By Christopher Rosa
If your first thought is Beyoncé when you hear Queen B, we’re not mad, but before Yoncé there was the original Queen Bee—Lil’ Kim. Reminisce with us about a time when the first lady of no f*cks to give took a hammer to hip-hop’s glass ceiling and crushed the ’90s.
It seems like just yesterday Kim was making headlines for wearing pasties to major award shows and leading the “four badass chicks from the Moulin Rouge.” But that was 13 years ago. Now, at the age of 40 (happy birthday!) her life is drastically different. Kim recently gave birth to daughter Royal Reign (who just made her Twitter debut), and she’s become a fixture on the hip-hop beef circuit by feuding with other artists. However, Kim’s legacy as a rap icon can’t be touched. She earned her stripes in the ’90s as a fresh face to the game who used her natural talent, sexuality, and determination to become a record-breaking superstar. In a nutshell, Lil’ Kim ruled the ’90s.
Don’t believe us? We pulled together 10 feats that Kim accomplished in the decade of the Spice Girls and grunge rock. Credit must be given where its due: She changed the scope of hip-hop, especially for female artists.
10. She was Notorious B.I.G.’s protégé, seen — erm, explicitly — on the interlude “F–k Me” from his album Ready to Die (1994).
Lil’ Kim, a ’round-the-way Brooklyn girl, was a relative newcomer when she did this 90-second skit on B.I.G.’s debut album. Her legacy of overt sexuality began right away. Set to what sounds like a squeaking bed, you can hear Kim (literally) moan what is essentially a raunchy menu. Hmmm… hungry now?
9. She was a business maven.Kim had her eyes on global domination in the ’90s, so that meant conquering more than just music. She became the only female rapper in history to star in a campaign for Candie’s in ’98. Kim was the face of Iceberg Jeans in ’99 and also lent her talents to MAC and Old Navy. She promoted all her pursuits like a champ too. (Check out her life-giving appearance on The Ricki Lake Show in ’97.)
8. She was the only female in B.I.G.’s group Junior M.A.F.I.A.
Pint-sized Kim was able to go toe-to-toe (or rap-to-rap) with every dude in the group (including the larger-than-life Christopher Wallace). Kim’s flow was fresh, and Junior M.A.F.I.A launched her into a stratosphere of stardom only few achieve.
7. The verses she laid down on Conspiracy (1995) are some of the greatest rhymes ever.
Junior M.A.F.I.A’s first album hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in 1995, and Kim’s raw verses and deep vocals had much to do with it. Songs like “Get Money” and “Player’s Anthem” showcase Kim’s iconic unapologetic style that was all over her first solo effort, Hard Core (1996).
6. She crossed over into acting flawlessly, notably in the cult comedy She’s All That (1999).
While she won’t be getting an Oscar any time soon (it’s alright, she’s got a Grammy to console her), Kim transitioned to film without the crash-and-burn result so many musicians-turned-actors experience. She had a solid supporting role in the Freddie Prinze, Jr. classic She’s All That, along with cameo roles in Longshot and Zoolander.
5. Her fashion was iconic.If there’s one aspect of Lil’ Kim that will stand the test of time, it’s her wardrobe. From insane wigs to themed outfits to pasties (don’t worry, we’ll get to that), Kim made fashion outrageous long before Lady Gaga or—sorry—Nicki Minaj. Take a look at her craziest ensembles here.
4. The “Ladies Night” remix of her 1997 smash “Not Tonight” put the “AY!” in “Slay.”
“Not Tonight” is great, but the ’97 remix captures a musical moment that will live forever. One of the coolest all-female collaborations ever, the disco-fied rap hybrid also features Da Brat, Missy Elliott, former Hot 97 personality Angie Martinez, and the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.
3. Her first album, Hard Core, featured promo art that solidified her as a sex symbol.Sure, the original artwork with Kim lying seductively on top of a polar bear is enough to get your blood pumping, but we’re talking about the promo shot heard round the world: Kim squatting spread-eagle in a leopard-print bikini. The pic (which looks a little too similar to this Minaj shot, eh?) has an in-your-face sexuality not seen since Madonna’s Erotica-era. With it, Kim told the world she deserved to be just as open and free with her sexuality as her male counterparts.
(P.S.: The shot makes a wonderful appearance in the seminal classic Meet The Parents.)
2. Even better than the Hard Core album art were the music records it destroyed.
Hard Core had both style and substance, and the results were written in platinum (2 million copies as of ’01, to be exact). The album debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard 200 in 1996, the highest for a female rapper at that time. It also spawned three consecutive No. 1 Hot Rap hits — “No Time”, “Not Tonight (Ladies Night remix)” and “Crush on You” — breaking records for a woman in her genre. Hard Core got an “A” from Entertainment Weekly and 4.5/5 stars for Rolling Stone, so the critics loved it, too.
1. She wore the craziest outfit in MTV Video Music Awards history.Lil’ Kim joined an exclusive club of VMA icons with the barely-there ensemble she wore to the ’99 show. True to form, Kim showed up in a purple onesie with nothing but a seashell pastie covering one of her breasts (and a matching purple wig, of course). The outfit was so outrageous that even living legend Diana Ross couldn’t resist giving Kim’s exposed ta-ta a little feel. It’s one of those pop culture moments you’ll tell your grandchildren about—or they’ll read about on the Internet.