I’d be remiss if I didn’t start this post off by sending a rest in peace to David “Trugoy” Jolicoeur (aka Dove) of the legendary trio, De La Soul, who passed away this past weekend. Thank you for your contribution to the genre we call hip-hop. Rest easy, big fella.
After his landmark 1994 debut album, Ready To Die blew up and made him a legitimate contender to wear the imaginary crown and sit on the fictitious throne as King of New York, Biggie selflessly went back and helped his crew of peasants, Junior M.A.F.I.A., get a record deal with Big Beat/Atlantic. In 1995, JM would release their debut album, Conspiracy, which would go on to earn the Brooklyn collective a gold plaque. Biggie’s guest appearances on the album would play a huge part (no pun intended) in the success of Conspiracy, but the breakout star on the album would be the lone female voice in the group, Lil’ Kim. Kim’s gangster tales and her confidence to flaunt her sexuality with aggression would soon lead to her signing a solo deal with Beat Beat/Atlantic (I’m still baffled to why Puffy didn’t sign JM to Bad Boy, and then even after their successful album, he passed on a solo deal with Kim), releasing her debut album, Hard Core in November of ‘96.
Even though Hard Core wasn’t released on Bad Boy, the label’s presence would be felt, as Puffy and his Hit Men would produce a handful of the album’s songs, along with some other esteemed producers lending a helping hand as well. Hard Core would produce three Billboard charting hit singles (with one earning a gold certification and another, platinum) and would earn the Brooklyn rapper a platinum plaque, and to date it has been certified double platinum.
Yet another album I didn’t check for back in ‘96, though I am familiar with a handful of its tracks. But if the album cover is any indication of how the music will sound, this should be an interesting listen.
Intro In A-Minor – The title’s an uncomfortable play on words that I’m sure would pique the interest of R. Kelly. This skit finds a young buck making his way to a movie theater (remember those?) to check out Lil’ Kim in action, and the movie concludes with a very happy ending. The cab driver’s response to receiving a ten-cent tip makes me laugh every time I listen to this.
Big Momma Thang – Stretch Armstrong builds a deep funk groove around a funky Sylvester loop (the same one Kane flipped for the Intro to Taste Of Chocolate) and Kim gets right to the shits, remixing a bar from her mentor (see Biggie’s “The What” from the Ready To Die album) with her opening line: “I used to be scared of the dick, now I throw lips to the shit, handle it like a real bitch.” She proceeds to take the listener on a lyrical sexcapade, discussing how much she enjoys anal, receiving head, and requires multiple orgasms during sex (twenty-four to be exact, and “that’s when she’s fuckin’ with the average nigga”). And that all goes down during the first verse. Jay-Z interrupts this porn session with a cute verse lusting over the Queen B (and I’m not talking about Beyonce), before our hostess comes back and finishes things off with a steamy second scene. Lil’ Cease joins Kim on the simple but effective hook, and I’m completely invested after this stimulating opening track. Pass the popcorn.
No Time – This was the lead single from Hard Core. Kim continues to explicitly embrace her sexuality (She brags about putting the “dick to jaw” and “drinkin’ babies”) and gets into her materialistic bag as well. Puffy (who along with Stevie J gets the production credit) pops up to handle the corny hook and gets off a few bars, while the Biggie adlibs sound like they were references mistakenly left in during the final mix. Kim sounds decent enough, but I’ve always hated the airy strings mixed in with the funky Myra Barnes loop.
Spend A Little Doe – This one starts with Kim confronting her man/baby’s father, who apparently went MIA while she was locked up for three years for transporting his dope. Then Kim gets into her woman scorned bag and looks to repay him for his betrayal. Ski Beatz’ mournful and bluesy backdrop, along with the somber notes from Fela on the hook and adlibs, help sell Kim’s rhymes and storyline.
Take It! – This skit finds Biggie, Cease, and Trife taking part in a little locker room banter, which sets up the next song.
Crush On You – The album version of this song is oddly a Lil’ Cease solo joint with Kim nowhere to be found, as Cease spends three verses trying to impress his crush enough to get her in bed over an irresistible mellow groove. The remix (which was also the version used for the single) is a duet with Kim and Cease, and their exchange makes the song way more interesting to listen to than the O.G. mix.
Drugs – Kim invites the listener to indulge in a “different kind of high,” referring to her rhymes that she alleges are as addictive as drugs, while Biggie compares her bars to different strands of weed on the hook. I wasn’t crazy about Kim’s rhymes, but the sexy guitar licks in Fabian Hamilton’s instrumental were definitely appealing.
Scheamin’ – This skit features a crew of trifling chicks looking for some unassuming chump to fuck and suck out of his money. Kind of like what Cardi B admitted to doing back when she was a stripper.
