For most heads, 1996 was a golden year in Hip Hop. We saw classic albums from Redman, Outkast, UGK, and The Roots [and a slew of others], however one album that often goes ignored is Lil Kim’s debut, Hard Core. Say what you will about Kim now, but 1996 was the year she grabbed the rap game by the balls and showed men that they weren’t the only ones who could talk about the mafia, drugs, indulgence, and sex with a sharp, vile tongue. Lil Kim was “that bitch” and she made no apologies for it. And whether you liked it or not, she forced you to look, listen, and observe and question who she was, where she came from, and ponder where in the hell she hid all that venom in that tiny body.
As we celebrate the 15th anniversary of one of Hip Hop’s most provocative and raunchiest albums, I give you my top reasons why this album left a lasting impression and still holds its own 15 years later.
The Set Up
Most know the story of how Kim got her start. She spit a freestyle for Biggie, which impressed him to the point he added her to his group, Junior M.A.F.I.A. However, upon the release of their album Conspiracy, Big Momma [as she became known] stole the show so much that no one remembered the other members names or contributions. Hell, some of you still might not remember “the others” but you damn sure remember Lil Kim.
This Is A Man’s World…NOT!
Lil Kim’s hustle reminds me of the age old tale that says women finally pushed men out the way, came out the cave, and said, “This isn’t so hard.” Kim and Biggie realized that we had never seen a woman speak the same way men did on wax so they changed it. And Kim not only spoke about sex, loyalty, and “five families” type shit, she was just as ballsy, aggressive, and raw with it but above all, it was believable earning her the street cred she deserved.
Yep, you know the one I’m talking about. The “Rap Pam Grier”’ tailored in a leopard print bikini and fur spread eagle with her snatch on display. Not only was this a jail favorite, it had everyone talking and made a lot of teenage boys [and some grown men] experiencing things they never wanted to forget. Utilized as a promotional tool to hype up the album [and almost a bait and switch], it worked flawlessly. Kim and team knew their approach would garner attention and the material was good enough to avoid you feeling hoodwinked.
S/N—If you pull 100 dudes [and some women] in a room and ask them where they were when they first saw “the poster,” I bet over half could tell you with no hesitation.
Prior to Da Brat’s Funkdafied, which made her the first female rapper to have a platinum album, most Hip Hop albums from female rappers didn’t sell as well as their male counterparts. However, Hard Core went 2x platinum and still remains one of the highest selling albums from a female rapper, ever.
Although she had very few guest appearances, the ones she did have were potent enough to leave an everlasting mark making her debut that much stronger. With a verse from Jay-Z, and Biggie serving as a guide, guest star, ghostwriter as well as an executive producer alongside Puff Daddy with Ski, Jermaine Dupri, and The Hitmen contributing beats, Hard Core had a solid team to take the album where they all knew it could go…and did.
Upon its release, the album debuted at number 11 on the Billboard 200 chart, number 9 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums, and number 9 on the Canadian albums chart. The single, “No Time” was certified Gold and reached number 18 on Billboard’s Hot 100 while the remix to “Not Tonight” was certified platinum and peaked at number 6 on Billboard’s Hot 100. It was also nominated for a Grammy for the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Rap Group. If that weren’t enough, it was met with mostly positive reviews and Rolling Stone included the album on its list of Essential Recordings of the 90’s.
“M.A.F.I.A. Land,” “Queen Bitch,” “Drugs,” “Dreams,” “We Don’t Need It” [I could add a few more but I’m sure you get the point so I will stop.]
There was plenty of estrogen flooding the Hip Hop lane as Foxy Brown and Bahamadia both released albums this same year as well as Lauryn Hill exploding as the star of the Fugees. However, the throne belonged to no other than the Queen Bee. She claimed it and kept a choke-hold on it by navigating a lane that many females dared not go. She caught some bullet wounds but her monarchy wasn’t overthrown until years later.
Her voice was feminine enough to make what she was saying sexy however it was rigid enough to place her alongside the men who were speaking about the same things she was. Her delivery was potent, almost bone chilling, and solidified her position as a “female who could rap” to those who felt [and still do] that women can’t carry their weight on 16 bars.
Depending on who you ask, Biggie [supposedly] wrote most of her rhymes while the other story says he helped her with her delivery and she penned her own lyrics. We may never know but frankly, I don’t give a damn. Even if he wrote her rhymes, she delivered them and I’m sure it would’ve been even more challenging for a woman to spit lyrics that someone else, especially a man, wrote but if this was the case, she scored again. You may not walk around quoting her bars but I guarantee you can identify some of them. Not to mention, she said some of the most ghastly and belligerent bars a lot of us had ever heard. “I’m on fire getting head by the Harlem Boy’s Choir…” Really Kim???
Upon its release, there was an abundance of rumors that kept the streets talking. From Kim “drinking babies” to her being Biggie’s lover despite his marriage to Faith, the hood and the mainstream continued to smack their lips building somewhat of an enigma around Kim that only made her and her debut that more intriguing.
This can and will continue to be debated. Some say, it is a “classic for a female” while others say it’s a straight classic period. Others might look at you like you like you lost your mind for placing this album in the same category with the likes of Illmatic or Straight Outta Compton. Nevertheless, the fact that it’s even being debated and questioned says enough.
We had never seen anyone like Lil Kim swimming in the Hip Hop waters and even to this day, it would be hard not to see her influence [good or bad] amongst male and female emcees that came after her. She “kicked in the door,” and made it okay for women to be blunt, bold, and honest while being sexy. She showed us that women didn’t have to be one or the other…they could be and have it all. And women duplicated her style, called themselves Queen Bitches, and expressed themselves far more openly while men desired and wanted a woman as thorough as she. She’s been copied, studied, questioned, challenged, kicked off the island, voted back, laughed at, ridiculed, and back to square one. But it all started with this album and if she wasn’t relevant and had no merit, none of the aforementioned would’ve happen. And no matter which way you flip the coin, she has and always will be the Queen Bee.