The sexier-than-thou image is no small feat for a woman who grew up in Brooklyn as a tomboy. Lil' Kim's parents divorced when she was eight, and she lived between both her parents' homes until the age of fourteen. According to Ebony magazine, this is when a defiant Lil' Kim ran away from home and began hanging out with drug dealers in her neighborhood. As fate would have it, one of the dealers would become her mentor and lover, the now-deceased rapper Biggie Smalls.
Later, when Biggie formed his own production company with friend Lance Rivera, the first group he signed was the now-defunct Junior M.A.F.I.A. (Masters At Finding Intelligent Attitudes). The group featured Lil' Kim and Biggie's childhood friend Lil' Cease. Their first album, Conspiracy, drew critical acclaim, and Lil' Kim quickly became the star of the union.
But then she left the group. The Lil' Kim of Junior M.A.F.I.A. disappeared. A new rapper emerged, and the racy Hard Core was her message. The LP for the album included an interlude of a man masturbating to Lil' Kim's image in a pornographic movie theater. (Oh, what a gal!)
Some have said the new Lil' Kim is just the product of Biggie Small's male fantasies, but she swears her controversial image is of her own design. The rapper also contends that she wrote all the songs on Hard Core herself and received only "slight" assistance from Biggie. (The album includes hits like "Queen Bitch" and the radio-friendly "Crush on You.")
"Biggie was growing as a producer … When he was putting my album together, he knew what he wanted me to do," Lil' Kim told Interview magazine. "He'd go, 'I want you to write this beat.' A lot of people always assumed that Biggie wrote for me. Yeah, he helped me out a lot, but I wrote all my music. I wrote everything.
"He may have written a few verses on my first album, but I'm gonna let you know right now, he was the only one that I would let do that for me. Biggie and I basically had the same mind, the same ear, the same ideas. He helped me the first time, so that means he's still helping me."
Since the release of her first album, Lil' Kim has continued to refine her image. She has gotten breast-enhancement surgery. She does Pilates. Her producer, Puffy, gave her a thigh master for her birthday.
Because, after all, sex sells. Recently, Lil' Kim became the CEO of her own label, Queen Bee Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. Now more than ever, she's benefiting from the profits to be made off her sexy look.
Of course, Lil' Kim is a talented rapper, and her talent is part of what's gotten her this far. But sometimes, when you sell your soul--or, in Lil' Kim's case, your body--you can climb the ladder of success just a little faster.