Lil' Kim

After making her presence known on Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s debut album, Conspiracy, Lil' Kim launched a solo career in 1996 with the release of her first record, Hard Core. As the album's title implies, Kim was a rarity among female rappers -- one who not only concentrated on edgy hardcore rap but also explicit sexuality, two territories that had long been the province of male rappers. Of course, Kim's near-pornographic sexuality and hard-edged rhythms made her an anomaly within hip-hop, but Hard Core proved that she was no novelty, as it garnered positive reviews and strong sales.