bhm: lil’ kim’s ‘hardcore’ liberation movement

February 6, 2019
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Provocative. Gritty. Erotic. Powerful. Luxurious. Dominant. Legendary. But most importantly? Hardcore. Kimberly Denise Jones, professionally known as the Lil’ Kim, is the entire package when it comes to being a rap superstar. Kim’s debut with hip-hop group Junior M.A.F.I.A. (mentored by the late Notorious B.I.G.) introduced the world to an eclectic, refreshing dynamic that had yet to be embodied by a female rapper. Lil’ Kim proved that not only could she deliver a powerful, commanding performance alongside her male counterparts, she could personify the assertive, opulent demeanor that women needed and deserved to hear.

After Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s album debut, Conspiracy, Jones’ popularity was damn near impossible to ignore. Alongside notable contributors such as Stevie J, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, Jay-Z, Lil Cease, Jermaine Dupri, and several others, Lil’ Kim began to embark on a remarkable journey that would cement her overall celebrity and notoriety until the end of time. Photographed by Michael Lavine and styled by the timeless Misa Hylton, Jones graced her debut album cover in a sumptuous room filled with roses and seductively straddled over a polar bear fur. Exuding cutthroat sensuality, extravagance, and poise, Lil’ Kim released her brilliant, revolutionary debut, Hard Core, on November 12, 1996, and it would change the conversation and direction of hip-hop forever.

Hard Core informed audiences of a few key components: Kim was unapologetically and openly sex positive. She found comfort and pride in living a life of luxury. She was not afraid of letting men know that the standard of being with her in any capacity is immensely high, and they had no choice but to follow suit. She embodied “girl power” and reminded women of their worth any chance that she could.

Lil’ Kim immediately set the tone with an explicit skit that depicted a young man purchasing a copy of Hard Core and a large popcorn for his listening entertainment. The listener then hears an XXX scene where Lil’ Kim pleasures a man who is heavily engulfed in her advanced sexual skills and loudly screams her name. The true magic and power that Hard Core embodies is the full ownership of female sex — a far cry from the submissive tropes engraved into patriarchal American culture.

On “Big Momma Thang (feat. Jay-Z and Lil’ Cease),” Kim proudly exclaimed, “I used to be scared of the dick, now I throw lips to the shit. Handle it like a real bitch.” Listen. This is the kind of ideology that should be applied to sexual activity. Proper sex education and knowledge eliminates the idea of being “fearful,” while also exploring one’s sexual nature. Another important sex lesson that Lil’ Kim stressed to the girls: Don’t put out if you’re not getting yours. “Not Tonight” is a dedication to the men solely concerned with their own fulfillment versus acknowledging their partner’s sexual needs. Lil’ Kim did not care about the money, cars, and gifts that men were throwing her way. A dominant woman such as herself needs someone who puts in the effort and she will kick anyone to the curb that won’t comply. This lesson can be applied to just about any standard that one sets for oneself.

One thing that we know about Lil’ Kim is that she works hard for her money and she is not afraid to show it off. Hard Core had many casual luxury brand drops: Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, Christian Lacroix, Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino, Prada. On the first single, “No Time (feat. Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs)”, the Kim and Puff stayed true to their foundation, while also acknowledging their new-found wealth. Yet Jones’ wealth flex has never felt demeaning or patronizing to her fanbase. It is apparent that Lil’ Kim worked diligently for everything that she had, having endured a difficult, life-defining childhood on the streets of Brooklyn, New York. Her wealth and braggadocio is a story of survival, perseverance, and salvation. Jones’ journey is a triumphant, inspiring version of a “happy ending” and what is there not to love about that?

Lil’ Kim is and will forever be the blueprint when it comes to innovative fashion and timeless music videos. During the Hard Core era, Jones released three visually satisfying videos to accompany the classic album. Lil’ Kim’s signature look was developed and perfected with the assistance of world-renowned Celebrity Stylist Misa Hylton-Brim. Together, they created an ageless image that was an homage to Black women from the hood (the true innovators) and withstood the span of time. The “No Time” visual introduced us to a “teaser” version of Lil’ Kim’s signature look: a voluminous, medium-length blow out, statement furs in natural hues, and form-fitting dresses. The influential, cultural shift happened when the “Crush on You (Remix)” visual was released in 1997. Inspired by “The Wiz”, “Crush on You (Remix)” had a color-changing disco floor that matched every one of Lil’ Kim’s looks. Starting from the top of her incredibly crafted colorful wigs down to the soles of her heels, Lil Kim’ and Misa Hylton-Brim came out swinging. The outfits that this dynamic duo created together has been the inspiration for Halloween costumes and homages from female rappers to this day. In that moment, their overall influence in the fashion industry was solidified in history.

At 22-years-old, Lil’ Kim ignited the flame and created her own lane in a male-dominated industry. Her effortlessly cool demeanor and vicious rap-style on Hard Core makes it arguably one of the most impressive rap debuts of all-time. The references to this moment in time is weaved through the current hip-hop industry as well. Kimberly Denise Jones and her phenomenal team deserve the accolades and praise for being the innovative, raunchy, and refined entertainer that the hip-hop community severely needed and deserved. We will never forget the Hard Core queen in the flesh.