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DAR Hip Hop: Foxy Brown's Ill Na Na



By @CherchezLaPorsh 



Tracklist 
1. Intro....Chicken Coop
2. (Holy Matrimony)Letter to the Firm
3. Foxy's Bells 
4. Get Me Home 
5. The Promise 
6. Interlude....The Set Up
7. If I.... 
8. The Chase 
9. Ill Na Na
10. No One's
11. Fox Boogie 
12. I'll Be 
13. Outro

My favorite female rapper, who stayed in Gabbana, and is arguably the most sought after female MC in 1995/96, Foxy Brown. Foxy Brown started her commercial career in her prime and that is what differentiated her from anyone else at the time. She earned her notoriety and reputability from appearing as a featured MC on tracks with LL Cool J, Jay-Z, Case and a couple others before she was officially put on. It was this which caused a pretty big (and unheard of) label bidding war a year later. She would ultimately sign with Def Jam, who was the most reputable label in the ’90’s. As we all know, 1996 was an incredibly important year in hip hop, as Ras Kass, Hov, Ghost and Busta all released their debuts that year.  While rap fans worldwide were enjoying the lyrical brilliance, incredible beats and dope flows from these guys, Foxy’s world was about to experience a whirlwind of events as she would release her debut album “Ill Na Na”, as well as be inducted into “The Firm” led by Nas.

What she couldn’t foresee was that the release of this debut would cause the first of many many disputes and “beefs” with several rappers, beginning with Lil Kim. I’ll save the details of these beefs for another article, but “Ill Na Na” would be the only album in her catalog that would not involve any of this drama. With the usage of mafia themes and comparisons, fashion references and tasteful sexually charged lyrics, the tracks would showcase her raw lyrical ability(Editor's Note: Jay-Z is credited with writing a bulk of these songs, Foxy handles the writing on 45%), her balanced femininity, aggressive intonations, fantastic production and her chemistry with other artists. Let’s delve into this underrated mafia-like gem....

“Ill Na Na” starts off with one of the most crude titles, but clever introductions on any album I’ve ever heard. While it’s somewhat disturbing to call any track “Chicken Coop”, the content is what I like. She features Rich Nice, Cru and Capone and plays it out like a verbal ticker of headlines, as there’s a mention of Nas and “The Firm”, and we hear Cormega, an imitation of Barry White (which is hilarious), and a bunch of random sound effects coupled with an Isaac Hayes sample. It is definitely an attention grabbing and engaging way to start off the album.


The first actual track on the album is also my most favorite. “Holy Matrimony(Letter From The Firm)” is dope and there are so many reasons why I love this. Let me start with production. One word: Trackmasters. This had to have been a direct result of Nas’ influence. Personally, I think they did a flawless job on beats and sounds throughout. They sample Isaac Hayes and Mary J on this. The light instrumentals against the main beat is a fantastic segue for Foxy’s voice, which comes in within 5 seconds. She’s comfortable and confident and it shines here as we can hear her genuine emotion of loyalty throughout each verse. Seeing as though this is her public pledge of allegiance to The Firm, to have “Matrimony” in the title and then have the chorus and verses support it, affirms her loyalty. And as I mentioned earlier, those mafia-like connotations are prevalent in this track.

“I'm married to The Firm boo, you gotta understand/......

I'll die for em, gimme a chair and then I'll fry for em/
And if I got to take the stand, I'ma lie for em/”

“I kinda think he got a feeling I'm squealing/
Me and Tone was on the phone,
Probably thinkin we dealing/ 
This bug, make sure Un/
Got all the guns/
His man Son had the whole mob of arsons/
Runnin through Parsons/”

This is my go to track on this album. As always, track placement is critical because from the jump, Foxy lets us know where her loyalties lie. For better or worse, I respect her immensely for this.

The third song takes us back in time, and for those of us who love the old school tracks, this one is perfect. “Foxy’s Bells” hits us with the exact beat from LL’s “Rock The Bells” This is a definite crowd pleaser and follows exactly the same blueprint as its 1985 original. Of course, I enjoy this as I’m sure most people do. As much as in the previous track, Foxy was a sweet, loyal, caring addition to her male counterparts, this is the track that “flexes” her rough, rugged and raw ability. I’m not a fan of women being unnecessarily aggressive to appear intimidating, but Foxy does this with a subtle and carefree feminine appeal. It isn’t off-putting, in fact within this rough beat and matter-of fact delivery, she manages to balance it with softer smoother lyrics. I think these show the balance adequately:

“Fox Boogie Brown is bad as hell/
Battle anybody I don't care if you tell/
I excel, they all fell/
Suited in Chanel/
Fox Brown will rock the bells/”

“Amazing like Luther once the beat's looped up/
Rock the bi-dells and tore your whole group up/
It's Ill like Na Na/
When it feel like drama/”

She ends the track on this note:

“Uhh, is it raw/ Uhh, uh-huh, to the core, uhh/ I'ma give it to ya raw, give your more/”


