The stacked year of 1996 was not only heavy when it came to the men, but the women were lighting things up as well. The names that immediately come to mind are Lauryn Hill (based on her excellent work with the Fugees), Bahamadia and Heather B. Of course, the other two women who come to mind just as quickly are Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown, no question. Kim and Foxy were the two most popular femcees in hip hop in '96, and that will be the main focus of this "2 In 1" post. I won't be comparing the albums to see which one is better, however, I'll be talking in depth about their highly anticipated debut albums, "The Ill Na Na" and "Hardcore", respectively, both of which were released a week apart. I also have quite a few stories to tell with both albums, so be prepared for that as well, lol. This post will start with Foxy Brown's "The Ill Na Na."
I talked about this during my "3 In 1" post on LL Cool J. The first time I heard Foxy was on his "I Shot Ya" remix and even amongst the likes of LL, Prodigy of Mobb Deep, Keith Murray and Fat Joe, she held her own in an impressive fashion, definitely one of the best debuts of a femcee. Leading up to the release of her debut, I couldn't wait for it to come out. At this point, she was EASY on my eyes and on my ears. The first time I copped the album was during a school field trip in November (or December) of '96 during my 7th grade year of middle school., to Washington DC if I recall correctly. It wasn't planned believe it or not, but when I came across the cassette, I QUICKLY grabbed it, lol. (Fun fact: This and Mobb Deep's "Hell On Earth" were the last two cassettes I ever bought before I focused 100 percent on CDs, and I copped Mobb's album a couple of weeks before this trip.) A few days after Christmas that same year, I bought the CD from "Record Town" (now known as FYE) with some of the Christmas money I had, and boy was I happy. (I have another story that involves this album but I'll save that when I get to Kim's portion.) I remember REALLY liking the pictures Foxy took for the album insert, with the following being my favorite:
Loyal reader, I would look at this photo MULTIPLE times a day, lol. If I had a bigger size, it definitely would've been on my wall at the time. I always thought she was one of the sexiest women out there (along with Kim), and the fact that she was only 18 years old when this album came out, wow, just wow. ALL of this (finally) brings us to the first part of this "2 In 1" session as we return to the STACKED year that was 1996!!
Release date: November 19, 1996
All songs produced by Poke and Tone for TrackMasters Entertainent, except where noted
1. "Intro...Chicken Coop"
Produced by Rich Nice
"The following previews have been approved for all audiences by the Committee for Audio/Visual Sound." -Rich
I've always liked this intro. In addition to Rich Nice holding down the vocal front, we also get a brief snippet of then-upcoming group Cru's "Just Another Case", props to Nas for him "captivating an entire industry" in '96, which he did with his excellent "It Was Written" album, another snippet in the form of Cormega's "Dead Man Walking" as well as samples from the classic blaxploitation movie "Truck Turner" and "I Want To Make Love To You So Bad", also by the late Issac Hayes. Great start and this intro treated the coming of Foxy's album as a big deal (it was). Note to aspiring artists: If you want your album to come off as a big deal to the listeners, either start with a creative intro or a dope opening track.
2. "Holy Matrimony (Letter To The Firm)"
Allow me to pick apart this song a bit. First off, I've always loved it when Issac Hayes' "Ike's Mood Part 1" was sampled, especially in hip hop. I can't recall a time when that sample was not effective, plus Foxy handled herself well lyrically as "The First Lady of The Firm", so the song is not bad and in fact I bumped the hell out of this back in the day. Now, on the flipside, this song was less of a letter per se and more of a mafia doctrine making Nas Escobar, AZ Sosa and Mega Montana know she was capable of handling and taking care of business (see what I did there). Also, when you consider how things would later go for the Firm as a "supergroup", the hook makes no sense and the fact that she would go to hell and back for these guys when she really didn't know them like that makes the song a bit pointless in retrospect. All things considered, it's a good song though.
*3.5 out of 5*
3. "Foxy's Bells"
"Know you get the picture but the frame is frail/We gettin' richer, you wish you ran game this well"
I commended Foxy for her remake of LL Cool J's classic "Rock The Bells", however, she did no justice to the original. She tried don't get me wrong, but it fell short of its potential. I wonder what LL thought, then and now, of this remake.
