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.
Tasha Smith (childhood friend and Sarah J. Hale High School classmate): Kim felt when her dad remarried he changed, and it all escalated from there. ’Cause now you have a woman in the house, whereas it was always just Kim, [her older brother] Chris and her dad. Things that were maybe unacceptable, the stepmother would bring to her dad’s attention.
Marriott: She had a real violent relationship with her father. She once stabbed him with a pair of scissors.
Lil’ Cease (rapper, Junior M.A.F.I.A): She was always with my little sister, and sometimes she would be at my house when things were crazy. Nino, Bugsy, Capone and Chico, we were from the same neighborhood. Junior M.A.F.I.A wasn’t a rap group. We just ran with Big. He came up with the idea of making us into a group. One day, Big stopped Kim [on Fulton Street] and she spit something for him.