One of the most heated, vicious and real rivalries in hip-hop was about to begin while winter was around the corner. The date is November 19, 1996, and the reason is Foxy Brown dropping her debut album, Ill Na Na.
Why does a rivalry start here?
Because this album releases 7 days after Lil Kim’s debut album, Hardcore.
The Kim vs Foxy rivalry is layered. You got two women from Brooklyn with sex driven, but gangsta lyrics that are trying to be number one in the rap game, much like the men they created their music with, Biggie, Jay Z and Nas. There is even some debate over “Who did you hear first?” We’ll dig into that all at a different time. Right now it’s time to focus on the Big Bad Mamma and her NaNa
What we can’t do, is gloss over the fact that in 1996 Foxy Brown helped birth what I like to call “The Feature Run” before her debut album had even came out. Spring/Summer 96 Foxy had 2 hit singles out. One with Case [Touch Me, Tease Me] and one with Jay Z [Ain’t No] and she was seen as the star on those tracks. Then she had a strong close out verse on the Nas posse cut, “Affirmative Action”. People may talk about how the math is wrong now, but in 1996 till about 99, I was actually hearing people talking about that verse being Iconic.
I remember understanding that “Ill Na Na” was slang for “Good Pu$$y” and almost blew a gasket! My exact words were, If a woman is calling her album “Good Pu$$y, I got to listen!” And listen I did. Did it have the same affect on me as Kim’s Hardcore? No. Foxy’s album was more gangsta than raunchy. She struck me as a girl that might sell dope or rob a dude and come home to her man and make him eat her out. It was intriguing but not really that sexy to me.
When this album first comes on…It’s a Def Jam Promo commercial. They promo CRU “The Dirty 30” and Cormega “The Executive”. Totally confusing to me and then based on what I was expecting the actual intro “Chicken Coop” wasn’t an exciting build up.
Then Foxy gets right to the bars. No surprise that it felt like Nas little sister was rapping on “Letter To The Firm”. As the album goes on she continues to rap her a$$ off. How could she not paying homage to LL Cool J and working and writing with Havoc of Mobb Deep and with a guy by the name of Shawn Carter aka Jay Z? In Fact, Jay helps write the bulk of this album. Does Foxy do some of her own writing? Yes. Does she sound like the female Nas when she’s not sounding like the female Jay Z? Yes. However, it works a lot better than many would think.
Fact: “Ill Na Na” did better than “Reasonable Doubt” and they were both written in the same year. Foxy was in higher demand than Jay and from a mainstream perspective, Jay gave Foxy the Lob for his first single and it worked better for her, in the short term.
More Fact: Since this album, Jay hasn’t quite captured the same level of success with another female rapper since.
Foxy had two hits with “Get Me Home” and “I’ll Be” on this album. The title track with Method Man should have gotten a bigger push and the tracks around the the singles are displays of great rhyming that many couldn’t rival verse for verse.
I won’t throw this album in the realm of “classic”, but you can’t deny that the Na Na was indeed pretty Ill. Foxy had one of the best breakout years for any artist in rap period. 1996 alone is why her name is still noteworthy till this day.
Salute to Foxy Brown and her notable debut album.