Lil' Kim certainly lives up to her provocative billing on Hard Core. Just a notch or two below other mid-'90s East Coast hardcore rap classics like the Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die and Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt, Hard Core emulates much of the gangsta attitude that had characterized the West Coast rap of the time yet retains an East Coast production style that is built upon sampling rather than G-funk. There's plenty of substance here as well as style, though the Queen Bitch herself gives it to you raw and salaciously like you'd expect, yet also quite wittily and nimbly. It's her wit and nimbleness that truly set her apart from her peers, as few and far between as they may be. After all, there's no shortage of porno rap out there, but few of the niche style's practitioners can earn your respect while still tickling your fancy. Kim is one of those very few, and she showcases her talents throughout Hard Core, beginning with "Big Momma Thang," her album-opening duet with Jigga. Elsewhere, she flosses with Puff Daddy on "No Time" ("Yeah, I Momma, Miss Ivana/Usually rock the Prada, sometimes Gabbana/Stick you for your cream and your riches/Zsa Zsa Gabor, Demi Moore, Prince Diane, and all them rich bitches"); imposes her gangstressness Biggie-style on "Queen Bitch" ("Hit hard like sledge hammers, bitch with that platinum grammar/I am a diamond-cluster hustler/Queen bitch, supreme bitch/Kill a nigga for my nigga by any means bitch"); and puts all the fellas in their proper place on the empowering "Not Tonight" ("The moral of the story is this/You ain't lickin' this, you ain't stickin' this/And I got witnesses, ask any nigga I been with/They ain't hit sh*t till they stuck they tongue in this...I don't want dick tonight/Eat my pussy right"). The relentless sexuality can be a bit much, even for the most ardent fans of hardcore rap. Even so, it's hard to think of such a categorically dirty rap album that's this accomplished, and it's furthermore refreshing to hear a woman turn the tables for once, particularly so cleverly with such a venerable supporting cast.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier