Nothing Was the Same
The reason behind the beef between Lil Kim and Foxy Brown has seemingly never been examined. Until now.
Words: Kathy Iandoli
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

On June 2, 2013, history was almost rewritten.

New York City’s Hot 97 annual Summer Jam concert, known for both igniting the most nefarious rap beefs— cue Jay Z’s now infamous “Summer Jam Screen” incident against Mobb Deep’s Prodigy in 2001—and extinguishing them—the great G-Unit reunion of 2014—almost housed the end of a then over a decade and a half old feud. Fabolous would play the peacemaker, as Lil’ Kim was slated to surprise attendees with a cameo performance during his set. Fab had reportedly contacted Foxy Brown the night before to also appear at Summer Jam on stage with Kim to close the chapter on a book that was open for far too long. It was supposed to be for hip-hop, for the needless rap wars that left legends like Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. as casualties. It was supposed to be for Brooklyn.

But by the following day, it all fell apart. The rumor at the time was that Foxy showed up too late to appear on stage, but she’s since gone on record as saying that wasn’t the case. Allegedly, Foxy felt the onstage truce was, well, staged and apparently didn’t want to end this saga in such a contrived fashion. To date, the now 20-year-old beef has yet to be squashed. It’s a narrative that’s all too familiar in hip-hop history, though the reason behind the beef between Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown has seemingly never been examined. Until now.

1996 was a landmark year for hip-hop, but especially for women. While classic projects like Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt, OutKast’s ATLiens and Nas’ It Was Written all hit the ether that year, 1996 also marked the breakout year for rap’s then female trifecta. Lauryn Hill became the unequivocal star of The Fugees, sealing her fate with the release of their second album, The Score on Feb. 13, 1996. Later that year, Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown would release their debut solo projects in tandem—Kim’s Hard Core on Nov. 12, 1996 and Foxy’s Ill Na Na seven days later on Nov. 19, 1996. While Lauryn Hill was hailed for her ability to convey real lyricism through an arguable grey area between hip-hop and R&B, Kim and Foxy were regarded as rap’s sexually explicit torchbearers. All three would receive the backhanded compliment that they excelled by sounding like men, though that knack would clearly manifest itself differently among the three of them. Lauryn’s solo star power wouldn’t be revealed for another two years with The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, yet Kim and Foxy were both geared for something massive with their respective solo debuts.

Before being taken under the wings of two hip-hop titans, both Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown had rap skills in place. Foxy was spitting at 14, popping up in Brooklyn’s Lyricist Lounge circuit with the name Queen Nefertiti from a crew called Rotten Candy. She had later been mentored by Smoothe da Hustler before being introduced to Jay Z by her cousin, DJ Clark Kent. Kim’s rap entry was told in the 2009 Biggie biopic Notorious, as she met The Notorious B.I.G. when she was a teenager, becoming both his protégé and paramour.

1995 was the setup for what was to come from both Brooklyn women. Foxy brought her bars that year on the remix to LL Cool J’s “I Shot Ya” with an eye-popping verse that delivered the line: “I’m sexing raw dog without protection, disease infested.” Kim had already secured her position as the First Lady of Big’s Junior M.A.F.I.A. crew, with hits like “Player’s Anthem” and “Get Money” under her belt. However, per DJ Clark Kent, that wasn’t exactly the original lineup. “In the very beginning of what would become Junior M.A.F.I.A., Daddy-O—who was one of the orchestrators of Junior M.A.F.I.A.—had Foxy going into Junior M.A.F.I.A.,” Clark Kent reveals. While he remains unsure if Junior M.A.F.I.A. would have had two women—Foxy and Kim—Clark explains that the eventual outcome of the lineup had nothing to do with Kim being added over Foxy. The two found their way to each other on the remix to Total’s “No One Else,” and at that point it was all peace. Kim and Foxy were on friendly terms, having briefly attended the same high school before the fame.

