“In the morning when it’s all bright, eggs over easy
Hope you have my shit tight when I open my eyes
While I’m eatin gettin dressed up, this ain’t yo’ pad
I left some money on the dresser, find you a cab”
It’s easy to forget a quarter century later that rap had a renaissance of bad ass women in the mid-1990’s. While the sex appeal of rappers like Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown was self-evident, they weren’t one dimensional women just waiting for a man to flash his cash to get some ass. As Inga Marchand says on the title track of her debut album “Ill Na Na,” “I don’t need a man’s wealth … I can do bad by my damn self.” The song is a straight up role reversal of a famous male rapper having a one night stand with a beautiful fan. This time it’s the woman calling the shots — you lay the pipe, you make me breakfast, and then I’ll get you an Uber. What’s that old saying comedians use? Oh yeah. “I don’t pay ’em to fuck, I pay ’em to leave!” Much like her namesake, Fox calls her own shots and does things her way.
No track defines how self-assured and confident Foxy Brown is quite like “I’ll Be” though, a song recorded when Jay-Z’s star was still on the rise and it wasn’t completely evident how far it would soar. He’s not her superior nor vice versa on the track — they are co-equals in every way. In fact when Foxy declares that she’s “2 Live, Nasty As I Wanna Be” and Mr. Carter tries to reprimand her for flaunting it in front of him with a promise to “tear your back out,” she promptly retorts “That shit ain’t happened since The Mack was out.” This is not a woman who will be told what to do or how to behave by anyone at any time.
Not everything worked out the way Marchand planned it though. Her loyalty to The Firm was misplaced, a supergroup that was not only a super flop but wasn’t even loyal to the people she shouted out on “Letter to The Firm.” (Whattup Mega?) It also feels like record label executives from Def Jam were meddling in the creative process when you hear blatant appeals to R&B crossover success like “Get Me Home” featuring Blackstreet, especially when she blatantly shouts them out in the lyrics. It’s not even a bad song, it just feels like something forced upon her that she ultimately had to make the best of to appease the label.
It’s weird that “Ill Na Na” was the first female rap album to go double platinum and now seems to be an afterthought barely mentioned in the era of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. Artists like Brown and Kim paved the way for their success, but then again artists like MC Lyte and Queen Latifah paved the way for them too (and so on, and so on). It could be that her personal and legal problems derailed her career to the point people forgot about her, or it could be that she spent so much time feuding with Lil’ Kim that her own skills an artist were disregarded. Most likely though it’s a sign of the public being fickle and forgetful, and it’s not until after she passes away some day that the tributes will pour in. I’d rather honor her for her accomplishments while she’s still alive though and not in retrospect. “Ill Na Na” isn’t a perfect album, but it’s a landmark album in every way.