*3 out of 5*
4. "Get Me Home"
Co-Produced by Teddy Riley
Eugene Wilde's "Gotta Get You Home Tonight" is the unmistakable, driving sample for the album's first single. I remember really liking this one when I first heard it, as Foxy did a very good job showing her sex appeal on a lyrical level (I know the fellas liked this one), and for a smooth joint like this, it banged in its own way with such a continuous bassline. Blackstreet, also hot at this point in '96, come through with the hook, doing their parts well, ensuring a win. Peep the video and her appearance on the missed "Showtime At The Apollo."
*4.5 out of 5*
5. "The Promise"
Featuring and produced by Havoc
"It's not a threat, it's a promise", those words tell this story here of the obvious mafioso influence: a tale of money, murder and mayhem. Havoc comes through with his signature sound straight out of the "Hell On Earth" playbook. I may be overrating it, but I still really like this one a lot.
*5 out of 5*
6. "Interlude...The Set Up"
It was at this point when the constant references to the Firm were already starting to wear out their welcome. You don't want to kill the vibe prematurely you know.
7. "If I"
Mad props to Poke and Tone for the smooth sampling of a classic from the late Luther Vandross ("Any Love"). Foxy goes deep on this one. Across three verses, she talks about friends changing their ways when she got her record deal, the trials and tribulations of a former love and the loss of her father. She's very reflective on this song (something I could relate to), preferring to take it back to simpler times, "when it was all good", rather than deal with the already apparent stresses of the music industry. Great song, probably the best on this album.
*5 out of 5*
8. "The Chase"
Man, this is another joint on the album that I used have on blast a lot back in the day. It's decent, but just when it seems like Foxy has a good storytelling vibe going, it ultimately goes nowhere and it really would've benefited from having a middle and ending to go along with the start.
*3 out of 5*
9. "Ill Na Na"
Featuring Method Man
Produced by Charly "Shuga Bear" Charles
Pretty good, Commodores sampled song here, thanks to the classic "Brick House." Foxy flows so well to this beat with Meth on the hook. I feel this reflected her confidence on the mic more than "other things." And in a nice touch, she says "waitin' for Kim album to drop, knowin' it's tight." I'll have more to say about Kim and Foxy's relationship as this post continues, but at this point, things were relatively cool between them (Foxy even gives her a shoutout in the album insert, saying "To My Girl Lil' Kim- Brooklyn's Other Finest.")
*4 out of 5*
10. "No One's"
Additional Vocals by Khadijah Bass
Produced by China Black and Divine Allah
As a big fan of the S.O.S. Band's classic "No One's Gonna Love You", I consider it a blatant jacking of that song here. It seemed like Foxy was catering to the fellas, but it falls a little short, plus the ladies on the hook came off like they were nervous or something. Could've done without this one.
*2 out of 5*
11. "Fox Boogie"
Featuring Kid Capri
To this day, I still wonder if the Kid Capri's hook was later jacked by Master P for "Make 'Em Say Uhh" and I'll post it so you can hear exactly what I'm referring to. This was ok, nothing more or less. Foxy isn't spitting anything here that we haven't heard already as the album comes to a close.
*3 out of 5*
12. "I'll Be"
I like the cover to the single, creatively blue. And speaking of this single, the exclusive "La Familia", which also featured Nas, AZ and Nature (the latter replaced Cormega), appeared as a B-side (it'll be posted below) and of course it's dope (did I go crazy when I first heard it, yes I did, lol). The collaborations between Foxy and Jay continued with this Rene & Angela sampled joint ("I'll Be Good") and it was no surprise that it ended up being the album's second single, and listening to it again, you can tell Jay did have a hand in writing the rhymes here. Very good song with Foxy looking so fly & good in the video that'll also be posted below.
*4 out of 5*
Produced by Rich Nice
Another audio clip from "Truck Turner" closes the album.
