Rapper Lil’ Kim was born Kimberly Denise Jones on July 11, 1975, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York, to mother Ruby Mae Jones and father Linwood Jones. Kim’s parents sent her to catholic school—Queen of All Saints in Brooklyn—in an attempt to give their child a stable learning environment. However, the stability within their home came crumbling down after Kim’s parents got divorced when she was 9 years old, forcing her to live with her father.
Kim had a highly tumultuous relationship with her dad, having once stabbed him with a pair of scissors. It was during this time that she dropped out of school and left home at age 16. She began spending more and more time with rappers and lyricists Lil’ Cease, Nino Brown and Capone, among others, who formed the group Junior M.A.F.I.A. (aka Junior Masters at Finding Intelligent Attitudes) under the leadership of the up-and-coming rapper Biggie Smalls.
With Biggie at the helm, Junior M.A.F.I.A. released a series of singles from their debut album, Conspiracy (1995). With the single “Player’s Anthem,” Lil’ Kim was introduced to the world. The deep, provocative voice from such a petite rapper captivated audiences. She modeled her vocal flow after the very successful Biggie Smalls—adding grunts and ferocity—while her image revolved much more around her sex appeal.
Lil’ Kim debuted as a solo artist with the release of Hard Core in 1996, continuing the raunchy and lyrical wordplay that the public had already heard on Conspiracy. The album was a success. Critics loved her raw, unapologetic style of rapping, which was much more gritty and vulgar than female MCs of the past like MC Lyte and Queen Latifah. However, around the same time as Kim’s debut, the public was introduced to another edgy female rapper by the name of Foxy Brown. She and Kim would continue to feud for years, only adding to their popularity.
Kim’s next album, The Notorious K.I.M., wasn’t released until 2000. She continued to work with Puff Daddy on the album after collaborating with him during her hiatus in an attempt to stay connected to Biggie’s legacy. The certified platinum album was well-received by audiences and critics, but failed to live up to her debut.
The celebrity status that Kim had developed would skyrocket with her next project. In March 2001, she remade Patti Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade” with singers Christina Aguilera, Pink and Mya for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. The Grammy-winning single was an immense hit, reaching No. 1 on the charts and solidifying Kim as one of the most sought after rappers—either male or female—of the early 21st century.
She released her next album, La Bella Mafia, in 2003, which featured collaborations with Missy Elliott, Timbaland and Kanye West.