Lil' Kim Aims to Be Rap's Martha Stewart

Sept. 30, 2005 — -- Lil' Kim doesn't have to look far to find other celebrities who've more than managed their careers in prison – and she's not shy about pointing that out.

As she sings on her new record: The government tried to put me through it,But I'm back to style on y'all like Martha Stewart.

Kim's new CD, "The Naked Truth," hit stores this week, just eight days after she reported to the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia to begin serving a 366-day sentence for perjury.

Just like Stewart, Kim took on a flurry of projects as she prepared for prison and, in an unlikely coincidence, she's even reportedly mulling a reality TV project for VH1.

But as Kim looks to keep her recording career alive, she can look to several hip-hop stars – including Beanie Sigel, C-Murder, Cassidy and Shyne – who keep selling CDs, and manage to find ways to record new material, even though they're behind bars.

It's a myth that prison convictions give rappers a rougher edge that automatically builds fan credibility and boosts CD sales, even though that's been true in a few notable cases.

"I think this is a reflection of where hip-hop comes from, and what it is," says Nelson George, author of "Hip Hop America." "But don't forget, country music and rock 'n' roll were once rebel music. Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings and, come on, George Jones – they were real rabble-rousers. And in the '70s, rock 'n' roll guys were getting locked up for drug possession all of the time."

For Shyne, Freedom Ends and Recording Career Begins

With the 1995 release of "Me Against the World," Tupac Shakur became the first major rapper to reach new heights on recordings released while in stir.

By the time Shakur faced sexual assault charges, he was a force in the music industry.

Jamal "Shyne" Barrow was a virtual unknown six years ago when he was charged in an infamous New York nightclub shooting along with Sean "Diddy" Combs, who was accompanied that evening by former girlfriend Jennifer Lopez.

In the highly publicized trial, Barrow admitted he fired a gun into the crowd but claimed it was in self-defense. He was convicted on assault, reckless endangerment and weapons charges and slapped with a 10-year sentence.

But the end of Shyne's freedom was the beginning of his run as a recording star. From prison, he signed a $3 million contract with Island/Def Jam Records. Both his albums charted well, and the latest (last summer's "Godfather Buried Alive") hit No. 1 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop chart, selling 434,000 copies.

For material, Shyne used tracks from a debut album that was recorded before the nightclub incident and never released. Some of the tracks were updated with rhymes Shyne phoned in from prison. He even managed to conduct a few interviews before prison officials cracked down on him.

While Shyne's second album sold less than his first, it still generated enough business for significant chart success. Shyne's career was nevertheless stymied in May, when a Brooklyn court froze profits on his latest album, citing a Son of Sam law that prevents criminals from making money from their crimes.

Band on the Run: New Music Escapes From Jail

Surprisingly, confinement hasn't prevented many inmates from recording new material. Last year, Atlanta prison officials admitted that they allowed Clifford "TI" Harris, imprisoned for parole violation, to film a video in a maximum security jail.

Another rapper, C-Miller (previously known as C-Murder), recorded a large portion of his new album, "The Truest S--t I Ever Said," at Jefferson Parish Jail in Louisiana, where he's serving a life sentence for murder.

At visiting hours, Miller's lawyer would bring a digital recording device, allowing him to hear beats and create rhymes.

The new album sold just under 100,000 copies, far less than his smash hit "Life or Death." but Miller has proven that he's still a viable artist with a loyal following, and his recording methods became the talk of the hip-hop community.

With victims' groups applying pressure to stop inmates from capitalizing on their notoriety, Kim's recent rush to record material is similar to what other artists have done.

Last October, after Beanie Sigel pleaded guilty to weapons charges, he shot five videos in a five-day spurt before reporting to prison. He also finished scenes for his movie, "State Property 2," in which he reprised his role as Beans, an imprisoned drug lord.

At promotional events, Sigel's producer, Damon Dash – who also stars in the "State Property" films &$150; went in his place. Dash also served as supervisor of Sigel's "State Property" clothing line.

Sigel's latest album, "The B. Coming," debuted at No. 3, and it went on to become his first No. 1 on Billboard's rap chart.

Criminal controversy may destroy some artists – and unfairly reward others – but there's also a chance it will have no effect at all on sales.

Philadelphia rapper Cassidy, who's been held in jail on murder charges since April, saw his latest album, "I'm a Hustla," debut at No. 5 on Billboard's Top 200 Album list, with first-week sales of 93,000.

That's a good showing, but not quite as good as his previous release, "Split Personality," which moved 118,000 copies in its first week.

Queen Bee of Hip-Hop

As a multi-platinum star, Lil' Kim will have a tough time matching the success she's enjoyed as the self-proclaimed Queen Bee of hip-hop. The 30-year-old entertainer is also the first female rapper to serve time.

But Kim has a reputation as one of the most business-savvy stars in the music industry, and you can bet that she'll get attention in lockdown just as surely as her eye-popping outfits have stolen eyes on the red carpet. She's already announced that she'll dish out more about her legal travails – and rap rivalries – in an upcoming DVD.

Before heading off to prison, Kim declared herself "a strong woman," in an interview with The Associated Press.

"That's what I am, and that's what it's going to make me – even stronger. The bottom line is, whoever's tried to ruin me, my career and my life, they've done messed up now, because it's only going to make me stronger."

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