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A Definitive Track Ranking Of Lil Kim's 'Hard Core' Album

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, we dissect her debut album and list the songs from least impressive to most undeniable.

It can be argued whether 1996 is the greatest calendar year in hip-hop history, but what cannot be debated is its distinction as the most blockbuster year in rap history. From tenured legends to talented upstarts, it seemed as if a new classic album, artist, personality, or one-hit-wonder was being introduced to the rap populist daily, but one of the most lasting occurrences of 1996 was the rise of the female rap star. Women in rap were far from an anomaly, with early acts like The Sequence and Roxanne Shante having already led the charge during the early '80s, and golden era acts like MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa, and others making their own contributions to hip-hop culture and the music which drives it. The early '90s would continue to spawn more ladies rocking the mic, but 1996 would see a changing of the guard with Lil Kim's arrival and debut release of Hard Core.

By the time 1996 rolled around, rap fanatics were already familiar with Lil Kim's charismatic nature. She made her first appearance on Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die, and emerged as the breakout star of the deceased Brooklyn heavy collective, Junior M.A.F.I.A., via electric performances on singles "Player's Anthem" and "Get Money." However, Hard Core's release in November of that year would serve as her official coronation as rap's new queen pin, not to mention one of its more endearing stars, despite gender. Led by the hit singles "No Time" and "Crush On You," as well as the star-studded remix to her album cut, "Not Tonight," Hard Core peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard 200 and was certified double platinum by the RIAA, with more than 5 million copies sold worldwide, making it the most successful release from a female rapper at the time.

Lil Kim's career would continue to blossom after its release, as she would ascend to icon status within the course of a decade. Hard Core remains her magnum opus and a definitive body of work. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, we dissected the album and ranked the songs from the least impressive to the most undeniable.

Where does your favorite track land?

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11. F**k You

First appearing on Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s 1995 debut, Conspiracy, group members Trife and Larceny back up the First Lady of their clique on Hard Core's final track, "F**k You." Produced by Chris "Cornbread" Cresco, the song includes a verse by Lil Kim - who gets off clever lines like "The Anne Klein sporting coke, snorting niggas lovely/I keep my pu**y Fresh like Doug E.; watch the show" - sandwiched in between stanzas from Trife and Larceny, the latter of whom delivers an interesting 16 of his own that certainly creates cause to pause. One of the more strenuous listens on Hard Core, "F**k You" is a stark contrast from the other tracks on the album.

10. M.A.F.I.A. Land

A vivid tale of criminality gets spun on "M.A.F.I.A. Land," a brooding number that sees Lil Kim playing the role of a femme fatale that rises in the ranks of her crime bosses faction. Breaking down her position within the family with the lines "Where life's initiated, ain't no givin' it back/Once you in it, like Bennett, you'll soon be lieutenant/Like me, the Don Juan, that's Yvonne/The sweat-a the money getter, coppin' mad Jettas," Kim details shootouts, drug deals gone bad, and lost casualties of war with the precision of a seasoned wordsmith. Produced by Faraoh, "M.A.F.I.A. Land" is a praiseworthy display of storytelling and a testament to Lil Kim's ability to deliver focused, conceptual cuts with a more racy fare.

9. Spend a Little Doe

Few things are worse than a woman scorned and Lil Kim lends credence to this truth on the Hard Core standout, "Spend a Little Doe." Opening with a brief skit in which Kim confronts a lover about his lack of financial and emotional support during her three-year prison sentence, the Brooklyn diva has a score to settle and proceeds to vent her frustrations and disappointments before exacting revenge on her unloyal partner in crime. Produced by Ski Beatz, who utilizes snazzy piano to do his bidding, "Spend a Little Doe" is a solid offering that shows Lil Kim in a rare state.

8. We Don't Need It

"How you spell cash? C's and some hash/At last, a nigga kickin' game full blast," Lil' Cease raps on the Hard Core posse cut, "We Don't Need It," which also sees Junior M.A.F.I.A. member Trife matching wits with Lil Kim. Lil' Cease bats lead-off with a serviceable 16 but is bested by his sister in rhyme, who lays down a stellar string of couplets of her own, with Trife rounding out the proceedings. Featuring an infectious call-and-response chorus, "We Don't Need It," which was originally included on the soundtrack for the 1996 flick Sunset Park, is an entertaining battle of the sexes that serves as one of the sleeper cuts on Hard Core.

7. Dreams

Taking a page out of the book of Christopher Wallace, who once infamously shared his "dreams of fucking an R&B bitch," Lil Kim crafts a cut dedicated to the R&B stars she lusts for in the form of the Hard Core tune, "Dreams." Produced by Prestige - who makes use of a rollicking electric guitar and kicks and snares for his boardsmanship - "Dreams" includes mentions of everyone from R. Kelly, D'Angelo, and Case, as well as Prince, who gets a private invitation to partake in the Queen Bee's groceries.

