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Best Lil’ Kim Songs: 10 Hardcore Hip-Hop Classics From The Queen Bee
Warner Music

Best Lil’ Kim Songs: 10 Hardcore Hip-Hop Classics From The Queen Bee

Provocative and pioneering, the best Lil’ Kim songs celebrated sex positivity and pushed against limitations on women in hip-hop.


In 2021, Lil’ Kim announced she was writing a memoir: The Queen Bee. Unflinching honesty has characterised the best Lil’ Kim songs from the start, but it seemed fans were about to learn a whole lot more about the rapper and hip-hop trailblazer. “I’m excited to finally get to tell my story after all this time,” she said. “Many people have thought they knew the story of Lil’ Kim, but they have no idea.”

Slated for release in 2024, The Queen Bee will doubtless prove as unpredictable, tense, wrought with struggle and creatively brilliant as the woman herself. Lil’ Kim’s astonishing rap skills, her ability to create and inhabit characters, her traumatic life experiences, her skill at combining high fantasy with street rawness, her ferocity in the face of opposition: all of these make Lil’ Kim unique in the history of hip-hop.

Kim undoubtably directly inspired many artists who have followed her, whether they acknowledge her influence or not. One of the best female rappers of all time, she is justly credited for sailing past expected norms of how women discuss their own erotic desires, influencing artists from Cardi B to Peaches, but her sex positivity is but one of her many innovations. Kim experimented with the idea of persona in rap – something that would be taken to extremes by Eminem – as, beginning with her debut album, Hard Core, she found ways to split off the different sides to her personality. She wasn’t Kimberly Jones, the recently homeless young woman with low self-esteem; she was Lil’ Kim, the diamond-carved Venus.

Kim’s ability to mutate vulnerability into hardness in her art has bled back into her life, bringing its own issues, including public beefs and legal troubles. Yet within the drama, Kim always shines, and, as the best Lil’ Kim songs show, she is a true hip-hop pioneer and icon. “I’m Lil’ Kim,” as she said in 1999. “I’m the one who started all this.”

Listen to the best of Lil’ Kim here, and check out our best Lil’ Kim songs, below.

10: Crush On You (Remix) (featuring Lil’ Cease and The Notorious B.I.G.) (standalone single, 1997)
“He’s a slut, he’s a ho, he’s a freak,” sings The Notorious B.I.G., Kim’s early mentor, on Crush On You’s hook. He’s singing about himself. For Biggie to use “slut”, “ho”, “freak” – words far more likely to be used about women – in a Lil’ Kim song is absolutely exhilarating. Kim’s celebrated sexuality on Hard Core isn’t something men just take from her. It’s always a meeting of equals, where men and women can each demand satisfaction from each other – so all words directed at women can also be used by and about men.

Crush On You, in its Hard Core album version, is basically a Lil’ Cease solo cut and barely features Kim (who was going through a very upsetting time in her relationship with Biggie). However, the later remixed version, released as a single in 1997, finds our girl back in the saddle – and donning in the video (for the first time) the primary-colour wigs that made her such a style icon.

9: Shut Up Bitch (from ‘The Naked Truth’, 2005)

The Naked Truth, Lil Kim’s fourth album, was released the same week as the start of her year-long prison term for perjury. “I think when you go through stuff like that,” Kim said in 2005, referring to her trial, “people sometime know that it can be hard to bounce back, and know that it can be hard to stay focused.” It’s clear she’s beleaguered, angry, frustrated – and she channels all this into Shut Up Bitch. One of the best Lil’ Kim songs of the 2000s, it is an ice-cold strike against all the gossip that has followed her since the beginning of her career: rumours about money, drugs, plastic surgery and Biggie writing her rhymes. It’s a cathartic track, with Kim’s controlled rage delivered over circular, percussive backing.

8: Can’t Hold Us Down (Christina Aguilera, featuring Lil’ Kim) (from ‘Stripped’, 2002)

When Christina Aguilera walks down the street at the start of the video for Can’t Hold Us Down, some guy just waltzes past her and fondles her butt. It sets off this feminist anthem, in which – 15 years before #MeToo became a global movement – Aguilera and Kim call out harassment culture in the streets. They make it clear that, no matter what a woman wears, how she acts, whatever she says, there is absolutely no right to her body. Lil’ Kim is usually a bit too raw for mainstream pop stardom, but Can’t Hold Us Down (along with her 2001 role in Moulin Rouge!’s Lady Marmalade) proves the best Lil’ Kim songs can set light to the charts, too.

7: Tha Beehive (featuring Reeks, Bunky S.A., Vee and Saint from The Advakids) (from ‘La Bella Mafia’, 2003)

“I feel like my third album was a very important album, and it was a great album that didn’t get enough attention,” Lil’ Kim said in 2005. La Bella Mafia was certainly vital for Kim, as it was with this album that she acrimoniously broke with her previous crew, Junior M.A.F.I.A. (whose members had featured heavily on Hard Core and The Notorious K.I.M.). Tha Beehive finds her running with a new set, and this eight-minute-long posse cut – even ending with an utterly charming tribute from a gushing fan – is one of the hardest rap tracks Kim has ever made.

