A native of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Lil' Kim was raised by her parents until they split up when she was nine years old. Her rhyming skills came to the attention of Biggie Smalls, who helped her cultivate her career. Smalls recruited her as a member of Junior M.A.F.I.A., and Kim was a key part of the group's hit debut single, "Player's Anthem." Kim also made a big impression on the remainder of Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s 1995 debut album, Conspiracy. Following its release, Kim appeared on records by Mona Lisa, the Isley Brothers, Total, and Skin Deep. For her debut album, she worked with a variety of producers, including Sean "Puffy" Combs, High Class, Jermaine Dupri, and Ski. The result, Hard Core, was released in late 1996. As the album's title implies, Kim was a rarity among female rappers -- one who not only concentrated on edgy hardcore rap but also explicit sexuality, two territories that had long been the province of male rappers. Kim's near-pornographic lyrics and hard-edged rhythms made her an anomaly within hip-hop, but Hard Core proved that she was no novelty, as it garnered positive reviews and strong sales, debuting at number 11 on the pop charts. The first single from the album, "No Time," a duet with Sean "Puffy" Combs, became a number-one rap single. The platinum-certified Notorious K.I.M. followed in 2000, peaking at number four on the Billboard 200 and topping the R&B/Hip-Hop chart. Moulin Rouge's "Lady Marmalade" kept her on the charts and in the pop consciousness in 2001, becoming a worldwide hit. In 2003, Kim issued her third platinum album, La Bella Mafia, which peaked at number five.
With her hardcore posturing and sexually explicit rhymes, rapper Lil' Kim blazed a trail for other like-minded and liberated female MCs in the '90s and beyond. Beginning with her 1996 debut Hard Core, she notched a trio of platinum-certified albums and scored a global number-one hit in 2001 with "Lady Marmalade," a high-profile collaboration with Christina Aguilera, P!nk, and Mya. Parting ways with major labels, she remained independent in the coming years, issuing a handful of mixtapes and branching out to television, appearing on Dancing with the Stars in 2009. After over a decade without a new album, her fifth studio full-length 9 materialized in 2019.