The nostalgia is certainly there as you know, and with that said, I'm realistically going with a 3.5 star rating for Foxy's debut. She essentially stayed in her lane, lyrically and otherwise, and with an attractive face and body, key production, top notch guests and the backing of the Def Jam, she succeeded. The album debuted at #7 on the "Billboard 200" chart and at #2 on the "Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums" chart, with 109,000 units sold in its first week, later becoming Certified Platinum in excess of 1.48 million units sold.
Now we move on to the Lil' Kim part of the post.
Like most of us, I first heard Kim on Junior Mafia's "Player's Anthem" (such a classic), however, what really made me take notice of Kim was her verse on "Get Money." It wasn't her actual verses and subsequent material that sold me on her debut, respectively. THIS is what sold me and MANY others:
Man, to say my jaw dropped when I first saw this is a COMPLETE understatement. Myself and others went batshit crazy when we first saw this picture. My first thoughts were, "if she's coming like THIS on the promotional poster, I can only imagine what the album is going to sound like." There's no way a poster like this would see the light of day in present day 2016, not even the likes of Nicki Minaj would be able to pull this off (she was close a few years back). So, this poster and the first single, "No Time", had me really sold on this album. And before we proceed to the album, a few fun facts:
1) Even though I've already had a good number of CDs in my collection right around the time I stopped collecting cassettes, this was actually the first CD I ever spent money on. I copped it from Target on Friday, the week it was released.
2) In the album insert, there was an address for her fan club at the time. It wasn't that long afterwards that I sent her a nice, detailed letter and a few weeks later, she did send me a response! I always remembered that she said "she liked my letter and enjoyed reading it." I held onto it for a long time, unfortunately it ended up being misplaced, not sure how. I wonder if she still has this letter.
3) During my aforementioned 7th grade year in middle school, there was a girl named Monica who I had a thing for (cute, brown skinned, older, even at this time I had a thing for "cute, older, brown skinned girls, lol). Although such a thing WOULDN'T fly today, I let her borrow THREE of my CDs (this Kim album was one of them, along with the Foxy joint and.... Ghostface Killah's "Ironman"). I'm not sure to this day what the hell happened, but a few weeks after I let her borrow my CDs, she left school..... for almost THREE months. Part of me wondered what was going on with her, but the other half of me was furious because I wanted my damn CDs back, lol! When she returned and FINALLY gave me my CDs back, she did apologize but again, it was never made clear (to me at least) why she left school for so long. Man, these stories/memories (I do have another small story involving Monica once we get into the album). Oh, and before I move on, lol, when I still had the "Ill Na Na" and "Hell On Earth" cassettes in my possession, ANOTHER chick named Tremaine tried to talk me into letting her borrow them. I said no, mainly because I probably would've never saw them again.
Now that the stories are over, lol, we can move on to Lil' Kim's debut, "Hardcore." I also want to say that it's still sad how many changes Kim made to her looks over the years, because she was SO cute in the pictures she took for the "Hardcore" album insert. I'm sure she would've aged well and today, comparing her to almost 20 years ago, it's like looking at two different people unfortunately. Here's one of my favorites:
NOW we can start this, LOL!
Release date: November 12, 1996, which was the week before Foxy's "Ill Na Na" came out
1. "Intro In A-Minor"
Even before I took the plastic of the CD I KNEW what this intro was going to consist of, lol, and I'm sure those of you have heard (and own) this album know exactly what I'm talking about, but let's head right into.....
2. "Big Momma Thang"
Additional Vocals by Lil' Cease
Produced by Stretch Armstrong
"I used to be scared of the dick, now I throw lips to the shit/Handle it, like a real bitch!!" -Kim
Man, THOSE memorable opening words set the complete tone for the rest of this album in one fell swoop in terms of its lyrical content. And as the first verse continued, Kim pulled NO punches and held NOTHING back, which you gotta respect her for. Kim's (lyrical) presence was so commanding that even Jay-Z, in something that almost never happened/happens, slightly came off like an afterthought during his guest appearance. Wow. My mind was blown when I first heard this as you can imagine, lol. Oh yeah, remember Monica from one of the stories going into this album? Well, she's back for this one, lol. Kim was an obvious influence on this girl, and during our Math class (taught by Mr. Gilliam, who also was a fan of Kim, even had this album on his desk still in the plastic, lol, plus we had the hip hop connection too), would often yell, and this is verbatim:
"I used to be scared of the dick, now I throw my pussy to the shit!!!"
