#96. Lil' Kim Hard Core (Big Beat/Undeas Recordings, 1996)
We all knew Lil' Kim from Junior M.A.F.I.A., but we still weren't ready for her solo debut, Hard Core, when it released in November 1996. The album's title speaks for itself: The introductory track features a man pleasuring himself, presumably while watching a porn flick starring the diminutive rap diva. Track two cues up, and Lil' Kim's wordplay immediately lets us know how she used to be scared of the male member. On Hard Core she owned her sexuality; it was a Big Momma Thang. Lil' Kim goes in on these tracks, deftly weaving in between rapper's moll and hard-edged gold digger. She wasn't doing anything that women hadn't done before — using what they got to get what they want — but Hard Core didn't sugarcoat it. Lil' Kim had no time for fake dudes; all they could do was give her orgasms, buy her jewels, cars and designer goods, then disappear. (Except for Biggie, of course, as she reps hard for him on "Queen B@#$H"). Luminaries like B.I.G., Lil' Cease and even Jay Z jump in with some bars here and there on the album. But trust, this is a Queen Bee jawn. Is it feminist? No idea. But Kim did it first, Nicki Minaj. —Tanya Ballard Brown (NPR Staff)
In appreciation of Lil' Kim's feminist hip-hop anthem, “Not Tonight,” during its 20th anniversary
A few years ago I was talking to one of my girlfriends about the song “Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix),” lamenting how I couldn’t imagine something similar existing today. No disrespect, but there was something truly magical about that moment in music 20 years ago. Released on June 30, 1997, the remix of Lil’ Kim’s “Not Tonight” featured verses by Missy Elliott, Da Brat, Angie Martinez and Left Eye, and was on the soundtrack for the male-led buddy comedy Nothing to Lose. An interesting choice considering the song was a feminist anthem starring the hottest female rappers of the era.
The song quickly climbed the charts, but the video for the song was the real masterpiece. According to a 1997 Spin account from the set, each woman’s performance was described as “a small revelation,” but it was in no way small. These women were at the top of their game, having the time of their lives, and it showed. Lil’ Kim, Missy, Da Brat, Left Eye, and Angie arrive on a desert island to perform their parts, with cameos from Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Xscape, T-Boz, SWV, Total, Blaque, Maia Campbell, Changing Faces, and a bevy of oiled-up gentleman. (My only complaint? Where the hell was Aaliyah?!) Verses were slayed, booties were shook, it looked like the summer camp of my dreams.
It was a good time for women in hip-hop. Especially for Kim, whose debut album Hard Core had just been certified platinum. Earlier that summer, Missy had turned the music world upside down with the release of “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” dropping her own debut (also titled Supa Dupa Fly) shortly before “Not Tonight” hit the airwaves. Left Eye was exploring solo work apart from TLC, Da Brat was guest-starring on Missy’s and Mariah Carey’s albums, and radio host Angie Martinez was a newly minted rap artist, describing herself on the song as “the rookie on this all-star team.” The assembling of these women at a high point of their careers not only produced a Grammy-nominated, girls-night-out anthem that was insanely fun, but a secret rallying cry for my own feminine empowerment.
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