6. Crush On You

The casual fan may be more familiar with the radio version of Lil Kim's classic single "Crush On You," on which she rhymes on the song's second and third verse. But after not being able to record her verses before the debut album release, Hard Core was submitted with a version featuring Lil' Cease. While that may have been a bummer to many fans expecting to hear the Queen Bee after copping the CD or cassette, Lil' Cease is able to hold down the fort, accounting for Kim's missing portions with bars of his own that display his charisma and presence.

5. Drugs

One of the records in Lil Kim's catalog that remains criminally underrated is the Hard Core album cut, "Drugs," a cut that sees the Brooklyn china doll minimizing the dirty talk and getting gutter with the flow. Produced by Fabian Hamilton - who hooks up a sample of Soul Mann & The Brothers Shaft contribution "Bumpy's Lament" - "Drugs" includes an appearance from The Notorious B.I.G., who tackles the hook duties in admirable fashion, resulting in a duet of sorts between the mentor and the mentee.

4. Not Tonight

Hardcore gets the So So Def treatment, as Lil Kim links up with Jermaine Dupri for "Not Tonight," one of the album's finest - and raunchiest - offerings. With J.D. lacing the beat, which features elements of George Benson's "Turn Your Love Around," Lil Kim proceeds to admonish and chide lackluster lovers, demanding that they perform cunnilingus to compensate for their subpar sexual prowess. Giving multiple accounts of feeling unsatisfied and in need of stimulation, Lil Kim flips the tables on the men who covet her sexually by becoming the aggressor and dominant figure in her encounters with men, making for a classic tune for the general rap fan, and an empowering record for the ladies.

3. Big Momma Thang

"I used to be scared of the dick/Now I throw lips to the shit, handle it like a real bitch," Lil Kim shamelessly admits on "Big Momma Thang," Hard Core's explosive opening selection. Produced by Stretch Armstrong of the legendary underground rap radio show Stretch & Bobbito, "Big Momma Thang" is one of the most instant songs from the album aside from its singles, if only for those iconic opening bars by Lil Kim that shocked the world. Featuring a pre-fame Jay Z, who jokingly attempts to put the charm on Kim asking, "How B.I.G. and 'Un' trust you in the studio with me/Don't they know I'm tryin' to sex you continuously," and threatening to "Pull a high power Coup make you jump ship/Leave who you wit', I'm with the Roc-A-Fella crew." "Big Momma Thang" sees the rap game's Pam Grier making an entrance of her own design, effectively kicking off one of the greatest long players of the mid-'90s.

2. No Time

In October of 1996, weeks before the release of her solo debut album, Hard Core, Lil Kim unveiled the LP's Puff Daddy assisted lead single, "No Time," which saw Kim officially step out on her own, fully commanding the spotlight in the process. Puffy, who provides the brash hook declaring "I got, no time for fake ni**as/Just sip some Cristal with these real ni**as/From East to West coast spread love ni**as/And while you niggas talk sh** we count bank figures" plays hypeman as Lil Kim basks in all of her glory throughout the three verses. Rapping "I Momma, Miss Ivana/Usually rock the Prada, sometimes Gabbana/Stick you for your cream and your riches/Zsa Zsa Gabor, Demi Moore, Prince Diane and all them rich bitches," the Queen Bee left little question as to who was next in line to wear the crown of rap's "it" girl, a title she would defend throughout the subsequent decade. Peaking atop Billboard's US Rap Songs chart and at No. 9 on the Hot 100, "No Time" was a smash hit and has gone on to become one of the definitive recordings of her career.

1. Queen Bi**h

Hard Core may be arguably regarded as the most influential rap album by a woman in the history of the genre largely for its liberating subject matter, but what actually makes the album a certified classic is the superior lyricism displayed on it. The album's most riveting selection, "Queen Bi**h," sends this sentiment home, as Kim flexes all over the Carlos "6 July" Broady and Nashiem Myrick co-produced soundscape masterpiece. Spitting "If Peter Piper pecked em, I bet you Biggie bust em/He probably tried to f**k him, I told him not to trust him/Lyrically I dust em off like Pledge/Hit hard like sledge-hammers, bi**h with that platinum grammar," Lil Kim sets it off, navigating nimbly over a sample of Roberta Flack's "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye," while The Notorious B.I.G. provides reinforcement and drops a few bars of his own. Addictive enough for R&B singer Mary J. Blige to sample the track for her Lil Kim-assisted hit single, "I Can Love You," "Queen Bi**h" stands as Hard Core's shining moment and the definitive deep cut in the Queen Bee's catalog.

