This is part of Complex's The 1996 Project: Looking Back at the Year Hip-Hop Embraced Success.

I have many memories from my freshman year of high school. I felt so grown walking into my first class as a 9th grader. The summer prior, I spent time perfecting my nascent “diva” style. I loved hip-hop: the clothes, the bravado, the audacity, the arrogance, the opulence, the stories, the beats, the dances. Having recently moved to a suburb of the nation’s capital after spending my childhood in the heart of northeast Washington, D.C., and having begun school at an elite private institution in northwest Washington, hip-hop became a vehicle through which I could stay connected to the communities that shaped and anchored me in a distinct working-class black experience.


Perhaps because of where I grew up, I never rode for one region in particular when it came to music. I loved artists from New York, Houston, Cleveland, Atlanta, Memphis, Philadelphia, Compton, New Jersey, and Oakland. My parents never fully censored my intake of hip-hop. I was allowed to listen, watch, and dance. They were aware of the frequent usage of profanity, but they also considered it “youth music.” In several instances, the songs I listened to and the music videos I watched prompted thoughtful conversations with my parents about issues such as the failings of the War on Drugs, racial profiling and police brutality, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, and black nationalism. My dad always impressed me with his ability to identify samples of his favorite artists in the tracks of my favorite artists. On a basic level, my mom and dad enjoyed rap music, and they understood why I loved it.

In November 1996, however, my parents’ relatively open approach to my engagement with hip-hop was challenged by the debut albums of two rap artists. On Nov. 12, 1996, Lil’ Kim dropped her first solo album, Hard Core. A week later, Foxy Brown released her debut, Ill Na Na. The back-to-back releases and subsequent commercial success of these projects was a watershed moment in hip-hop. Hard Core was RIAA certified double platinum and produced three consecutive No. 1 singles on the Rap Songs chart. Ill Na Na was certified platinum within three months of its release. The unprecedented commercial success of two solo female rap artists marked a particular moment in hip-hop history.