To think here we are twenty years later and “Crush on You,” “No Time,” “Big Momma Thang,” and other fiery rhymes that Kimberly Jones spat can still move a dance floor like nobody’s business. That’s how you differentiate classics from want-to-be classics. The year was 1996, which was a golden era for hip-hop, and who knew that BIG’s pint-size protégé would become the breakout star of the hip-hop group Junior M.A.F.I.A. Lil’ Kim’s Hard Core album lived up to the hype and its title. Kim trail blazed a new lane for female MC’s with her debut album. We explored Kim’s regal world as she rapped about sex, drugs, and high-priced garments. And that was just the beginning of what was to come from Junior Mafia’s Big Momma.
With a storytelling uniqueness like her mentor BIG, Kim presented a flow that was feminine and seductive, but can maneuver to hard and gritty with ease. Although the album had production from Puffy, The Hitmen, and Jermaine Dupri, it was Kim’s hardcore lyrics that ultimately crowned her as the Queen Bee. Whether she was comparing herself to other high powered women of all races, (Zsa Zsa Gabor, Heather Hunter, Erica Kane, Princess Diana, etc.) or making the playing field equal for women proclaiming “moral of the story is this/ you aint licking this/ you aint sticking this/ and I got witnesses/ ask any ni&&a I been with.” Might be the reason why Jay-Z professed to persuading her to “jump ship” to Roc a Fella Records on his “Big Momma Thang” verse. “I got love and BIG know it/ he must got the studio bugged/ probably, as we speak he’s on his way up the street/ with the MAFIA thugs and all types of heat/…Lil Kim and Jigga/ it sounds like figures.” Hardcore’s platinum status success may have come from her racy lyrics, but it also was curtsey of Kim’s iconic promo poster. Her album sleeve photo poster was plastered on every teenage and adult boys wall, jail cell, and miniature and subway billboards. Lil Kim the rap Pam Grier, squatting in a leopard print bra and pantie ensemble indeed was part of her “Hardcore flows to keep a ni&&a d*** rock.” That photo put the hard in core, and drove fans near to hear what she had to say.
…a solid debut because phat beats and rhymes are really all it takes, and they’re both present…– The Source
Rolling Stone– included ‘Hard Core’ in its list of “Essential Recordings of the 90’s”. Rolling Stone concluded in reviewing the album in the magazine’s 2004 version of the Rolling Stone Album Guide:
“Hip-hop had never seen anything like Brooklynite Kimberly Jones at the time of her solo debut: She single-handedly raised the bar for raunchy lyrics in hip-hop, making male rappers quiver with fear with lines like “You ain’t lickin’ this, you ain’t stickin’ this . . . I don’t want dick tonight/Eat my pussy right” (“Not Tonight”). Riding the wing of Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die and Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Kim’s Hard Core helped put East Coast hip-hop back on top in the late ’90s. The album’s overreliance on old ’70s funk samples doesn’t detract a bit from the Queen Bee’s fearless rhymes: In “Dreams”, she demands service from R. Kelly, Babyface, and nearly every “R&B dick” in the field. A landmark of bold, hilarious filth.”
Lil Kim’s image and authentic persona became just as important as her rap lyrics. She’s where high fashion meets music. She schooled women on how to become a queen, own their sexiness and gain mind control over men using sex as a weapon. That of course was with high priced fashion labels provided by the industries finest. Kim became the true trendsetter all while issuing ladies tips on how to live a lavish lifestyle as they presented men with exquisite oral pleasure and bedroom rodeo rides. Draped in custom couture clothing curtsey of all the top designers; she pranced and graced red carpets, fashion shows, and presented a fashion extravaganza in every one of her music videos. Jewels to match was the name of her game, but more importantly, she kept them guessing with her litany of hairstyles. Not just lengths, but an assortment of colors that sometimes suited her desired ensemble. “One day my hairs orange, next day it’s green/ the trendsetters back on your TV screen.”
Kim is a true game changer, who continues to influence a new breed of female MC’s. They all take it upon themselves to take a page from her book. She is the numero uno contender according to every newcomer, who makes it their duty to take shots at her upon their entry. Her impact is undeniable and witnessed every Halloween as you see Lil Kim costumes appear; by dozens trying their best to emulate one of her iconic styles from their favorite Lil Kim era. Hardcore catapulted her into stardom with precedence unlike any other female MC. Indeed she’s rap’s MVP who warned us that she “hit hard like sledge-hammers/b!tch with that platinum grammar.”
