Hard Core

Hard Core

Lil' Kim wasn't the first rapper to invade the hip-hop boys' club with bawdy boss tactics, sex-positive frankness, and nimble rhymes, but she was the first to do it as part of rap's most dominant empire, emerging during the unstoppable mid-’90s run of the Bad Boy Records clique. The breakout star of Junior M.A.F.I.A.—the Brooklyn group formed by Notorious B.I.G.—Lil' Kim provided the closing verses for both of their Top 20 singles. Executive-produced by Sean "Puffy" Combs, her 1996 debut, Hard Core, was a success in the same mold as Biggie's Ready to Die: smooth and lush radio-friendly beats matched with rugged and raw rhyming. The duality between Kim's assured, X-rated, hard-yet-hilarious lyrics and the smooth production of Combs ("No Time"), Jermaine Dupri ("Not Tonight"), and members of Bad Boy's Hit Men made this a multiplatinum sensation. Kim cut a unique figure in rap in 1996, a brassy mix of fantasy and nightmare, keeping guns next to the sex toys under the pillow, as quick to do chilly Mafioso raps ("M.A.F.I.A. Land") as funny sex yarns—"Dreams," a gender-flipped remix of Biggie's "Just Playing (Dreams)," runs down a playlist of R&B singers she'd like to hook up with. Name-checking porn stars and designer brands, Lil’ Kim demanded oral sex and took aim at one-minute men while remaining one of the fiercest MCs around (check "Queen Bitch" for some mixtape-centric bars), paving a raunchy road for Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, and more.

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