Lil Kim made a splashing debut with Junior M.A.F.I.A on 1995's Conspiracy, but she'd soon beat her own path as one of the biggest rappers of the '90s. 1996's Hard Core contributed much to her megastar status; released when the Brooklyn native was still in high school, the album shook up the industry with raw, provocative, liberating lyrics and the sexy/glamorous-gangsta persona that Kim cultivated. The all-star production team (Puff Daddy, Stevie J, David "Ski" Willis, Jermaine Dupri) and stellar features (Jay-Z, Lil' Cease, The Notorious B.I.G.) aside, it's bars like "If Peter Piper pecked em / I bet you Biggie bust em / he probably tried to fuck him / I told him not to trust him / Lyrically I dust em off like Pledge / Hit hard like sledge-hammers / Bitch with that platinum grammar" that make Hard Core a certified classic, as the conviction with which Lil Kim spits every syllable on every track is "unswervingly committed, dedicated, and intense" aka real af. Check out "Queen B@#$H," "Big Momma Thang," "Drugs," "Crush On You," "No Time," and "Not Tonight."
- 2LP reissue
- part of Rhino's Start Your Ear Off Right campaign
- music label: Atlantic 1996 / 2016