Lil’ Kim, Da Brat, Left Eye, & Missy Elliott Invited the World to Ladies Night Nearly 20 Years Ago (Video)

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In November 1996, Lil’ Kim would release her celebrated debut album, Hard Core. Nearly 20 years later, the LP still stands tall as one of the most iconic pieces of music from any MC, period. For many, her being a woman was only secondary to her talents as a performer, but indeed her audacious approach to female sexuality and ability to flip the script on gender norms remains her biggest legacy. Whereas her relationships with Puff Daddy, Lil’ Cease, The Notorious B.I.G., and the whole Junior M.A.F.I.A. clique may have made her “one of the fellas,” Kimberly Jones never fronted on the ladies, daring to be vocal and downright demanding in her sexual conquests, making it more acceptable for women to be just as raunchy as our male counterparts. But her feminism was not relegated only to the bedroom, as she also expressed strong beliefs that women deserve just as much recognition for hard work, success, wealth, and struggles as do men.

As a debut album, Hard Core included tracks for every facet of Kim’s womanhood, and most Heads would agree the material is straight classic. “Not Tonight” is as emblematic a Kim song as any, a combination of unbridled sexuality and clever storytelling in the vein of Too $hort’s “Freaky Tales.” Produced by Jermaine Dupri, it became the inspirational foundation for 1997’s “Ladies Night (Not Tonight Remix)” which featured Da Brat, Missy Elliott, Left Eye, and Angie Martinez. Originally housed on the soundtrack for Nothing to Lose, the song became an anthem and delivered Lil’ Kim’s third consecutive number-one single on the Rap Songs chart, the first such achievement for a woman. The platinum-selling song was built atop Kool & the Gang’s song of the same name, and was produced by Rashad “Ringo” Smith (who produced, among other things, Biggie’s “One More Chance” remix) and despite not appearing on Hard Core‘s original version, it made it onto the 1997 reissue and remains a go-to for those seeking female empowerment through Hip-Hop.

In 1997, the women combined their respective voices for the first performance of “Ladies Night” at the MTV Video Music Awards and although the song also got the official music video treatment, the live performance is far more memorable. With Kim performing in her trademark colorful wig surrounded by barely clad men, the live rendition was a powerful example showcasing women of color in positions of power, as Da Brat hits the stage in a man-drawn chariot dressed to the nines as a Roman soldier. Missy’s high energy takes the scene higher, and seeing the beautiful and vivacious Left Eye is touching. Relive ladies night in celebration of Women’s History Month.

Lil’ Kim, Da Brat, and Missy would reunite to perform it once again at the 2014 Soul Train Awards.

Related: More Than Hardcore: Lil’ Kim’s Overlooked Feminist History In Hip-Hop