6: Suck My Dick (from ‘The Notorious K.I.M.’, 2000)

“This album to me is more creative and more versatile than my last album,” Kim said of her second release, The Notorious K.I.M. “I think that’s what people have been looking for.” At the time of recording, Kim felt that the defiant sexuality that exuded from Hard Core was being ripped off by other women, and she wanted to grow her image and sound away from that. The Notorious K.I.M. is a very tough album, and the combative Suck My Dick is a perfect example of how the best Lil’ Kim songs can showcase her at their most confrontational.

5: Not Tonight (from ‘Hard Core’, 1996)

Not Tonight is a song with two different outfits, both of them incredible. The album version finds Kim rapping about her preference for receiving oral sex over penetration – with plenty of bawdy humour to back up her demands. She asserts that a “real man” eats pussy, and if “you ain’t lickin’ this, you ain’t stickin’ this”. A year later, the track was completely made over into the Ladies Night Remix and released as a single. On this full-colour, full-throttle pop classic, Kim is joined by Missy Elliott, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, Da Brat and Angie Martinez for a party smash among the best Lil’ Kim songs. “We were all drunk by the time it came for us to shoot our first scene,” Kim has recalled about the accompanying video. “Angie Martinez started throwing up over the side of the boat. So when you see the boat scene and Angie looking fly, trust me it wasn’t always like that!”

4: No Matter What They Say (from ‘The Notorious K.I.M.’, 2000)

While Kim did not want to release No Matter What They Say as the first single from The Notorious K.I.M., fearing that Latin pop had been overdone, her record company insisted – and they were right to. Easily one of the best Lil’ Kim songs of the era, No Matter What They Say was a very important single, as it clearly brought out Kim’s versatility. It wasn’t only in her lyrics and style, but also the sound and the range of samples used, with the track’s salsa and old-school hip-hop offering a very different listen from Hard Core’s bed of 70s US funk music. Kim was right in that Latin pop was ubiquitous in the late 90s, but no one had done it like this before.

3: Queen Bitch (featuring The Notorious B.I.G) (from ‘Hard Core’, 1996)

Kim liked Queen Bitch so much that she created a Part Two for The Notorious K.I.M., and even considered naming her second album after it. The song contains some of Kim’s most laugh-out-loud lyrics (“Got buffoons eatin’ my pussy while I watch cartoons”) and feels like a real slice of life. “That’s just how I rapped,” Kim said, reflecting on Hard Core in 2016. “A lot of things I rapped about was super real. That’s why I think we were so loved coming up, Bad Boy [Records], Junior M.A.F.I.A., all of us, because a lot of our stuff was about our everyday life and what we went through.”

2: Lighters Up (from ‘The Naked Truth’, 2005)

This tribute to the strength and horror of Brooklyn contains some of Kim’s most profound words. The title, and Kim’s reggae inflections, sound celebratory, but the lyrics betray a different story. “Now, let me give you a walk through,” Kim raps. “Show you what to do and you don’t do/Where’s not safe to go/Them boys approach you.” She mourns for Black lives taken by beefing, despair and exploitation, while celebrating the New York City borough’s joy and creativity. The video, shot in Brooklyn with local people, is almost documentary-like and includes a cameo from Kim’s close friend Mary J Blige.

1: Big Momma Thang (with Jay-Z and Lil’ Cease) (from ‘Hard Core’, 1996)

The first rapped lines we hear from Lil’ Kim on Hard Core are, “I used to be scared of the dick/Now I throw lips to the shit, handle it like a real bitch.” What an introduction to the Queen Bee – not only to her sexcapades but also alluding to her troubled past. It’s easy to forget just how young Kim was at the time of Hard Core: still in her teens. “The sexy part was just me,” Kim said in 2016. “Everyone felt like I should be me. I guess when they met me, by their words, they felt like that was the dope part about me. I was very fly already and super sexy as a young girl. They were also worried about me being so young and sexy and over-the-top provocative. They kind of marketed me as an older girl, even though I wasn’t.”

Big Momma Thang actually started out as “a diss record”, according to Kim, reportedly with broadsides against 2Pac and Biggie’s wife, Faith Evans, but Biggie was unhappy about this. It was at that point Jay-Z was approached for the second verse, and he brings enormous flavour to the track, bragging and boasting and trying to poach Kim away from Junior M.A.F.I.A. But the star of this stone-cold classic is always Kim, the Big Momma, the Queen Bee. Topping this list of the best Lil’ Kim songs, Big Momma Thang is Lil’ Kim at her vibrant, take-no-prisoners, filthy best.

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