In this edition of “Cheat Sheet,” we’re featuring rapper Lil Kim. Enjoy!
Who: They both hail from New York and both have résumés on which urban violence makes a prominent appearance, but the crucial point of separation between Nicki Minaj and Lil Kim rests in the former’s defter skill as a marketer. Much of Minaj’s combative posturing and effusive sexuality is cast directly from the Lil Kim mold, but whereas Nicki has been able to spread this appeal across multiple demographics, Lil Kim remains, both to her boon and detriment, gangster to the core.
After impressing Biggy Smalls with her freestyle chops, Lil Kim (nee, Kimberly Denise Jones) wound up with a prominent slot on the 1995 Junior M.A.F.I.A. album Conspiracy. A teenage-hood spent mostly on the streets of Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood had sharpened Lil Kim’s wit and expanded her ambition to an impressive scale. No sooner had Conspiracy been released than she set to work on a solo debut (Hard Core), which went on to achieve double-platinum status, following its 1996 release.
Kim followed up Hard Core with the equally well received The Notorious K.I.M. (2000) and La Bella Mafia (2003). Both albums went platinum and yielded more hit singles than most artists produce in an entire career.
Lil Kim’s public life might have continued in much this same style, if it weren’t for a 2001 shooting that took place outside of Manhattan’s Hot 97 radio studio. In the aftermath of that shooting, Kim lied to a federal grand jury about her bodyguard and manager’s involvement in the incident, stating that she didn’t know the two of them were at the scene. Video surveillance contradicted this claim, and Kim was sentenced to 12 months in federal prison on a perjury charge. She served 10 months of this term, and was released in 2006. Her fourth album, The Naked Truth, shipped while she was in prison.
Since her release, Lil Kim’s career has failed to regain the momentum it displayed in the late ‘90s. While her fifth (as of yet untitled) album languishes in a years-long production process, Kim has taken to such measures as competing on Dancing With the Stars in order to maintain her profile and cash flow. Earlier this month, Kim embarked on her “Return of the Queen Tour”, a 25-date jaunt that has received predominantly positive reviews.
The Sound: Since her debut, Lil Kim has been alternately lauded and chastised for her willingness to spit lyrics that border on the pornographic. A female practitioner of hardcore rap was still a rare thing at the time of Conspiracy’s release and Lil Kim earned her initial plaudits by proving she could be every bit as raunchy and menacing as the boys.
Despite working with a plethora of different producers, Lil Kim has consistently favored beats that employ spare 808 samples and allow her lyrics to take center stage. Soul samples pop up on occasion in Lil Kim tracks, but coughing bass drums and muted guitar samples form the bread and butter of her style.
Essential listening: If you weren’t around in 1996, then you’ll just have to take it on faith that Hard Core was a much more threatening specimen at that point in history. Of the singles from that album, “No Time” has aged with the most grace.
“How Many Licks?”, from 2000’s The Notorious K.I.M., has secured a solid place in the cultural collective memory, due at least in part to Lil Kim’s fearlessly explicit verses.
Sure, “The Jump Off” falls victim to some of the more onerous conventions of club rap, but a beat from Timbaland makes this track well worth a repeat listen. In any case, it’s still probably Lil Kim’s most popular track.
A handful of tracks from Kim’s much-delayed fifth album have popped up on the Internet and then disappeared, forming a years-long game of sonic Whack-a-Mole for dedicated fans. However, the Kim camp seems content to let “If You Love Me” roam in the great wide world. This not-too-shabby track offers two causes for concern, one being its comparatively tame lyrics, the other being the revelation that Lil Kim’s prison term failed to protect her from the blight of auto-tune.
(Photo credit: O. Maraj/Wikimedia)