Born in New Brunswick on November 25 and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey, Kima grew up in a tight-knit family. She was raised with both parents in the home, although her father suffered a stroke when Kima was 5 that left him unable to walk or speak. Despite the difficulty of caring for her husband, Kima’s mother didn’t miss a beat with her children. Kima remembers that she and her two sisters and two brothers were always well taken care of. “My mom made do with what she had. We never had to ask for handouts or live with anyone else. She stayed loyal to my dad. She took care of us. She was a great parent.” Kima attributes much of her success to her mother, who is still her inspiration even after she passed away in October 2008. Kima grew up around music and enjoyed singing in the church choir, but she never saw music as a career choice for herself.
That changed when Kima was a teenager. “We used to hang out at The Rink, a skating rink where everyone used to meet up and have fun. One night, Kisha, who I knew in high school but was never really friends with, heard me singing in the car and asked me if I wanted to start a group.” Although Kima never considered singing before, she agreed to team up with Keisha, who gave her the confidence she never had to sing by herself. Things really came together when Norman Bradley introduced Kima and Keisha to Pam, who was working on a solo project at the time. Though Pam was apprehensive at first, she eventually agreed to join Kima and Keisha’s group, and Total was born.
It was at The Rink that the trio met two guys from the Bronx who introduced them to Kathy Dukes, Total’s first manager and Puffy’s godson’s mother. Dukes was responsible for the group singing for Puffy late one night while he was in the studio with Jodeci. “We sang “Just the Freak In Me” for Puff. I was so nervous,” Kima recalls. The rest is history. Total would go on to debut on Biggie’s “Juicy” record, which launched them into the public eye. “Biggie was like a brother to us,” Kima says. “He was younger than us, but he looked out for us and encouraged us to stay together.” Total would sing on another Biggie record, “One More Chance,” and record “Can’t You See” for the New Jersey Drive soundtrack before launching their first solo project in 1996, Total, which was certified platinum by the RIAA.
Total went on to be featured on several albums and released a second solo album, Kima, Keisha, and Pam, which was released in 1998 and certified gold. The group enjoyed immense success, including several platinum singles and working with talented producers like Missy Elliot and Raphael Saadiq. They were nominated for several awards and featured in countless publications before going their separate ways. Life after Total was quiet for Kima. She got married, had children, and started her own medical coding business, where she worked as an entrepreneur for 14 years. “I never put up my plaques,” Kima recalled. “That part of my life seems like it was so long ago. My kids learned about Total through their friends at school. But after all those years, after all the kids and my career as an entrepreneur, the music never left me. It haunted me constantly.”
In 2016, Total reunited for the Bad Boy reunion tour. “The reunion was everything I hoped it would be. The three of us hitting the stage together again was a dream come true, and I thought it would be the beginning of Total getting back together.” Things did not pan out, however. “Everybody is just in a different place right now,” Kima says. “But the show must go on.” Kima is concentrating now on her first solo project, which features music she’s written and recorded over the years. “My heart is with Total, but gravity seems to be pulling me in a different direction. I have the confidence now to show the world who I am as a solo artist.”
Aside from being inspired by her mother, Kima draws much of her strength from her children. She taught them to never give up on their dreams, which has motivated Kima to move forward with hers. “My five year old learned that I used to sing in a group, and when I told her I didn’t have time to sing because I was a mommy, she responded, ‘We’re older now!’ Her words were confirmation for me that I needed to do whatever it took to make my dreams come true.”
After doing several shows with Pam, Kima is busy working on her solo album. She also plans to release a docuseries and a book.
“I want my audience to understand that we often get in our own way because we lack the confidence to move forward. It’s never too late to pick up the dreams you put down years ago. Have faith in God and trust the process. Things work out the way they’re supposed to, even when we want different outcomes,” Kima says. “I am living proof. It’s never too late to follow your heart.”