It's the perch that launched a hip-hop revolution. Sprawled on all fours atop a fur rug, back arched, and sheathed in a sheer lace top, was rapper Lil' Kim, then a newcomer on the scene. A fire crackled behind her, a bottle of Champagne chilled beside her, and as the Brooklynite stared down the camera, it was clear the pint-size dynamo was just as hard core as the bold typeface of her racy debut 1996 album proclaimed.
From her ravenous sensual appetite to the insatiable pleasure she took in designer fashion, Lil' Kim-née Kimberly Jones-brought about a wild, feminine, and intentional style to the hyper-masculine rap game, the likes of which had never been seen before. In a single breath, the MC and Notorious B.I.G. protégé rapped furiously about her love of Armani suits, "Chanel 9 boots," and a sex-positive bed partner. She draped herself in floor-length
furs, Versace logomania ensembles, and in "bra[s] all see through." Kim's lethal combination of style and bravado would propel Hard Core to the top of the charts, the debut album going platinum twice and becoming an instant classic.
Kim raised eyebrows, but her risk-taking and luxurious approach to fashion also made her a designer muse. Marc Jacobs, Donatella Versace, and Giorgio Armani all clamored to dress the rapper, and she reinvented their designs in a refreshing and audacious way in turn. "Ghetto fabulous" is the term that gets thrown around a lot when it comes to the way Kim mixed street culture and luxury fashion in her "Crush On You" and "No Time" videos. But it's also a bit reductive, considering Kim was more of a harbinger, ushering a brazen look that, 20 years later, continues to dazzle on Instagram timelines, Tumblr feeds, and concert stages everywhere.