Queen Bitch – Carlos Broady and Nashiem Myrick build this brilliant instrumental around an ill Roberta Flack piano loop, and Kim rides the dark chords and drums with the mastery that I imagine (or fantasies) she rides a monster cock: “Kill a nigga for the figure, how you figure? Your cheddar would be better, Beretta inside a Beretta, nobody do it better, Bet I wet ya, like hurricanes and typhoons, got buffoons, eatin’ my pussy while I watch cartoons, sleep til noon, rap Pam Grier’s here, baby drinkers beware, mostly Dolce she wear, Frank kill niggas wives, for one point five, while you struggle and strive, we pick witch Benz to drive.” Big interrupts Kim’s second verse and gets off two quick, simple, but potent bars (“You niggas got some audacity, you sold a million now you’re half of me, get off my dick, kick it bitch”) leaving you yearning for more lyrical wizardry from Mr. Frank White (there’s actually a reference track of Biggie rapping the whole song that you can easily find on YouTube, which is pretty interesting). This is easily the best song on Hard Core.
Dreams – Kim remakes Biggie’s hilarious Ready To Die promotional single of the same name, but instead of female R&B singers, Kim names a few of the male R&B crooners whose sausages she’d like to sample, which includes: Troop, Brian McKnight, Babyface, Prince (who catches a hi-larious line), Joe, D’Angelo, and that Pied Piper guy (with the emphasis on the “pied”) whose name I won’t mention, and in hindsight, I’m sure Kim wishes she didn’t either. Our hostess also calls out the name of a bunch of lesser known acts or one hit wonders: Men Of Vision, Mista (the group and the solo act), J’Son, All 4 One (“And one for all, I swear to God I’d never fuck with none of ya’ll”); but it’s the short-lived group named Ladae who catches the best line: “Fuck dem Ladae cats, they wack, and one them resemble Craig Mack” (and if you’re like me and don’t remember what the Ladae group members looked like, Google their pic and you’ll see exactly who Kim is talking about while you bust out in laughter). Adilah cosigns for Queen B on the hook, while Prestige provides a funky little bop to support Kim’s sensual and amusing rhymes.
M.A.F.I.A. Land – Brent “Faraoh” Toussaint provides a dark cinematic canvas, punctuated by a grumpy bass line that Kim uses to paint a tale of her life in the underworld. I love the callousness of the instrumental, but Kim’s gangster tales ring as hollow as an empty water bottle (bars!).
We Don’t Need It – This was originally released earlier in ’96 on the Sunset Park Soundtrack. Lil Cease, Kim, and Trife (who recycles Kim’s “Dick to jaw” and “Drinkin’ babies” lines from “No Time”) each spit (no pun intended) a verse on this ode to oral sex. I didn’t care much for the rhymes or the crassly immature hook, but Minnesota’s chilled melodic backdrop was kind of nice.
Not Tonight – Jermaine Dupri gets his lone production credit of the night, building this polished instrumental around an eighties George Benson sample (“Turn Your Love Around”), while the comical hook reimagines a portion of a refrain from one of Marvin Gaye’s last hits (“Sexual Healing”). Kim gets off three humorously erotic verses that she best sums up during the final verse: “The moral of the story is this: you ain’t lickin’ this, you ain’t stickin’ this.” Definitely one of my favorite joints on the album.
Player Haters – This skit sets up the next song…
Fuck You – Kim invites a couple of her Junior Mafia bredrin, Trife & Larceny (aka The Snakes) to join her on this one, as the trio address the player haters from the previous skit. Biggie (who has a few words to say after Kim’s verse, which made me believe he was going to bless us with a verse), and Cornbread are credited with the simple but sinister backdrop. This was far from spectacular, but still a decent way to close out the album.
Hard Core finds Lil’ Kim building on the success she had with Conspiracy, as she takes center stage with the spotlight shining brightly on her vagina. Powered by Biggie’s pen, cadence, and flow (he only receives a writing credit for “Fuck You,” but it’s obvious that he wrote the majority of her rhymes, and there are accessible reference tracks to support this claim), and her own sheer confidence, Kim fills the album’s fifteen tracks with materialism, mafioso rhetoric, and sex talk, with an emphasis on the sex talk. While Kim was far from discreet with her sexuality on Conspiracy, she was not nearly as blunt and brash with her dick devouring themes and pussy poppin’ exploits as she is on Hard Core. But sex sells, and Kim sells the raunchy aura well, and the great batch of instrumentals in the background make Kim’s verbal porn even more entertaining to listen to.
I’ve never been a huge fan of rappers with ghostwriters, as I’ve always felt it cheapens the artistry. But even with Biggie playing Geppetto, Kim’s charisma and convincing sex kitten performance almost takes on a life of its own. Porn-occhio.
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