born kimberly jones in 1975, the pint-sized future lieutenant of the junior m.a.f.i.a. enjoyed a modest upbringing with her parents,in the bedford-stuyvesant neighborhood of new york's brooklyn borough, until the two split when she was nine years old. remaining with her army sergeant father, but without her mother to protect her, lil' kim suffered a much more strictly regulated adolescence than she may have under different circumstances. thrown out of the house by her father while still a teen, lil' kim took to the streets, sometimes staying with friends, earning money by running drugs and doing whatever else she had to get by.
at age sixteen, lil' kim met christopher wallace, a six foot-tall, three hundred pound drug dealer who was using the money generated by his unlawful activities to finance his entrance into the music industry. friendship between lil' kim and the notorious b.i.g. (as wallace was known in the rap world) was immediate, and a more romatic relationship followed quickly on its heels. at the same time that the two discovered their mutual attraction to one another, wallace also discovered that his new friend had rhyming skills that he was quick to employ as part of his hip-hop family, the junior m.a.f.i.a.. as if to repay his confidence in her, lil' kim took control of the second single on which she appeared"get money" and took biggie's advice to go solo.
following the success of her collaboration with the junior m.a.f.i.a., lil' kim's skills were much in demand as a featured rapper for artists such as mona lisa and total, leading to the eventual release of her own album, hard core. released in 1996 and featuring production credits by sean "puffy" combs and jermaine dupri, hard core made an immediate splash that originated in the hip-hop community and rippled throughout the music industry. between the release of hard core and the release of ill na naby fellow female mc and friend foxy brownthe market was cornered on hard-hitting female rappers who used their sexuality to open doors that couldn't be knocked down with their fierce rhyming skills. in fact, much of the controversy that centered around the self-proclaimed queen bee and ill na na of hip-hop focused not on their abilities on the mic, but rather on their in-your-face sexuality. lyrics that vividly described their sexuality exploits and proclivities simultaneously shocked and titillated both fans and critics.
a year after the release of lil' kim's hard core, her friend, mentor and sometimes lover, biggie smalls, was brutally gunned down as he exited a social function held at an automotive museum in los angeles' miracle mile district. the death of the notorious b.i.g. dramatically punctuated a growing rivalry between east and west cost factions of the hip-hop community. the murder of one of new york's most respected rappers in california drew national attention to a feud that had been brewing for a number of years and would only get worse before it got better. to add to the controversy, the deceased rapper, who had taken lil' kim into his heart, his family and, if rumors were to be believed, his bedroom, had a wifefamed r&b/hip-hop songbird, faith evansby whom he had a son. add to the mix a second reported mistress in up-and-coming rap diva charli baltimore and one has all the makings of a ghetto dynasty. lil' kim is philosophical about biggie's death, however, conceptualizing it as god's way of testing her ability to stand on her own to feet as a woman and an artist. " i used to always say, 'i can't live without this man.' i know god was like, 'alright, watch this'. god does that to see how much you appreciate him," she explained in the winter issue of honey magazine.
now, years after the release of her monumental debut album, lil' kim stands poised to release her second solo effort, reportedly titled notorious k.i.m. in homage to her dear friend. though originally expected in the fall of 1999, the album's street date has been pushed many times, with executives at atlantic records now eyeing a spring 2000 release in order to allow sufficient time to perfect their queen bee's sophomore effort. with guest appearances by mary j. blige, grace jones and rupaul (and a cover story in the december 1999 issue of out magazine) it appears that lil' kim is looking to expand her audience to incorporate gay listeners. "gay people love it when a person goes over the top, when a person shows that they don't care. and they like people with confidence because they have to have a lot of confidence to be the way they are," lil' kim explains of her appeal with the gay male market.
lil' kim exhibited this over-the-top spirit at the 1999 mtv video music awards, at which she wore an ornate lavender jumpsuit which stopped short of covering her left breast, which was covered only by a matching pasty. in yet another encounter with an icon of the queer communnity, lil' kim was playfully fondled by co-presenter diana ross who seemed both shocked and amused by her admirers choice of attire. "i took it as a, 'girl, look at you with your titty hanging out.' it was really sweet. i felt honored that she even thought to do thatlike she acknowledged me," lil' kim explained to out.
perhaps lil' kim's recent courtship of the gay community is related to her desire to eventually elevate her own status to that of icon. "i really want to work on becomming an icon in the year 2000. some people might say i'm one now. me, myself, i know what it takes to be an even bigger icon, and that's what i really want to do. you can't just become diana ross over four years, you know? you have to work at it, and then when you get it, you have to fill that need and stay that icon," lil' kim details. a quick survey of some of her icon idolsdiana ross, madonna, etc.reveals a close association with a gay male fan base in each. even with the prevelance of hip-hop culture, however, lil' kim has her work cut out for her. rap music has log been associated with both homophobic and misogynist tendencies which are really hard sells at any PRIDE celebration. lil' kim, as one of rap music's most "hard core" femme fatales will not only have to show that she does not tow hip-hop's party line when it comes to gay culture, but also that she is an advocate of gay rights within the rap world.
one thing is certain, however lil' kim is truly over-the- top. love her, hate her, but one can't help but be fascinated. with a following that spans generations, races, sexes, sexualities and economic classes, it can't be denied that lil' kim's in-your-face sexuality and much debated approach to femenism holds a certain appeal. with the release of notorious k.i.m. looming on the horizon, lil' kim is undoubtedly one step closer to her goal of becoming one of music's most fierce divas.