Facepalm+lol, she never said this when Mr. Gilliam was in the room, but she also said it loud enough that everyone could hear it and laugh, which is what I did (and I had a thing for this chick, lol). Ah, those days. CONTINUING on, lol, there's also another version of this song that most may not even know about (it'll be posted along with the Jay-Z assisted song). It has the same title and not only is Kim solo the entire time, but she goes in on Faith Evans.... and 2Pac, if you can believe that and it's a must hear too. And like you need to ask what this song gets, lol.(The sample of Sylvester's "Was It Something I Said" is the icing on the cake.)
*5 out of 5*
3. "No Time"
Featuring Puff Daddy
Produced by Sean Combs and Stevie J.
When this joint first came out, it had such a buzz and most of the people I went to school with at the time were crazy about it. I really liked it then and I still do today. Lyn Collins' "Take Me As I Am" was sampled pretty well and even that title itself is applicable to Kim at this point in her career. The confidence, while highly sexual, was so thick you could cut it with the proverbial knife. Classic in my book. Peep the video and her appearance on "Showtime At The Apollo."
*5 out of 5*
4. "Spend A Little Doe"
Additional Vocals by Fela
Produced by Ski
"It don't pay to be nice, but it's nice to pay"
In the first of a few times on this album, Kim's flexes her storytelling muscles here. The story finds Kim released from prison after doing a 3 year bid. Her apparent boyfriend, on the other hand, didn't visit her ("I ain't wanna see my bird in no cage", he says). Post-prison, Kim simply takes matters into her own hands by doing whatever it took to get paid as well as presenting herself as if to say, "look at me, I'm WORTH spending a little doe on", but at the same time not coming off selling herself for money, get it? Very good song.
*4 out of 5*
5. "Take It!"
On this skit, Biggie, Lil' Cease and Trife are talking about the ladies, "hotel room talk", meanwhile Biggie is talking in terms of doing one thing and one thing only: taking Kim up to her room and, well you know the rest.
6. "Crush On You"
Additional Vocals by The Notorious BIG
Produced by Andraeo "Fanatic" Heard
Ok, a BONE to pick, lol. WHY was this version, a Lil' Cease solo spot, on the album instead of the more popular, remix version with Kim, Cease and Biggie? Now, the remix may have come out later, but still. Most would take the latter version over the Cease solo spot any day. Don't get me wrong, Cease is not bad here, but when you listen to both of these back to back, it's clear which one is superior. It's also been said that Cam'ron wrote this version for Cease.
*3 out of 5* (Cease's version)
*5 out of 5* (the remix)
And as a bonus....
Additional Vocals by The Notorious BIG
Produced by Fabian Hamilton
Biggie thinks Kim likes "the lye/lah, the ganja", but in true Kim fashion, the only "drugs" in her world were sex, money, jewelry, nice cars and clothes, and she makes these points and then some here. Another very good song.
*4 out of 5*
This skit is the opposite of the one earlier with Biggie and the crew. This time around is Kim and the ladies, and "scheamin" is oh so appropriate term for this one, as we head into.....
9. "Queen Bitch"
Produced by Carlos Broady and Nashiem Myrick
"Bet I wet ya like hurricanes and typhoons/Got buffoons eatin' my pussy while I watch cartoons"
This also appeared on the "High School High" soundtrack, another 1996 release. As far as this joint is concerned, this may very well be the hardest thing Kim has ever done. Yes, the title is certainly applicable here, no denying that, but she had such a commanding/demanding presence on the mic that it's nothing short of attractive. DOPE stuff here, and yes, Biggie did write this for her.
*5 out of 5*
Additional Vocals by Adilah
Produced by Prestige
Remember Biggie's "Dreams (Just Playing)?" Well, leave it to Kim to come with her own version in which she talks, in very explicit terms, about "the R&B cats she wanna sex" (I made that up, lol). She even said, "what the deal with that Prince cat/He be lookin' fruity, but you still can eat the booty", lol wow, later following that up with "watch this rap bitch buss all over ya nuts", hot damn! I mean, she fires off a bunch of ill lines in this one and it's tight as hell. Then again, where Biggie "was only playing (just saying, lol)", I guarantee you Kim was 100 percent serious with everything she said here.
