Notorious for her flesh-baring image and sexually explicit lyrics, Lil' Kim shot to fame in the latter half of the 1990s. But behind her spike-heeled “gangsta porno rap” ferocity lay a conflicted, vulnerable side of her character. She came from a broken home, and as a teenager had endured a violent relationship with her father. As a result she ran away and fell into an outwardly glamorous, but dangerous and exploitative world of pimps and drug dealers. She was discovered by Christopher Wallace, aka the Notorious B.I.G., who turned her into a star and became her lover before he was murdered in 1997 — a crime that has never been solved.
Kim was devastated by Wallace’s death, but eventually continued to forge a successful career. She is one of only three female rappers to have three platinum albums — the others being Missy Elliott and Nicki Minaj. And she is also the only female rapper to ever receive a coveted “5-mics” review from The Source magazine, for her acclaimed 2005 album The Naked Truth — released while she was serving a jail sentence for perjury. Since regaining her freedom, Kim has continued to be active musically — and also as a reality-TV star — and in June 2014 became a mother to a daughter, Royal Reign.
Kim’s next album, The Notorious K.I.M., wasn’t released until 2000 — nearly four years after her debut. She worked with Puff Daddy on the album after collaborating with him during her hiatus in an attempt to stay connected to Biggie’s legacy. Guests included Grace Jones, Redman, Cee-Lo Green and Mary J. Blige. The album debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 chart, was certified platinum and generally well received by audiences and critics alike. Lil' Kim’s celebrity status skyrocketed with her next project. In March 2001, she joined forces with singers Christina Aguilera, Pink and Mya — with Missy Elliott and Rockwilder producing — to remake Patti Labelle's "Lady Marmalade" for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. Despite never being officially released as a single, it held the No. 1 slot on the Billboard 100 chart for five weeks. The following year it won a Grammy award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals — firmly establishing Kim as one of the most sought-after rappers of the early 21st century. Debuting at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 chart in March 2003, Lil' Kim’s third album, La Bella Mafia, featured collaborations with Missy Elliott and 50 Cent — with Timbaland and Kanye West among the producers. Like its two predecessors, the album was also certified platinum. At the time Missy Elliott was the only other female MC with three platinum albums.