For decades, hip-hop has perpetuated the myth that only one woman can dominate the genre at a time. Tensions flared publicly in the 90s between Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown, later with Trina and Khia, and more recently with Nicki Minaj and Cardi B. Rap's new class of women, however, are not only stirring up frenzies within their own fanbases, but they're joining forces on collaborations like "Three Point Stance" and "Twerk." But none of these features have assembled a roster quite as robust as Lil' Kim's 1997 smash, "Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix)." Only the Queen Bee could wrangle Missy Elliott, Da Brat, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, and Hot 97's Angie Martinez at the pinnacle of their careers for a verse. "Ladies Night" is as lively as a girl's night out and was proof that women in rap could—and still can—unite even when the industry says there is only room for one.
There is no acknowledging "Ladies Night Remix" without mentioning the original version of "Not Tonight," which was anthemic regardless of how raunchy its demands for oral sex from men seemed. A choir of women sings the chorus brazenly: "I don't want dick tonight / Eat my pussy right." Women in hip-hop could do what the men did, but nobody asked quite like Kim, who name-drops around-the-way guys she met on Flatbush and Avenue U with a nonchalance that Drake's tell-all songwriting still hasn't quite nailed. By the song's end, Kim establishes that she's more than her ultimatums. She's the First Lady of Junior M.A.F.I.A, after all. "I got my own Benz, I got my own ends, immediate friends," she raps. She also didn't hesitate to introduce us to the women in her inner circle when "Not Tonight" got its official remix on the soundtrack for Martin Lawrence's 1997 film Nothing to Lose.
There are few references in "Ladies Night" of the oral sex that was the backdrop for the conversation in "Not Tonight," but that doesn't stop each woman from going off. The "Voice of New York" and former Hot 97 radio host Angie Martinez boasts that writing her verse the night before recording didn't derail her from being "the rookie on this all-star team," a flex that predates her debut album Up Close and Personal by four years. Kim cruises through her verse dropping 90s references to the Bankhead bounce and films like New Jack City and Set It Off like she's saving the memories for later. Chicago's Da Brat impresses with her steadfast delivery about smoking weed overseas, and Missy manages to steal a verse at the last minute, joking that Kim is only using her for interpolation of Kool and the Gang's 1979 hit of the same name. The most memorable line, however, goes to TLC lyricist Left Eye, who was adept at controlling her own narrative in a pre-social media era. "I be the one to blame as the flames keep rising / To the top and it don't stop," she raps, referencing the fire she set to her former boyfriend and Atlanta Falcon Andre Rison's mansion following allegations of physical abuse. With cameos in the video from artists like Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, and SWV, "Ladies Night" showed the women of hip-hop were capable of showing up for each other.
More than 20 years later, the song Lil' Kim orchestrated still remains one of the most important posse cuts in rap history. Together, the women created a composite of the sounds they had established separately on albums like Hardcore, Supa Dupa Fly, CrazySexyCool, and Funkdafied. The quintet knew that amplifying one's light didn't mean dimming another. In the decades since "Ladies Night," there hasn't been a collaboration among women that felt as seismic as this. For the first time in a decade, seven female rappers have charted on this year's Hot 100, evoking the breadth and diversity of the late 90s. Newcomers like Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, Tierra Whack, Rico Nasty, City Girls, Lizzo, Yung Baby Tate, and Saweetie have chucked a middle finger to the archaic rhetoric that breeds competition over collaboration. They're dismantling toxic stan culture, partying together, and consider each other sisters. The energy of rap's successors suggests the world is ready for another "Ladies Night."
Kristin Corry is a staff writer for Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.