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Tekashi 6ix9ine Identifies Cardi B And Jim Jones As Nine Trey Members And More Takeaways (Day 3)

Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony continues to shock the masses. On Thursday (Sept. 19), the rapper took the stand again to elaborate on his kidnapping as well as interviews he gave about his broken relationship with members of the Nine Trey gang.

Interviews by Angie Martinez and Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club were analyzed due to the rapper's subtle jabs towards his former manager Shotti and defendant Anthony "Harv" Ellison. 6ix9ine's social media personality was also broken down as he explained the definitions of trolling and dry snitching.

But perhaps the most questionable part of his testimony arrived when he name-dropped Cardi B and Jim Jones as members of the Nine Trey Gangster Bloods.

Below are some of the biggest takeaways from today.

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Day 3 1. Tekashi Claims Cardi B And Jim Jones Are Members Of Nine Trey Gang

Hernandez provided context to a wiretapped conversation between alleged Nine Trey godfather Jamel "Mel Murda" Jones and rapper Jim Jones. Complex notes a leaked 'individual-1' transcription revealed who appeared to be Jim Jones. During Mel Murder and Jim Jones conversation, the two discussed Hernandez's status as a Nine Trey member.

"He not a gang member no more," Jones reportedly said. "He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bullshit." Hernandez went on to identify Jones as a "retired" rapper and a member of the Nine Trey.

Prosecutors play phone call between Nine Trey godfather Mel Murda and rapper Jim Jones. Tekashi says Jones is in Nine Trey.Jones: "He not a gang member no more. He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bull--it."

— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) September 19, 2019

When it comes to Cardi B, the rapper named the Bronx native as a Nine Trey member. He was also strangely asked if he copies Cardi's alleged blueprint of aligning herself with gang members in her early music videos. "I knew who she was. I didn’t pay attention,” he said. In a statement to Billboard, Atlantic Records denied 6ix9ine's claims that she was a member of the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods. 

In a now-deleted tweet on her official Twitter account, Cardi B responded to the allegation writing clarifying her affiliation, “You just said it yourself…Brim not 9 Trey. I never been 9 trey or associated with them.”

2. Tekashi Defines The Term "Dry Snitching"

In a quick back and forth with AUSA Micheal Longyear, the rapper gave an odd definition of dry snitching. He also made it clear that he was open to becoming a witness to reduce his prison sentence.

Q: Who is Jim Jones?#6ix9ine: He's a retired rapper.Q: Is he a member of Nine Trey?A: Yes.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

3. Tekashi Was Willing To Pay Hitmen $50,000 To Take Out Friend Who Kidnapped Him

Shortly after he was kidnapped by Harv, the rapper went on Angie Martinez to slam those in his camp. Without saying names, Hernandez promised he would seek revenge on those behind the kidnapping. The court was then showed footage of the incident which was recorded in the car of Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case. Hernandez reportedly confirmed he wanted to pay a hitman $50,000 on Harv after the kidnapping.

4. He Believed He Was "Too Famous" To Hold Gun Used In Assault Against Rap-A-Lot Artist"

The alleged robbery of Rap-A-Lot artist was brought up once again when Hernandez confirmed that he recorded the incident. A weapon allegedly used in the incident was tossed to Hernandez by his former manager Shotti. When asked why he refused to hold the gun the rapper said, "I'm too famous to get out the car with a gun." As previously reported, the rapper was kicked out of the car after the incident in Times Square and was forced to take the subway back to Brooklyn with the gun.

5. Tekashi May Be Released As Early As 2020

Cross-exam Q: If you get time served you'd get out at the beginning of next year, correct?#6ix9ine: Correct.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

There's that.

6. Footage Exists Of Tekashi Pretending He Was Dead

Harv's lawyer Deveraux: Do you recall publishing a video pretending you were dead?#6ix9ine: Can you show me? For now, a private viewing.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

Before wrapping up, the court briefly touched on his trolling ways. From setting up beefs to strange notions like faking his death, the videos were viewed privately.

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Tekashi is seen in Los Angeles, CA on November 8, 2018.
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Nine Trey Trial: 4 Takeaways From Tekashi 6ix9ine's Testimony (Day 2)

The second day of Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony provided insight into the handlings of several incidents surrounding the rapper including the attempted shootings of rappers Casanova, Chief Keef and former labelmate, Trippie Redd.

As Complex reported Wednesday (Sept. 18), Judge Paul Engelmayer noted the leak of the rapper's testimony that hit YouTube by way of VladTV. Shortly after, Hernandez explained how the Trey Nine gang began to fall apart–or split into four groups–leaving him to take sides. In the end, Hernandez was robbed and kidnapped by his own manager as video footage revealed. The rapper explained how his initial deal turned into extortion as he provided over $80,000 to the gang.

See more details from the trial below. Hernandez will take the stand again Thursday (Sept. 21).