By 1996, it was on. Kim’s solo power was proven before her album on the Clark Kent-produced track “Time to Shine” off the Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood soundtrack. Foxy also had some soundtrack shine, dominating the Nutty Professor soundtrack with two songs: “Touch Me, Tease Me” with Case and alongside Jay Z on “Ain’t No Nigga” (also on Jay’s debut album, Reasonable Doubt, that year). Once November hit, their albums were out in the world, though the climate of hip-hop was already tense by then. Two months prior, on Sept. 13, 1996, Tupac Shakur was murdered. “They were all on high alert,” journalist Michael Gonzales recalls. Gonzales was present in the studio during the recording of Kim’s album and remembers Biggie being defensive when he entered the room. “Everything just stopped when I walked in. Biggie was like, ‘Yo, who are you?’ One of the dudes was like, ‘Yo, I think that’s one of the niggas from the magazine.’ So they let me go back there with Kim. A few minutes later Biggie came and apologized.”

Gonzales penned the iconic Source cover story from their February 1997 issue with Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown side by side on the front of the magazine. While the two weren’t interviewed at the same time, they were still pretty friendly about each other. Foxy even shouted out Kim on her "lll Na Na" title track. This was still 1996. For the cover story, Gonzales traveled to D.C. to interview Kim at a hotel during a tour stop with Junior M.A.F.I.A., and interview Foxy in between in-store signings for Ill Na Na. “She was just so nice, like somebody’s little sister,” Gonzales says of Lil’ Kim. “I remember her being very honest and open in talking about stuff.”

Foxy was a different story. “Even though she and I later became friends—she was just very diva very early,” Gonzales continues. “I was going with her to her in-store the day the album came out. It took forever because Foxy wanted to go get her nails done. So, I took her there and they had a [Lincoln] Town Car for us.” A Town Car? Not for Foxy. “She didn’t wanna use the Town Car. She wanted to use the limo. I remember her distinctly saying, ‘Do they use a Town Car for LL Cool J? I’m not using a Town Car!’” Perhaps the fame-chasing came with just cause, as Gonzales likened the in-store experience to Beatlemania, where a riot broke out and fans chased the limo down Nostrand Ave in Brooklyn. “I never remember anyone going crazy over rappers like that,” he adds. “The 1990s changed all of that.”

Kim’s Hard Core went double platinum, armed with successes like “No Time” with Puff Daddy and the single version of “Crush On You” (only Lil’ Cease appears on the album version). Foxy would hit platinum status with Ill Na Na, propelled by “I’ll Be” with Jay Z and “Gotta Get You Home” featuring Blackstreet. Two arguably hyper-sexualized female rappers with significant radio airplay and monster debut albums. There was only one thing to do: bring them together. Rumors of a Thelma and Louise style project began to surface but all too quickly that dream was shattered.

One day they just started hating each other.

“All of a sudden, they just weren’t cool,” Clark Kent remembers. “It was like, What the fuck happened? How did they become uncool? What happened that they weren’t cool? Who said what? Who did what?” It was doubly awkward for the legendary producer. He was tangentially tied to both of them as one of Kim’s producers and Foxy’s family. But admittedly, despite numerous attempts to repair their relationship, Clark never questioned the origin of the beef. “Would it sound weird to you if I never asked?” he says about the reason for the rift. “It would sound weird because one was my cousin [Foxy] and I was producing for the other [Kim]. Would it seem weird because I introduced one to Jay Z and the other one is Big’s protégé, and I’m producing both and I’m DJing for Big, but I’m Jay Z’s producer?” He continues, “Or would it seem smart because if I asked at some point, I have to take a side? But if I don’t ask, I keep loving my cousin and producing records, and DJing here and doing what I do.”

The reason has trickled down into urban folklore. “I’ve gotten mixed versions of the story,” says Kim Osorio, veteran hip-hop journalist and Editor-in-Chief of The Source from 2003 to 2005 and 2012 to 2013. “One story that I remember was about their album packaging. If you go back to both of their debut albums, you will notice they have on the same outfit.” Osorio is alluding to the inside cover of both debut albums, where Kim and Foxy are both wearing the same cream-colored jump-suit with black trimmings. “I remember hearing that one had borrowed the outfit from the other and that led to them not speaking,” Osorio adds. “Whatever the reason, it seemed trivial to everyone around.”