I’d like to think this acts as foreshadowing on what’s to come because as much as she dropped innuendoes on that last track, the next song kicks it up a notch and is about as provocative as Foxy is going to get on the album (the sexually charged lyrics I was talking about earlier). She pairs up with Blackstreet to give us “Get Me Home”. Whenever R&B and rap come together, it’s guaranteed to provide some sort of bump‘n grind melody and truth be told, they executed this well. I would never categorize Foxy as being a fantastic storyteller, but she does a great job here. As racy and suggestive as the lyrics are, I would have appreciated it more if there wasn’t an insinuation to infidelity, but that’s just me. This track was released as a single and did very well commercially, so I guess she said something right. Up until this point, we never saw real sex appeal or explicitness from Foxy but this track definitely brings that out. I won’t quote too much but here’s a little taste:

“Mind tellin me no, body tellin me exit/
Breasts said yes, give me more wet kisses/
Twist my body like the Exorcist, hey/
The way he licked his lips he was mackin”

Well now that she’s released some pent up tension, let’s get to the next track. Foxy teams up with Havoc of Mobb Deep on “The Promise”, and this is where Foxy is the most lyrical. This song definitely reminds me of Nas, and I’m not saying she’s as good as Nas, just similar to his style. As much as I love this track, I'm going to keep it brief. Since Havoc produced this one, it's exactly what you would expect, as the signature dark yet mellow beats are easily recognizable. Foxy’s flow and ease of delivery is very reminiscent of Nas-like storytelling and having Havoc as a compliment makes it great.  They nail this track.



Let’s skip over a couple tracks and look at the title track “Ill Na Na”. Actually, before I do, I have to mention that “If I...” is another one of my favorites on here. It samples Luther Vandross “Any Love”, so yes, it’s slow and very soft. Foxy’s “gangster rapping” being integrated in there is much appreciated. The lyrics are what I love most about it, and Foxy gives us a quick, abridged version of the different aspects of her life. She touches on success, relationships, family, all of it. She killed it with this track.

I’ll hold off on talking about “The Chase” and get back to “Ill Na Na” featuring Method Man. This song is absolutely amazing. There really isn’t enough I can say about this one. Meth’s voice is incredible and the banger beat is highly enjoyable and much needed after the last few “slower” songs we just heard. The chemistry and dynamic of these two is unstoppable. I think Meth’s flow is flawless, and having him on the chorus is perfect placement and makes the entire song poignant and a very easy listen. I challenge anyone to hear “One time...Huhh, all up in ya like a bone when I... Johnny Blaze, the Iron Lung...Foxy Brown, the Ill Na Na” and not anticipate a nearly perfect track. And of course, they deliver exactly that. One of the most rhythmic and clever variations of the chorus is just before Foxy’s last verse. Meth breaks the lines and words down,  as the delivery and sound is incredibly fun. This track was just well done from beginning to end. I wish these two collaborated on an entire album. Absolutely perfect.

A couple tracks later, Foxy features Kid Capri on “Fox Boogie”. Once again, a very dope addition to the album. Trackmasters as usual did a flawless job on production and deliver an incredible track.


Another one of my favorites and one I've been dying to talk about is near the end of this album. We get Jay-Z as a feature on “I’ll Be”. Thank you Foxy for ending your album with yet another perfect track. This song is the bonafide banger. I am the last person to put any importance on beats, but this song had me from the second the beat dropped. Just when I think the lyrics can’t match the greatness of the beat, Foxy drops the first line and I’m done for. This song is near perfection. Hov and Foxy are vocally an excellent pair and play off of each others vibe immaculately. This has to be the best example:

Foxy:
"I'm 2 Live, Nasty As I Wanna Be/"

Jay-Z:
"Don't shake your sassy ass in Front of me/
 'fore I take you there and tear your back out/"

Foxy:
"That shit ain't happened since The Mack was out/”

It’s just an all around fun song, great in every aspect and Jay Z is such a treat.

Foxy closes this album with a very short outro that incorporates a dope Isaac Hayes sample and that same Barry White voice imitator we heard on the intro, which brings the whole album full circle. Very well done overall. Foxy Brown came into the rap game and delivered exactly what she was known for, which was dope lyrics, incredible delivery and her feminine charm. She laced her debut with pieces of her personality and inadvertently cemented her ranks as a leading lady in hip hop. This debut and her involvement in The Firm would create feuds within the industry that caused an absolute frenzy and served as material on her future projects. Why I consider this album such a gem? Because it’s the only album in her catalog that wasn’t influenced by any drama. It will forever remain pure and unaltered by drama! It maintains and displays the ingenuity and skill that makes Foxy one of the best to ever do it and my most favorite female MC.

-Porsha

3 comments:

  1. Love the read Sista... Just recently heard "I'll Be", and fell back in love with this sister. Her and Jay's chemistry was incredible on that joint.. as well as this entire project. Salute to a beautifully written article.

    ReplyDelete
  2. So was "I'll Be" her official debut single. For some reason I remember that record/video being my first image of her (not including the features she did pre "Ill Na Na"). That joint definitely is my all time favorite from shorty.

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