Lil Kim Gets Hardcore

There was a beautiful time in the mid- to late 90s when hip hop, RnB, and pop came together seamlessly. At the center of this was Lil Kim‘s debut album Hard Core. The Queen Bee’s album marries the hard edged aesthetic/persona that accompanies many rappers with the controlled and unabashed use of her sexuality. Like a hip hop femme fatale, Lil Kim lets her narratives unfurl between violence and sexuality, making an album that was lyrically far ahead of its time.

The album starts proper with “Big Momma Thang.” An instrumental track reminiscent of Biggie Smalls’ brand of hip hop spins underneath Lil Kim’s commanding delivery. Taking control of the track, the MC riffs not only about what she wants between the sheets but also alludes to other songs rhythmically. “Big Momma Thang” plays on, one level, like an exemplar of late 90s hip hop and, on another, like a track that collages and extends the tropes, rhythms, and moves of other songs–like a hypertext, an intertext.

And the album continues to deepen with its hyper- and intertextuality. Whether The Queen Bee is biting a flow and rebuilding it or using instrumentals reminiscent of past songs, there is simultaneously a reverence and playfulness to how Lil Kim orchestrates a song. Throughout Hard Core, Lil Kim controls everything–from the track to her own sexuality. Perhaps this is why Rhino chose this particularly album for their start your ear off right reissue push. Under an administration that claims a man’s right is to grab any woman by her vagina, we need to be (constantly) reminded that a woman’s sexuality is her own (have I mentioned Rock the Twat yet?).

And Lil Kim goes her hardest on one of the smoothest tracks of the album. “Drugs” solidly anchors the middle of the album. “Drugs” unleashes funky and big percussion with a airy and shimmering guitar line. Notorious B.I.G. lends his voice to the hook while Lil Kim raps poetic about all the pleasures her life affords her. The song fits the genre conventions of rap at that time while also subverting them in the best ways.

Is Lil Kim’s Hard Core the best example of West Coast hip hop? Probably not. Is it a timeless collection of songs? Also probably not. Does it represent a time when music was coming together in new and surprising ways? Absolutely. Is it an album that we need at this point in history? 100%. And Rhino is giving Hard Core the royal treatment. Pressed as a double LP in a limited run, the album comes with a Rhino calendar and is the first time it has been on vinyl since its first pressing in 1996.

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