The adage coined by Charlotte Whitton — that women must work twice as hard to be considered half as good as men — was repeatedly validated as women began to make serious gains on men in 20th century art. Take the rap game: it wasn’t long before the often positivity-based braggadocio brought to the table by Run-DMC’s 1984 self-titled masterpiecetransformed into misguided misogyny years later: “Now you’re a stupid sex fiend, with no will power / Hit four guys in the bathroom at your last baby shower / All the guys call you fast / but I call you slow / Always sniffing or giving somebody a blow” (1986’s “Dumb Girl”). The rise of the gangster sub-genre only exacerbated these sexist tendencies. Even groups embraced the implicit satire of hyperbole — the Geto Boys’ 1990 LP, for one — ended up illustrating how fine the line between parody and sincerity was. Enter Lil’ Kim. Influenced by the likes of MC Lyte and Salt N’ Pepa, and introduced to the world on teenage friend The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die, she took the aforementioned girl group’s “taking yo’ man” to a whole ’nother level. She became the most disgusting — nay, the most depraved — and simultaneously, virtuosic MC. She was willing to exploit the estuary of fact and fiction, taking legitimately ugly accusations of fucking her way to the top with a personal history of abuse inflicted at home, by boyfriends, and economically — literally doing sex work to pay her bills — transfiguring pain into one hilarious, hyper-sexualized expression that’s practically oozing with cum.
Kim hardly lends a moment to vulnerability, delivering absurdist humor which plays far more authentically than the acerbic, nihilistic satire of her male contemporaries.
Appropriately, Hard Core begins with a skit: nervous man enters an adult theater showing “‘Hard Core’ starring Lil’ Kim.” As the man orgasms, he repeatedly wails Kim’s name in ecstasy — in comes the beat to “Big Momma Thang,” slapping listeners in the face. “I used to be scared of the dick / now I throw lips at the shit,” Kim intones in her Brooklynite growl, syncopated with funky, smeared synths playfully matching the wordplay. If it isn’t evident that Kim uses sex for empowerment, take the next bar, “handle it like a REAL bitch,” as further proof. Newcomer Jay-Z can’t hope to match — knowingly, as he begs her to join Roc A Fella just so he “can eat.” Lil’ Cease’s hook, which intones, “Tough talk, tough walk / shit is tired,” implies that for the guys, the charade is up. Kim hardly lends a moment to vulnerability, delivering absurdist humor which plays far more authentically than the acerbic, nihilistic satire of her male contemporaries. “Dreams” — which would be interpolated by Kim acolyte Nicki Minaj two decades later — details all the R&B singer dick she plans on bagging, or in the case of Prince: “He be lookin’ fruity, but you can still eat the booty” (note: Lil’ Kim invented eating ass). That song is partly inspired by Biggie’s “Just Playin’,” and it’s impossible not to mention his contributions. “Big scooped a young bitch off her knees,” she says of her come up, using skits to constantly play on the rumors that they’d fucked. “Take It,” an exchange whispered between Junior M.A.F.I.A brethren Trife, Biggie, and Cease extolls as much, while also plainly displaying the toxic male mindset towards women — sexual politics that get inverted directly in the following Kim-less classic “Crush on You”: “He’s a slut / he’s a hoe / he’s a freak,” Biggie sings. “Crush on You” also illustrates how critical Kim’s vocal presence is: she wasn’t able to finish the track because of a pregnancy. Every ad-libbed “true” in the hook nearly gives as much personality as the whole of Cease’s two verses, and the 1997 remix with her proves the essential version. Kim’s game is built on the re-appropriation of male language, co-opting the mafioso on “Spend a Little Doe,” insisting over a sultry piano ballad that “it don’t take nothing for you to love me” just “spend a little doe” (also shoving Puff Daddy himself to the back after he provides one struggle bar). Or on “We Don’t Need It,” where, after a chorus of men yell “if you ain’t sucking no dick,” she inserts “if you ain’t licking no clits, we don’t want it.” The apotheosis of Kim’s myth-making might be “Queen Bitch,” a straightforward two-verse rap rant where she exercises her guttural voice, knack for internal rhyme, and break-beat flow over a glitchy samba beat. The only dull moment is the sonic diversion “Fuck You,” Trife dropping the ball with some latent homophobia. Luckily, the 1997 reissue contains the Ladies’ Night Remix of “Not Tonight,” where Kim invites a coterie of female talent, including Left Eye, Angie Martinez, Da Brat, and Missy Elliot, to up the tempo and joy of the already eminently powerful original. If “I don’t want dick tonight / eat my pussy right” turned into “Oh this is ladies night / and our rhymes are tight” doesn’t describe how Kim asserted femininity into the rap game, I don’t know what does.
Part of Kicking the Canon – The Album Canon.