To celebrate the anniversary of her debut album, Kim spoke with XXL Magazine; sharing stores about the making of ‘Hard Core.’
XXL: How does it feel to celebrate this anniversary in your career right now?
Lil Kim: God is good and I just thank my fans because without my fans, I have nothing in my industry. I just thank God that they always crave Lil Kim, and not just my fans, but new fans as years go on. It’s a blessing. Everyone, even now to this day, looks to me as motivation, even with my new stuff. A lot of women like to recreate my pictures, not just from when I just came out, but also now I’ve seen people recreate the new pictures I took for Hip Hop Honors and that’s just dope.
What was your main goal going into the album since it was your debut project?
I didn’t really ever have a goal. I loved music and in my mind, I was just displaying my art. I was only 16, 17 years old working on my first song and album. So I didn’t really have a goal. I was just doing what I love and displaying my talent, and working on music. I never had any idea that my first album would do as good as it did. I had no idea of what went on in the business side. I was just a little kid just trying to enjoy my teenage life. If you would’ve asked me if I knew I was going to be a millionaire by a certain age, I never would’ve thought that. I never even knew I was going to be as famous as I was, as famous as I am now.
You really are a pioneer in bringing sexual lyrics to the forefront as a woman in hip-hop. Why was that important for you?
I guess because when I first started rapping, I always had sexy in my raps, and Biggie thought it was so different and amazing. He used to just watch me rap and like he said before, he never thought my lyrics was so crazy, but he felt like the energy I brought when I did do a dope punchline or dope metaphor, he thought it was just spectacular, out of this world for a female to be doing, because females didn’t normally rap the way I rapped. He just felt like with me being around him and the influence, he knew that I would get better and I would get bigger. It just started happening right before our eyes.
The sexy part was just me. Everyone felt like I should be me. I guess when they met me, by their words, they felt like that was the dope part about me. I was very fly already and super sexy as a young girl. They were also worried about me being so young and sexy and over-the-top provocative. They kind of marketed me as an older girl, even though I wasn’t. They just did not want me to change who I was, because everything I did was super sexy, and they were just like, That was dope, because it had never been done in the hard core, gangsta hip-hop music that I was making.
The cover of Hard Core is classic. Why did you want to showcase yourself with such sex appeal?
I didn’t plan it. By nature, I was a very good model. I knew how to pose. I don’t know where it comes from. Even my daughter, she does things where I’m like, Where is she getting this from? I think it’s like naturally in our family. She just poses and not trying, it just comes out so sexy. I be like, Oh no, my little baby. This is good and bad at the same time. I think the girls in our family, we naturally move sexy, pose sexy. When I did the Hard Core photo shoot, I was just posing to do them. It wasn’t like I’m just going to pose and squat and show my kitty cat; that was not on my mind at all. For me, it was just being a model and posing in a cute, sexy way.
When it came time for us to get the pictures back, I wasn’t even a part of that process. I was just a little girl and I didn’t have no control at all. Biggie actually took my whole photo package and went through it because Biggie saw me as one of the sexiest girls he’s ever met. He didn’t even give anybody a chance to go through the pictures. He took them and just sat in the corner and went through all of them. He stood up to get ready to smoke his blunt, and was like, “This is the one right here.” He threw the negatives on the table and pointed to the one with my legs open and said, “That’s the one right there,” and walked away and went to smoke his blunt. That’s the one everyone went with. I had no control. I didn’t even get to see all of the prints as he saw them. They basically did everything for me.
What other songs on the record do you feel stand out?
I have four favorite songs. “Drugs,” was my No. 1 favorite song until I recorded “Queen Bitch,” and then that became my No. 1 favorite song and also “Big Momma Thang.” I used to like the song “Fuck You,” because I liked the combination of the whole song and the way it went. I liked “Not Tonight” with Jermaine Dupri but I like uptempo songs that make you move fast. That song was a little slow, but it was cool and I liked the words.
To read the full interview click here.