August 25, 2008

My Gut Reaction: Lil' Kim - Hard Core (November 12, 1996)

Kimberly Jones, a (now former) member of the Junior M.A.F.I.A., a rap crew consisting entirely of weed carriers for the Notorious B.I.G., found success in hip hop by rhyming mostly about sex, a feat that guys in the genre do all the time, but in 1996, Lil' Kim was seen as both a breath of fresh air and a blasphemous heathen. She played up the sex-kitten role as much as possible, posing for several semi-nude shots (including those for her album's cover and liner notes), and embraced the persona of a tough-talking gangster's moll, all to the tune of several million albums being sold.

That bear on the album cover looks so happy, doesn't he?

Hard Core is Lil' Kim's first solo disc, released in 1996 after the surprise success of Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s album Conspiracy, from which all of the hit singles featured Kim. The record label, Big Beat/Atlantic, put two and two together, came up with nine, and decided to market the hell out of Kimberly's penchant for garnering media attention, either with or without clothes on. Her personal relationship with mentor Biggie Smalls, which continued long after Biggie was married to his wife (he got hitched at some point after Ready To Die was released), helped her mold her thoughts into tangible sentences that could possibly rhyme when placed in tandem with other like-minded thoughts. As a result, Hard Core can be seen as an aborted Biggie Smalls album, albeit with a short female taking his place the majority of the time.

Hard Core sold millions of copies and won rave reviews from many music critics, primarily for her skill behind the mic and her confident, over-the-top persona (she has compared herself to Pamela Anderson frequently, although I'm not sure what that has to do with hip hop). This direction earned her a flock of fans and a place as a media darling, which even scored her a Grammy award and an opportunity to rhyme on a remake of Labelle's "Lady Marmalade" (alongside Christina Aguilera, Pink, and Mya) for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. (My favorite part of that video is a toss up between Mya just being Mya and Dee Snider-sorry, Christina Aguilera completely blowing all of the other singers out of the frame with her vocals.) However, that still wasn't enough for me to keep the album: at one point, I bought this disc for about four bucks at a used CD store, but I sold it about a week later without listening to any of the songs, save for "Queen Bitch". The copy I'm reviewing now is from the ever-so-fantastic library.

Does Kimberly hold her own in the gentleman's club that is hip hop? Let's find out.


1. INTRO IN A-MINOR
Kim takes the porn-star ideal that she was cursed with and runs with that shit. This rap album intro is so tasteless and arid that it wouldn't even be aired on Cinemax late at night.


2. BIG MOMMA THANG (FEAT JAY-Z & LIL' CEASE)
Have you ever found yourself jonesing to hear the Notorious B.I.G. rhyme, with a barely feminine lilt, about wanting to cum multiple times? You haven't? What the hell's wrong with you? Because that's all this song is essentially about, save for Shawn Carter's lame-ass contribution. In its original incarnation, Kim actually had the balls to diss 2Pac (and possibly Faith Evans, Biggie's wife), and I remember that version sounding pretty decent, but this album track is pretty poor.


3. NO TIME (FEAT PUFF DADDY)
In the video for this, Hard Core's first single, Puffy and Kimberly direct their rhymes toward a conveniently placed camera while riding up and down some escalators. (At least, that's what I recall: I'm doing this from memory, because I really don't want to look for the clip of "No Time".) Is it weird that I actually prefer the radio edit's chorus to the album version, if only because Puffy is forced to alter the last word in each sentence so that it doesn't rhyme with "n----z"? Overall, I neither like nor dislike this song.


4. SPEND A LITTLE DOE
Kim tries her hand at some storytelling on wax, with mixed results. Ski's beat is pretty decent, but Kim sounds like she's forcing the issue at points, and that technique never actually sounds good in any medium.


5. TAKE IT
I lost several brain cells allowing this skit to play all the way through.


6. CRUSH ON YOU (FEAT LIL' CEASE & THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.)
Kim isn't even on this song? The fuck? (At least this explains why the video for this song always referred to the "Crush On You" remix.) If I wanted to hear Lil' Cease rock a solo song, I would have bought his solo album, and as we all know, nobody was foolish or desperate enough to do that shit. The video, which does actually feature Kim contributing vocals to her own goddamn song, showcases Kim and her collection of colorful wigs (the green one makes her look the best, in my opinion) rhyming about who knows what, but the part that interested me was her reference to Labelle's "Lady Marmalade". This was years before Moulin Rouge, folks.


7. DRUGS (FEAT THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.)
Biggie only pops up on the mumbled, barely-coherent hook, while Kim handles all of the rhyming herself. She isn't bad at all, but the song itself is so far from memorable that I can't even remember what the fuck this blog was supposed to be about.


8. SCHEAMIN'
A female counterpoint to the "Take It" skit from earlier, although this interlude sets the women up as gold-digging con artists, while the guys were introduced in the earlier skit as just plain horny. I'm pretty sure this sketch sets back the feminist movement several decades, although to be fair, the guys also come off as fucking idiots. Also coming off as a fucking idiot: whoever decided that was the correct spelling of the word "scheming".

9. QUEEN BITCH
I actually really like this song. I first heard it on the soundtrack to High School High, which was an awful movie, but it begat a terrific soundtrack, so it's all good. Kim's boasts over the beat by co-producers Carlos "Six July" Brody (from La the Darkman and Royce Da 5'9" fame) and Nashiem Myrick (Biggie's "Who Shot Ya?", Capone-N-Noreaga's "T.O.N.Y.") sound basically like Biggie digitally adjusted his voice, but that didn't bother me this go round. What did bother me, though, is Kim's reference to her "bomb ass cock": I'm going to laugh out loud and point fingers when it's finally revealed that using the slang word "cock" when you're talking about "pussy" was just a practical joke played on rappers on the West Coast by some bored gang members-turned-label executives.


