"Missy Elliott said, 'Girl, your nipples pop out so much. One day, you need to just come outside with one nipple out," Lil' Kim tells PEOPLE with a laugh

By Darlene Aderoju
January 18, 2021 03:15 PM
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Lil Kim
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Kimberly Denise Jones, a.k.a. Lil Kim, is often credited as one of the most iconic rappers of all time after she single-handedly broke the glass ceiling for a new style of women in the hip-hop industry.

In season two of American Gangster: Trap Queens on BET+, Lil' Kim tells the stories of women who worked tirelessly to overcome their life's struggles — much like the star. Abandoned by her father at just 13 years old, Lil' Kim, 46, tells PEOPLE how she powered through a difficult childhood as well as mentally and physically abusive relationships to become the trailblazer she is today. The hitmaker also opens up about her longtime love and collaborator, the late Biggie Smalls, and tells PEOPLE the hilarious story behind the unforgettable lavender outfit she wore to the MTV Video Music Awards.

"A lot of these girls' stories are so similar to mine," she tells PEOPLE. "I wanted to come home and my dad was like, 'Oh no, you ran away? Stay your ass in the street.' I was doing some of those same things at a very young age. My life was that way anyway, so I was having fun, but it was dangerous."

Lil' Kim

The Grammy-winner says she first realized she wanted to become a musician after listening to women like Salt-N-Pepa, The Lady of Rage, MC Lyte and most notably, Da Brat. "She really made me want to rap. Even though our styles were so different, I felt relatable to her because I think every sexy girl was a tomboy at one point," she says with a laugh. "It's true. Biggie liked her as an artist and that was a girl that we both agreed on. He did a song with her and I was so mad that he didn't take me with him to record it! I wanted to meet her. She was a real inspiration to me."

Ultimately, the two became friends, along with Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott and Misa Hylton (the stylist behind Lil' Kim's iconic VMAs look). "It was always either me or Misa taking risks," the "Crush on You" star tells PEOPLE. "I would either show up with the mink bikini and Misa would go, 'Ooo, we gotta use that,' or she would show up with a sheer shirt."

Lil Kim, Misa Hylton and Mary J. Blige
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Funny enough, Lil' Kim's now-iconic lavender MTV VMAs outfit was inspired by a joke that Elliott once told about Kim's infamous nip slips. "My nipples used to pop out so much on their own," she explains with a laugh. "They said something in a movie and made it look like it was planned — it was never planned. The girls used to laugh at me and Missy said, 'Girl, your nipples pop out so much. One day, you need to just come outside with one nipple out."

"We were laughing, but Misa's lightbulb went off and she just went from there. How the whole lavender wig came out was funny," adds the lyricist. Turns out, things went awry just before the show after her hairstylist accidentally "oversaturated something and the whole blonde wig came out lavender."

"She was so stressed because we were literally 45 or 30 minutes away from showtime," Lil' Kim recalls. "She was like, 'Misa, oh my God. I have to redo the hair, the whole wig is lavender.' Misa was like, 'Did you say lavender? Kim's outfit is lavender. 'It's perfect!' And I'm always with the s—. I was like, 'Let's do it! Put it on me.' I'm always excited to see what I'll look like in different colors."

Lil' Kim
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Lil' Kim

Lil' Kim also tells PEOPLE about one of her warmest memories with the late B.I.G. The pair were in California the first time a crowd recognized him as a famous rapper. "I was like, 'You don't see all these people looking at you and screaming your name?' And he was just talking to me very humbly still," she recalls, smiling from ear to ear. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh!' This was before I got really big, so I was in awe."

Of course, she wanted to take a picture to capture the moment. "I remember taking out this stupid cardboard camera I bought from the bodega. I was like, 'I gotta take a picture of you Big.' He was like, 'Girl, put that camera away. You see me every day. You ain't gotta take no picture.' But I was like, 'Smile,'" and he did. He was so mad, but he knew that he would've wanted to see that picture too." That's how the special moment was forever immortalized.

On being the first woman to reinvent female rap by introducing her own style, Lil' Kim says: "It's funny because I don't feel like I put myself in a male-dominated surrounding. People started putting me there like Biggie, Bad Boy, Puffy and Mase. They would say, 'Yo, she's better than some men.' Puffy would literally do it on purpose. He would put me on songs with guys and I would be the only girl."

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Lil' Kim

She continues modestly: "I was this girly girl and I had this gangster about me. We had a lot of fun doing 'Get Money.' Now 'Player's Anthem' is funny because I wasn't supposed to be on that record. But I would be like, 'Okay, two of the boys are supposed to be on there? I wanna go on, let me write something.' I would write and I would be finished my rap before them!"

Lil' Kim tells PEOPLE the first time she heard her song on the radio was when "No Time" featuring Diddy came on. "I was living with my mom in the Bronx. Me and my girlfriends were in the kitchen. At first, I tried to be smooth about it and then I was like, 'That's me, that's me!'" she happily remembers while dancing around on the Zoom screen. "I didn't feel like, 'Oh my God, I made it.' I felt like, 'Ok, what next?' I was excited and after that, things went really fast."

Lil' Kim
| Credit: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Lil' Kim shares the moment she felt she had really solidified her place in the rap game. "I remember Mase saying, 'You're not just one of my favorite female rappers. You're one of my favorite rappers.' That meant a lot to me that day. I was like, 'Wow.'"

Last January, Lil' Kim, Mase and more Bad Boy stars saluted Diddy at the 2020 Clive Davis Pre-Grammy Gala, where the mogul was presented the Icon Award. "We're really family," she says of her longtime collaborators. "We fight and argue, but we love harder than we fight. We all feel like we're stuck with each other in a good way. So it doesn't matter, you can be mad or you can be happy, but the chemistry is still the same because we all love each other and what we do. That's something that Bad Boy was blessed with — that energy and specific talent." 

For fans of Lil' Kim's timeless style, the star has a new clothing collection called Pretty Little Thing x Little Kim, available online now. "It's something I was working on for a long time, so I'm very proud. Y'all are gonna be like, 'Oh my gosh, that's Lil' Kim for real.'"

The first five episodes of American Gangster: Trap Queens are airing on BET+ now.