Believe it or not, Lil’ Kim is shy. She doesn’t like to talk about her accomplishments. She has no desire to brag even though there’s a lot she could brag about. So, on this late April afternoon at a photo studio in lower Manhattan, Kim doesn’t know what to say during an interview, despite being one of the most famous rappers of all time. Kimberly “Lil’ Kim” Jones is a trendsetter. An influencer. A force. A queen. An icon. And she’s been doing it for almost three decades.
The Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn native first came onto the hip-hop scene as the lone female member of The Notorious B.I.G.’s rap crew Junior M.A.F.I.A. The group’s album Conspiracy dropped in 1994, and featured the hit singles “Players Anthem,” “Get Money” and “I Need You Tonight,” all of which prominently showcased Kim’s lyrical talent. With increasing popularity and the guidance of Biggie and Puff Daddy, Kim put out her two-times platinum debut album, Hard Core, in 1996, led by the smash hits “Crush On You,” “No Time” and “Not Tonight (Ladies Night).” The success of Hard Core etched Kim’s name into hip-hop history.
Over the next almost three decades, Lil’ Kim put out four more albums (The Notorious K.I.M., La Bella Mafia, The Naked Truth and 9), several mixtapes and hit songs (“Lighters Up,” “The Jump-Off,” “Whoa”) and collaborated with some of the most prominent artists in music including Christiana Aguilera, Pink, Mary J. Blige, Phil Collins, Missy Elliott and many more. Kim’s bold attitude and brazen lyrics helped the hip-hop queen kick in the door for all the lady MCs who have followed in her path. Her accomplishments and continued dedication to hip-hop as a leader and supporter of new talent has kept Kim, 48, in the forefront of the culture. In honor of 50 years of hip-hop and her almost 30 years in the game, Kim sat with XXL to talk a bit about her journey.
XXL: We’re here to celebrate 50 years of hip-hop, and we’re here to celebrate you and your involvement in hip-hop history. When you first got into it, did you ever think that being a rapper would be your career?
Lil’ Kim: When I first got into hip-hop, I never knew that it would take me this far. It was something I loved to do, so, I just did it, and here we are.
So, people look at you as a hip-hop icon for everything that you accomplished and all the doors that you’ve kicked open. Would you describe yourself as a hip-hop icon?
Everyone calls me an icon, and it’s an honor to me. It makes me smile. It makes me happy to know that people look at me that way because I never really saw that for myself, but it just happened organically, and this is my place in hip-hop.
What have been some of your biggest career highlights?
There’s a few highlights in my career, but it’s funny ’cause I never had that “Oh my God” moment. Even to this day, I feel like that moment is still coming for me. Because I was just doing what I liked to do normally, and I was having fun. I didn’t really see that this was gonna be a career for me because I was just this kid having fun. Everyone knows I started when I was 16, so it’s like, when they were making a big fuss—hair, nails, and makeup—all that done at the same time, I was like, “This is what’s going on?” But it was just like… I was just walking, you know? And wherever God was taking me, that’s where I was going.
So, it just was something that I loved to do, and [The Notorious B.I.G.] was like my everything, so, he kinda guided me like a big brother, but also like a father figure, like someone who really loved and cared about me and believed in me. And Puffy as well. So, I looked up to them in so many ways. So, one of my highlights of my career was, I think when Diana Ross touched my boob. That was everything, ’cause I loved Michael Jackson. I love Janet Jackson, so meeting Janet, knowing she was a fan of mine, just melted me. That was like, my life is complete. So, yeah.
Women are thriving in hip-hop right now. There are a lot of new female MCs on the come up. They wouldn’t exist without you kicking the doors down for them. Do you feel like you get that respect?
I’m glad to see; I’m glad that, I’m glad to see all of us women, you know, getting our recognition, and everybody making us equal. I’m so glad to see women getting our recognition and, you know, everyone celebrating us. I think it’s a wonderful thing. It’s beautiful.
When you look to the future, what are you most excited about? Since you said you didn’t think you had that moment yet personally.
Yeah, I really didn’t even have that moment ’cause I started as a child star. People don’t even know, half these girls, some of them are like close in age with me, so, at the end of the day, I don’t know what that moment is. It’s gotta come. And, you know, again, I don’t really care. I’m living life, enjoying myself, just doing me. Just enjoying what the next level could be, what it’s gonna be, whatever. I don’t know. I don’t see nobody. I just be out.
What are you working on now?
Professionally, I have a book coming, documentary movie, all that stuff is in the works. I’m looking forward to building my own empire as far as being able to have my own artists and, you know, just being able to help someone else’s vision come to fruition. That means a lot to me. I’m only working with new artists, period. And I have my friends and everything. I’m only working with new artists. I love helping other artists’ dreams come to fruition.
That makes me feel good. So many people helped me. I’m giving it back, I have my friends, and people I love in the industry. Obviously, I’ll work with them, but yeah, only new artists. I’m working on something big; I don’t want to talk about it yet ’cause it is coming into fruition. But I have something really big I’m working on for new artists. And, you know, everyone sees me from years back, support new artists, support women, so, you
know, I just wanna be able to build my own empire. That is it. Building my own empire, you know what I mean?
And how important is it for you, and has been, to support women who are coming through journeys like you’ve been on since childhood?
It’s super important for me to support every up-and-coming new artist. You know, male, female, period. Period. I don’t see Black and White. I see everything in color; it is what it is. For me, it’s one big, just family. All love, big love.
What do you see for the future of hip-hop?
I hope that hip-hop continues to thrive and just keeps elevating. I just love the fact that you know, I’m never gonna date myself, I’m never letting no one else date me, I’m never gonna be put in a box, and I’m never gonna allow my new artists that I work with to be put in a box. I want everyone to be free. Music is a universal language that should be able to be spoken however you wanna speak it. Period. And, it shouldn’t matter, timing, or, you know, wherever you are in life. Music is a radar that should find you wherever you are, no matter who you are; from children to wherever you are, it doesn’t matter. There’s no pinpoint of color. There’s no pinpoint of race. There’s no pinpoint of nothing; it’s just music. If you a bad bitch, you a bad bitch. Period.
What are some of your favorite songs from your catalog?
Some of my favorite songs that I’ve done is like “Get Money,” “Magic Stick,” my song with Kevin Gates [“Mine”]. I love that song. And that’s the thing; people don’t know the type of looks I have out there. But they’re there. Obviously, “Crush On You.” “Crush On You” is just classic to me, from everything about it.
When you think of your first album, Hard Core, what are your thoughts?
Hard Core is a classic. You can’t put that album next to anything else. To me, my albums start from Notorious K.I.M., ’cause Hard Core is a classic. It’s just something different. It’s a staple. It’s monumental, like something that just is like in a museum. You don’t even put a number on it, you know what I mean? It’s just something like how I look at Michael Jackson’s albums, you know what I mean? It’s just a classic. And by the way, all this talk about writing, I’ve wrote for other people. I’ve wrote on Diddy’s album. Check your credits, homeboy. Whoever his name is, I just learned about some guy that was talking smack. Whatever. Yeah. Do your homework, el stupido.