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Kim began her career as a solo artist with the 1996 release of her debut solo album, Hard Core. Hard Core was well-received critically and commercially; sales were buoyed due to her association with the Notorious B.I.G. Its first single, "No Time", featured Puff Daddy on the chorus and became an instant hit on hip-hop radio. In early 1997, the second single, "Crush On You," featured fellow Junior Mafia member, Lil Cease, and was an even bigger hit, thanks in part to the track's memorable and colorful video.
During the summer of 1997, Kim released a remix of "Not Tonight" a very explicit track off of Hard Core, for a film soundtrack. The remix featured a sample of the disco song "Ladies' Night" and was a girl-power anthem, featuring rhymes by Angie Martinez, Da Brat, TLC's Lisa Lopes, and Missy Elliott, in addition to Kim. As was the case with "Crush On You," the song and video were both hugely successful.
In 2000, Lil Kim returned, after an absence from music, with her second full-length album, The Notorious K.I.M. It was not as commercially successful as her debut album, but it spawned two moderate hit hip hop singles, "No Matter What They Say" and "How Many Licks," which featured Sisqo on the chorus and a risque video that only had limited play on MTV.
In spring of 2001, Lil Kim teamed up with Pink, Mya, and Christina Aguilera on a remake of Patti Labelle's "Lady Marmalade," for which Kim provided a new rap verse. The track was produced by hot hip-hop producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott and was featured in Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge!. The song's memorable video featured the four singers dressed in very skimpy clothes and heavy makeup, like women who appear at the Moulin Rouge would typically be dressed. The video was Kim's first major pop radio hit.
Most recently, Kim released her third studio album, La Bella Mafia, in spring of 2003. The first single and video, "The Jump Off" featured rapper Mr. Cheeks, and was a sizeable hit. Kim also appeared in a posthumous music video for Aaliyah, "Miss You", in which Kim, Missy Elliott, Brandy, Tweet, DMX, Montel Williams, and several others pay tribute to the deceased star.
During the summer of 2003, "Magic Stick," the second single from La Bella Mafia, became one of the year's biggest hits, thanks in part to guest raps from 50 Cent. It is one of the few songs in recent years to have hit number one without the aid of a music video, and is Kim's most successful single to date.
In the past, Kim has been featured on hit songs by Ray-J, Mobb Deep, The Lox, and the posthumous Notorious B.I.G. track, "Notorious B.I.G." which contains an extremely blatant sample of Duran Duran's 1980s hit, "Notorious".
In addition to being recognized for her music, Kim is notorious for her avant garde style. In what is probably her most memorable public appearance, Lil Kim showed up at the 1999 MTV VMA's with an entire breast hanging out and only a tiny piece of fabric over the nipple. Kim's outfit became even more controversial later that night, when she appeared on stage with Mary J. Blige and Diana Ross to present an award, and Ross proceeded to squeeze Kim's breast.