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10 Reasons Why Lil’ Kim’s ‘Hard Core’ Is Good for Hip-Hop

Johnny Nunez, WireImage

November 12 marks 15 years since Lil’ Kim dropped her solo debut. ‘Hard Core’ took a burgeoning femme fatale and placed her in the heart of the neo-gangster movement hip-hop was embracing at the time thanks to the Notorious B.I.G. Oozing slick sexuality and punchy, reckless man-eating musings, ‘Hard Core’ was an X-rated experience. Kim’s contribution to rap with her first LP left a lasting impression on rap music as a whole — one that still echoes today. In honor of the Queen Bee’s decade-and-a-half old womanifesto, The BoomBox has compiled 10 reasons why Lil’ Kim and ‘Hard Core’ both deserve a seat at the hip-hop table.

10. Bad Boy Found Its Bad Girl
While it’s true that Lil’ Kim was never formally signed to Bad Boy Records — she was under Biggie and Lance “Un” Rivera’s Undeas Recordings before getting an imprint of her own — she was the female balance Puff needed in his posse. That “only female in my crew” line she declared a year later in ‘All About The Benjamins’ was birthed because of ‘Hard Core.’ Kim strutted her stuff with Junior M.A.F.I.A. earlier on, but her solo album really drove the point home that “beside every man is a bad girl.”

9. Queen Bee Takes Hip-Hop to Hollywood
The title “Queen Bee” wasn’t invented by Lil’ Kim, but she surely perfected it. The top of hip-hop’s hive was a position Kim demanded and achieved with ‘Hard Core.’ Her boldness vibrated into Hollywood, as years later the film ‘Mean Girls’ showed the leader of the pack being called the Queen Bee. In ‘Sex & the City,’ when Kim Cattrall’s character Samantha Jones — a Queen Bee of sorts — is undergoing chemotherapy, she dons a proud pink wig at a Hollywood premiere, earning her the nickname “Lil’ Kim.”

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8. The Return of the Word “Lil’
Some may see this as a glaring disadvantage in the rap name pool, but Lil’ Kim was the first “Lil’” in a lil’ while to do it big in hip-hop. Once Lil’ Kim got started, Lil’ Cease got some appreciation and from there the Lil’ names have flooded. A year later, Lil Wayne would enter the scene with the Hot Boys, and the rest is history. See what Lil’ Kim did for the culture? Once again, huge fail to some hip-hop fans, but a gigantic win to others.

7. Hip-Hop Had Its Sexy Back
There’s a scene in the film ‘Notorious’ where Naturi Naughton portrays Lil’ Kim and raps to Biggie — played by MC Gravy. She’s rhyming ruggedly and Big stops her and advises she has to make it sexy for men to listen to her. If that conversation actually happened prior to ‘Hard Core,’ then Biggie was correct. The opening on ‘Big Momma Thang’ made it clear what Kim came to do. The imagery on the album inserts only furthered the notion that this was true pitbull-in-a-skirt rap, where lyrical fornication was in order. Praises to Foxy Brown too, who under Jay-Z‘s watchful eye achieved the same with ‘Ill Na Na.’

6. ‘Hard Core’ Struck a Balance
It’s no surprise that not everyone was a huge fan of ‘Hard Core’ or the movement that Lil’ Kim was starting. Many women felt that Kim’s brazenness and unrelenting sexuality placed women right back to where they started as mere accessories in a male-driven industry. As a result, opposing female rappers like Lauryn Hill, Rah Digga and Da Brat pushed forward in addition to their predecessors like Queen Latifah and MC Lyte. For the first time, women in hip-hop had options. You could be sexy or not be sexy. The choice was yours.

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5. Biggie’s Presence Was Felt
A lover and protégé of the late Notorious B.I.G., Lil’ Kim was under his careful tutelage during the creation of ‘Hard Core.’ B.I.G. stepped out of his comfort zone to craft female-driven lyrics on tracks like ‘Queen B—-,’ where he chimes in with, “You n—-s got some audacity/ Ya sold a million, now you’re half of me. Get off my d—.” When Biggie passed less than a year later in 1997, hip-hop was feenin’ for the projects he had near completion just to get another dose of his brand of crack rap. Considering his huge influence on ‘Hard Core,’ this is another B.I.G. contribution to his legacy.

4. Kim Showed Us Her Hits
No doubt about it, ‘Hard Core’ produced a large number of hits off the 15-track offering. Even those that didn’t chart evolved into hip-hop classics eventually. There was the intro track ‘Big Momma Thang’ that featured Jay-Z — don’t forget Lil’ Cease — and followed with the Puff-assisted ‘No Time.’ Then there was ‘Crush On You,’ which, oddly, only featured Cease on the album version, but the single had Kim and Biggie on it — plus Aaliyah in the video. Finally, ‘Not Tonight,’ which morphed into the ‘Ladies Night (Remix)’ and saw Da Brat, Left Eye, Missy Elliott and Angie Martinez lend rhyming assists.

3. Hip-Hop Received a Gender Reassignment
Lil’ Kim could have easily called herself King Bee with the way she was stepping into the role of a man on ‘Hard Core.’ Topics included men on their knees committing sex acts while she’s watching cartoons, plus a response to Biggie’s song ‘Dreams’ with her own track ‘Dreams,’ which spoke of being with male R&B singers. She even adopted a motherly Mafia role in ‘M.A.F.I.A. Land,’ where she says, “Right hands wash the left hands. Loyalty’s priority in this fam.” Women had a voice as deep as a man’s on ‘Hard Core.’

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2. Kim Practiced What She Preached
Hip-hop is flooded with champagne wishes and caviar dreams that in reality are just beer and potato chips. Beyond that, declaring loyalty to the streets is a highly debatable argument. On ‘Hard Core,’ Kim rhymed about designer threads. Years later, she became Marc Jacobs’ poster child for Louis Vuitton. She also pledged allegiance to la familia — years later she’d go to jail for all of them for committing perjury. Like Jay-Z said in ‘Roc Boys,’ “To Lil’ Kim and them, you know the women friend who carry work cross state for a gentleman.” Hip-hop had some realness, and she’s under five feet tall.

1. Nicki Minaj Can Thank Her Later
Say what you will about the present situation between Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj, but Kim’s ‘Hard Core’ mothered an entire generation of the female rappers that followed. By discussing sexuality in an unabashed style, upping tax brackets with lavish lifestyles and sitting in the same thrones men dominated in hip-hop for years, ‘Hard Core’ opened up doors. Those doors are still wide open, and many have walked through them — Trina, Shawnna, Eve, the list goes on. While Nicki Minaj is currently leading the charge for females in rap, it’s still important to note where that style originated — 15 years ago.

Watch Lil’ Kim’s ‘Crush on You’

Watch ‘Lil Kim Fashions’

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