being, at least, the people’s K.O.N.Y.
As Biggie’s protege, Kim would also show her appreciation for the Brooklyn legend by adopting the alias Notorious K.I.M; at times going by the mafioso moniker, Kimmy Blanco as a member of Junior M.A.F.I.A. – a clever nickname reiterating her status as Big’s old lady; her role as Bad Boy’s all-powerful matriarch reaffirmed by the sobriquet, Big Momma.
Claim to fame
Owing to a fractious relationship with her father, a former U.S Marine, young Kimberley Jones was kicked out of her family home at a tender age; dropping out of high school and then turning to the streets. Discovered by Biggie, Kimberley eventually became Lil’ Kim, linking up with Lil’ Cease, Capone, Chico and co. to form Junior M.A.F.I.A; the group releasing their modestly successful debut, Conspiracy, in 1995.
A magnetic, engaging personality, Kim proved to be the group’s stand-out star; quickly amassing a loyal and ardent fan base. Going solo after a year with the crew, Queen Bee – aided by an A-list team of rappers and beat-makers, including Jay-Z and Jermaine Dupri – sought to capitalise on her buzz with Hard Core – her influential and acclaimed debut. With Biggie serving as the album’s executive producer, Hard Core went on to sell over two million records; earning it the distinction of being the highest-selling debut for a female rap album (at the time).
Hard Core’s critical and commercial success, spurred on by the popularity of singles such as No Time, Crush On You and Not Tonight (Not Tonight Remix), catapulted Kim to superstar status; making her an icon, sex symbol and the face of explicit girl-power.
Her subsequent albums – The Notorious K.I.M, La Bella Mafia, and The Naked Truth, respectively – high-profile guest appearances, flirtations with the fashion world, brief dalliances with Hollywood and numerous beefs would only add a little more shine to her status as one of hip-hop’s brightest stars; burnishing her reputation as the Queen of rap.
Like a HOT 97 Anaïs Nin – with Biggie her Henry Miller – Lil’ Kim makes poetry of the erotic, her rhymes bold and playful explorations of her femininity and sexuality. Unapologetically recounting her conquests with as much relish as as any of her male counterparts, Kim delights in the brazen and x-rated; confidently challenging listeners to accept and even admire her prowess; doing so with a determination and assertiveness bordering on political – her expletive-laden bars feminist statements of glitz, glamour and defiant sensuality.
A colourful character with a surplus of charisma, Lil’ Kim has always been a great performer. Renowned for her confidence and attitude, as well as her entertaining histrionics, the Bed-Stuy firecracker is an intriguing force of nature; making her videos loud – and often lewd – spectacles of gaudy fun. From How Many Licks to Ladies Night; The Jump Off to Lady Marmalade, the Notorious K.I.M’s best visuals are enlivened by unique and interesting costume designs only Missy Elliot could hope to match; her music videos thrilling mini movies of garish outfits and pin-up sass.
Lil’ Kim has made a career of outshining her peers. Rapping circles around her contemporaries, the bantam-weight emcee has taken out some of hip-hop’s biggest heavy-hitters on an array of legendary tracks; including the Quiet Storm and It’s All About the Benjamins remixes, The Lox’s Money, Power, Respect and Mase’s Will They Die For You.
The commanding rapper has routinely demonstrated her ability to bully her rivals and foes on the mic; proving herself a dominatrix with her rhymes by consistently whipping her subjects into shape with sharp lashes of brashness, bravado and wit.
“Beside every man is a Bad Girl” – No Time
“Life’s a wheel of fortune and y’all can’t buy a vowel” – Who’s Number One?
“Wanna bumble wit the Bee, huh? Bzzz, throw a hex on a whole family” – It’s All About The Benjamins (Remix)
“If I was you I’d hate me too” – No Matter What They Say
“I’m the wicked bitch of the east” – The Jump Off
What They Say
Diddy, the PT Barnum of Bad Boy’s legendary fun fair of iconic acts, joined in the celebrations at the VH1 2016 Hip-Hop honours, lauding Lil’ Kim and her impact on the music industry. Addressing the influential rapper, the mogul was fulsome in his praise, positively gushing and waxing lyrical. Speaking with all the fondness and delight of a proud brother, he said: “The way you walk, the way you talk. You always pushed the envelope. There’s only one Queen Bee.”
Speaking to the little diva’s wide-reaching appeal, Empire star, Taraji P. Henson, has cited Kim as one of the many inspirations for her portrayal of fan-favourite, Cookie Lyon; Henson eulogising the rap leading lady in a sit-down with Vogue, defining her as “everything”.
“Kim came on the scene and made everything change for women,” Henson enthused. “She made it feminine and sexy and hardcore. She was a champion, and she’s certainly Cookie’s champion.”
GHE20G0THIK founder Venus X has also discussed Lil’ Kim’s influence with Condé Nast’s flagship magazine, praising the rapper in an interview with Vogue. “The reason I love Lil’ Kim,” she explains, “isn’t because of Tumblr or a mood board, but she put us all on the map. Kim was the bell hooks of rap music.”