10. DREAMS
Kim retools Biggie's mixtape joint "Dreams" (also known as "Dreams Of Fucking An R&B Bitch"), switching the subject matter up to focus on male R&B singers that she would like to hook up with. Honestly, my first exposure to the existence of this song was on one of the Chris Rock comedy albums (I think maybe Bigger & Blacker), where producer Prince Paul chopped up some Lil' Kim lines from this track to answer for Monica Lewinsky in a bizarre interview skit. If you've ever heard Biggie's original, then you probably owe it to yourself to listen to the opposite sex spit similar sentiments, simply so you can believe yourself to be an equal-opportunity hip hop head. For what it is, this isn't terrible.


11. M.A.F.I.A. LAND
Kim actually sounds pretty damn good on here, but I don't understand the relevance of the sound of thunder, which is woven into the instrumental. It's not like Kim recorded this song while standing in the rain. Come on, artists and producers: the listeners aren't stupid.


12. WE DON'T NEED IT (FEAT TRIFE & LIL' CEASE)
Sadly, not the same Trife that now works alongside Ghostface Killah. This is the umpteenth sex rap to appear on Hard Core, but, ultimately, this one is the best the disc has to offer. (That isn't saying much, though.) The militant drums make for a fantastic contrast to the cheeky melody that floats throughout, and Kim's rhymes are actually kind of funny, especially when she somehow, against all odds, manages to make a reference to Jeru the Damaja. Cease is also decent, but the aforementioned Trife sounds fucking terrible.


13. NOT TONIGHT (FEAT JERMAINE DUPRI)
We get it, Kim! You love it when guys go down on you! Alright already! Although, technically, I can't really be upset, considering hip hop's obsession with the quest for the perfect blowjob: if Kim wants to get hers, more power to her.


14. PLAYER HATERS
Skit...


15. FUCK YOU (FEAT LARCENY, TRIFE, & THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.)
Seriously, I'm left wondering why Biggie didn't have a much more obvious vocal presence on the debut album of an artist that he was sleeping with. Instead, all we get are some half-ass hooks and a brief four bars on this track, with which we are somehow reminded that he actually co-signed every single last member of the rap collective Junior M.A.F.I.A. He may have done so without ever hearing any of them rap, considering their lifeless verses. Kim does alright for herself over this dark instrumental, though.


THE LAST WORD: You probably think that I'm going to find Hard Core appalling, and it is, to a point, but the thing is, Lil' Kim has the right to rap about anything she wants, including the various sexual positions she wants to alternate through on a nightly basis. Maybe it's because we're desensitized to the dudes in hip hop rhyming about this shit for seemingly decades, that it's considered shocking when a female does the same thing. Lil' Kim is not without skill, but most of the beats and guest spots on Hard Core are weak, and she has the flow of a female Biggie (I mentioned this above) that kind of takes you out of the moment on a frequent basis. While a couple of the songs click, the majority of Hard Core isn't much of a contribution to our chosen genre, and I can't honestly see myself ever listening to this disc again.

-Max

8 comments:

  1. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessAugust 25, 2008

    I'm not trying to be an arrogant prick or nothing but if Lil' Kim and Missy are typical of the caliber of female rapper you listen to, of course you think that all lady rappers suck. You just reviewed the female equivalents of Lil' Wayne and 50 Cent. I really hope that you review material from at least 3 of the following to round out Ladies Week at Hip Hop Isn't Dead: Jean Grae, Invincible, Lauryn Hill, Rah Digga, MC Lyte. Did anybody mention Lil' Kim or Missy Elliott when you asked for suggestions a while back?

    I'm not gonna front like I got the whole Rah Digga catalogue or something. The only material I have by female rappers is burnt copies of all Jean Grae's records, a burnt Invincible, the Lauryn Hill mixtapes that J.Period made and a retail copy of The Score. However, there are a handful of females out there that I can at least respect even if I'm not personally feeling it. Lil' Kim and Missy Elliott are not on that list.

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  2. You have to be patient. Just like how the blog is supposed to see if classic albums still hold up today, it also doesn't shy away from more mainstream artists. What I'm aiming for is an all-around critique of the female rapper in general, and in order to do that, you have to include folks like Missy and Kimberly. Perhaps in these two reviews I'm simply confirming what you already believed to be true, but at least this way you now know for a fact that both of these discs aren't really worth listening to.

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  3. haha you like this album but alot but this album is a piece of fuckin trash,i never liked lil kim from the start

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  4. I'm not sure what you're smoking that you actually believed I liked this album (in fact, the last line of the review states that I won't ever listen to it again, thereby negating your comment and proving that you couldn't be bothered to actually READ the fucking thing), but it's mean when you don't share. Thanks for reading!

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  5. lol when i first bought this album it was like a year agp, i thought it would be "hard core" this album was shit,and just like you,i wont listen to ths ever again

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  6. yeah this album sucked ass when i listened to it, lil kim has to be one of the worst female rappers alive

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  7. you wasting your time reviewing non hip hop albums

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  8. Love Jean Grae and Bahamadia. Still Hardcore was the shit whe it came out! Stop HATING!!!!

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