“It could be something super corny that’s just blown out of proportion,” Clark Kent states. “Or it could’ve been something read in an interview that got read wrong and nobody around said, ‘No, this is what she meant.’ Or nobody went and checked the interview and said, ‘What did she mean when she said this?’ Or like in the case of most dudes with rap beef over a girl, it could’ve been a guy. How corny is that? You see how stupid it sounds when you say it back?”

As stupid as it was in hindsight, it was also costly. Foxy’s brother Gavin “Pretty Boy” Marchand revealed in a 2011 interview with Vibe that Lyor Cohen was set to give Kim and Foxy $500,000 a piece to show up to the Hit Factory to record the ill-fated Thelma and Louise project, but they never showed. “I legitimately sat in an office, 10 years removed from the situation and someone said, ‘Ay, Clark I’ll give you a million dollars if you can make that happen,’” Clark Kent recalls. “And you know, I sat there for a second, made a couple calls and was like, ‘Nah.’ I didn’t even get to have the conversations with them per se, just their respective camps. Like, ‘Nah. How about let’s not even try that.’”

But, just as there was speculation that the media was driving Lil Kim and Foxy Brown apart, perhaps it was the record labels forcing them together. “It was more about two female rappers who were so similar, you couldn’t help but compare them or group them together,” Osorio says. “But it was never about their friendship. There’s a long list of female MCs that would qualify as Thelma and Louise hopefuls before you get to Kim and Foxy. That narrative already exists in hip-hop. It just rarely gets to see the light of day.”

We didn’t actually learn on wax that Lil Kim and Foxy Brown were at odds until the departure from their protégés. Biggie passed away on March 9, 1997, and following Foxy Brown’s cameo on Nas’ It Was Written track, “Affirmative Action” in 1996, she would later solidify her position in The Firm, with Jay Z being less of a career necessity. It probably would have never reached that level had Jay and Biggie remained involved. “What would have come of that?” Clark Kent explains, “Success was all over [Biggie and Jay Z]. They didn’t need all of that. Plus, what was happening between [Foxy and Kim] was more personal than it was rap. So, what’s the point?”

The beef eventually reached the music, but only after interest was already tepid. Kim fired the first round in 1999 on “Play Around” off Lil Cease’s solo debut album, The Wonderful World of Cease A Leo and a year later on the title track off her second album, The Notorious K.I.M., Foxy fired back that same year on “Bang Bang” off Capone-N-Noreaga’s The Reunion. The track lived up to its name. Just a few short months later, shots were fired outside of Hot 97 between C-N-N’s camp and Lil’ Kim’s over the Foxy verse. While Foxy attempted a truce after that, Lil Kim refused and three years later went to prison for perjury over the incident. Even after a decade, it didn’t stop. Kim dropped “Guess Who’s Back” against Foxy, and Foxy returned with “Massacre.” Even after the failed Summer Jam reunion of 2013, the beef surfaced again this year after a fake flyer circulated about Kim and Foxy performing at the same club and they both took to social media for another round.

After 20 years, the beef between Lil Kim and Foxy Brown feels like a right hook to a dead horse, but it’s obvious that the animosity is deeply seated. “I think both of them being from Brooklyn, both being the only women in their crew, and both being at the forefront of that sexual revolution in hip-hop just magnified the tension between them,” Osorio explains. “But that being said, their beef existed before the media got involved.”

While there have been glimpses of hope that the two would someday come together and bring that Thelma and Louise project to the forefront, the fact they both turned down the money proves that it’s bigger than business. Two paradigms of self-expression at a time when hip-hop was struggling with its identity, Lil Kim and Foxy Brown had the potential to do great things together, but never reached that collaborative pinnacle. What if, though? “Now that I would’ve gotten on,” Clark Kent says of Thelma and Louise. “I might’ve had to be in the room though just to make sure nobody was fighting.”

Check out more from XXL’s Fall 2016 issue including our Gucci Mane cover story interview, Young Thug’s cover story interview, Rich Homie Quan's trials and tribulations, Young M.A in Show & Prove, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie puts New York on his back, Ghostface Killah reflects on the making of Ironman, our picks for fall kicks, the making of Lil Kim's Hardcore album and more.

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