*5 out of 5*
11. "M.A.F.I.A. Land"
Produced by Brent "Faraoh" Toussaint
In an aggressive yet dramatic form, Kim all but pledges undying loyalty to her Junior Mafia click, nothing more or less.
*3.5 out of 5*
12. "We Don't Need It"
Featuring Lil' Cease and Trife
"Equated" by Minnesota
This also appeared on the "Sunset Park" soundtrack, yet another 1996 release. I'm sure this was not done intentionally, but I didn't care for the hook of Sadat X and Akinyele's "Loud Hangover" seemingly being reworked for the sexually charged, call & response hook. With that said, even though Kim drops a verse, this seemed more like a showcase for Cease and Trife. The only lowpoint on this album.
*2 out of 5*
13. "Not Tonight"
Produced by Jermaine Dupri
Like 80-90 percent of this album, this one right here is definitely not for all ears (or to be put on blast at the office, lol). Almost straight out of the playbook of Too $hort's "Cocktails", Kim tells very explicit stories about "the men she's been through" and man, the hook here is something else I'll tell you. The shock value, if you will, is enough to warrant a "5 out of 5", but the rest of the song is on point, all things considered. (This song would be remixed in '97 in a more tasteful fashion, lol, with the late Left Eye, Missy Elliott, Angie Martinez and Da Brat.)
*5 out of 5*
14. "Player Haters"
Like you need to know what this skit is about.
15. "**** You"
Featuring Trife and LarcenyProduced and additional Vocals by The Notorious BIG (and Cornbread)
Although Kim's verse was good, this was still somewhat of an anti-climatic closer to an otherwise excellent album, plus, outside of Lil' Cease, the rest of the guys in Junior Mafia never really impressed me like that, which is why I only bump "Player's Anthem" and "Get Money" from that "Conspiracy" album and have NO plans to revisit anything else from it.
*3 out of 5* (for Kim's verse and the beat)
Man oh man, I know I haven't bumped this one in such a long time, but even when I take the strong nostalgic vibe into consideration, this album has aged SO well, yes indeed. And even though this wasn't the basis for the post, I do like this way more than Foxy's debut, the only difference is that back in the day, I bumped Foxy's album more. I think it's largely been confirmed that Biggie was the key force behind most, if not all, of Kim's rhymes here and even if you can clearly hear the penmanship of Biggie, Kim was SO good and confident with her delivery that it almost didn't matter if she had a ghostwriter or not, she was that on point. It also goes without saying that this album was a success for Kim. "No Time", "Crush On You (Remix)" and the remix to "Not Tonight" all enjoyed respectable radio and video play, with the latter single achieving a Platinum certification AND being nominated for a Grammy Award in 1998 for "Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, also making Kim the first femcee to have three consecutive #1 singles on the Billboard "Hot Rap Songs" chart. Furthermore, "Hardcore" hit #11 on the "Billboard 200" and #1 on the "Top R&B Albums" charts, respectively, when it was released, moving 78,000 units in its first week, en route to a Double Platinum certification with over 2 million units sold. Wow. Overall, this is clear 4.5 star album, definitely Kim's best.
I also want to close this post by saying that in '96 going into '97, anticipation for the first ever Kim & Foxy collaboration was at an all time high and I certainly hoped to see/hear it...but for a variety of reasons, it never happened. I can't quite put my finger on what specifically led to the beef they had (jealousy could be one factor, as well as the likely number of people in their ears, the nature of the industry, etc), but it's a shame we never got that collaboration because we'd still be talking about it today. The CLOSEST we got was Total's "No One Else (Remix)", which also featured Da Brat. In present day 2016, I feel that ship has all but sailed in terms of a collaboration, but if/when it happens someday, I'd check for it. Kim, Foxy, almost 20 years in the making, thank you for all of the memories dating back to my middle school years, and Kim if you're reading this, check your archives and see if you still have that letter I sent you in '96, lol!