Fifteen years ago, seemingly overnight, Lil’ Kim became hip-hop’s alpha female. Unflinchingly raw, her 1996 debut, Hard Core (Big Beat/Atlantic/Undeas)—copiloted by Bad Boy Entertainment’s breadwinner Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G—defied conformity. But these days, more than her audacious singles (“No Time,” “Crush on You,” “How Many Licks”), pasties-peppered wardrobes, over 6 million records sold or shelves full of shiny trophies, it’s Lil’ Kim’s beef with hip-hop’s reigning—and undoubtedly Kim-inspired—queen, Nicki Minaj, that’s given her a chance at a comeback. It even compelled Kim in March to drop a mixtape, Black Friday—which sold for $10 a pop on PayPal—intended to dismantle her newfound nemesis.
She was born Kimberly Denise Jones in 1975 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn to Ruby Mae and Linwood Jones; and blew up after Biggie plucked her from the streets as a teen and thrust her into America’s arms. Here, Kim’s closest friends and business associates chart her chaotic, sometimes unbelievable, journey and ponder how the Queen can rebuild.
“I like a real subtle guy who’s getting paper. A father figure because me and my father weren’t really that close. Like Biggie—he sheltered me. I like a protector. Fathers don’t let nothin’ happen to their baby girl.” —Lil’ Kim, VIBE 1997
Rob Marriott (writer, VIBE June/July 2000 Lil’ Kim cover story): Her mother worked at Macy’s. And she was a very stylish woman. She sent Kim to catholic school [Queen of All Saints] and tried to put her in the best situations. But her parents divorced, and Kim went to live with her father. ...