Day 2 1. Tekashi Arranged A Hit On Chief Keef For $20,000

The hit against Keef was widely reported last year but Hernandez provided clarity to the incident. The rapper admitted to arranging a hit on the Chicago rapper after a dispute over "my friend Cuban," a reference to rapper Cuban Doll. Although Hernandez planned to provide the gunman with $20,000 he paid him $10,000 since the hitman fired one shot and subsequently missed.

2. 6ix9ine Credits Anthony “Harv” Ellison For Barclays Center Shooting 

 

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A post shared by Tr3y (@tr3yway_ent) on Sep 6, 2019 at 3:11pm PDT

Hernandez's brief beef with fellow Brooklyn rapper Casanova sprouted from Cas' diss song, "Set Trippin.'" After hearing it, Hernandez said he was ready to "run down" on the rapper. Seqo Billy tipped him off about Cas' alliance to the Bloods set, the Apes and how they would more than likely retaliate if Cas is harmed.

“There’s a kite out saying if any apes happen to cross ya path to fire on you or anybody around you… smarten up,” Seqo wrote in a group chat presented in court. Ellison allegedly replied, “Apes can fire on this dick… They don’t want to war with Billy’s [Nine Trey]." From there, several shootings took place in Brooklyn with one inside the Barclays Center.

3. Tekashi's Beef With Rap-A-Lot Crew Caused Bigger Fallout With Trey Nine 

Hernandez went on to detail the very complicated story behind his beef with Rap-A-Lot records. The debacle started when Tekashi and the Treyway crew didn't "check-in" with Jas Prince before taking the stage at Texas' South by Southwest in March 2018. The incident was further muffled since Trey Nine members like Ellison and Billy Ato were beefing with Hernandez and Shotti at the time. In the end, Hernadez never performed. His crew would later go on to rob and attack an artist from Rap-A-Lot in New York a month later.

4. Footage of the Robbery/Fight Was Filmed By Hernandez aka 6ix9ine

As he and Shotti fled the scene, Shotti kicked the rapper out the car forcing him to take the train to Brooklyn with a gun in his possession. All of the incidents led up to the kidnapping scenario which Herdanaez claimed was in no way staged.

“I’m pleading with Harv,” Hernandez said. “I’m telling him, ‘Don’t shoot. I gave you everything. I put money in your pocket.’ I told him that I was tired of being extorted.” The robbery/kidnapping was filmed by Ellison but also recorded by Hernadez's driver Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case.

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Jeremy O. Harris Is Prepared To Make You Uncomfortable With 'Slave Play'

September is a tricky time in New York City. Some days the ninth month can be charming with its cool breeze and clear skies, you forget Old Man Winter is three months away. Other days, September is deceitfully chilly dropping 10 or 15 degrees after sunset. You hug yourself to create warmth and to also block shame for not knowing summer has packed its bags. On the fifth day of September in New York’s East Village, the weather, however, is kind. Clouds like stretched cotton balls float through the sky, while the sun peeks through adding just enough heat without being arresting. It was, like Bill Withers described, a lovely day.

The beauty of the weather was only matched by Jeremy O.Harris’ bold yet inviting presence. Wearing head-to-toe Telfar Clemens, the Yale School of Drama playwright mingled with friends, castmates and the press inside the penthouse suite of The Standard. Holding the last puffs of a loosie and a black purse, O’Harris and I make eye contact. He smiles. I wave and a second later he's pulled into another round of congratulations, cheek kisses, and praise.

Such is the life of an award-winning playwright.

Harris’ production Slave Play earned chatter while at the New York Theater Workshop and has since made its way to Broadway, making the 30-year-old the youngest playwright of color to accomplish the feat. Yet before the mecca to the world's theatrical stage, Slave Play merited quite the hubbub and scathing critiques for its plot. Set on the MacGregor plantation in the antebellum south, three interracial couples work through their relationship woes made present by their sexual disconnect.

And that’s all that will be said about Slave Play. The rest must be witnessed to be understood or at least examined. Harris knows the play will make many uncomfortable and he's okay with that. The Virginia native stands at a towering 6-foot-5 and has always known his mere presence was off-putting to some. Add his Afro to the mix and Harris, a black queer man with hair that defies gravity, is too much to digest. Thankfully, he doesn't care.

He walks over to the terrace and we both lean in for a hug but stop prematurely and settle on a professional yet distant handshake.

“Are you a hugger?” I ask.

“Yes,” he smiles.

Relief. Huggers finally able to hug.

O’Harris is pressed for time so we only chat for 15 minutes but we gag over both being Geminis, talk about white discomfort, why, of all names to give a play, was Slave Play the best choice and whether or not white America can fully love black people.

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VIBE: When creating Slave Play was white discomfort ever a thought?

Jeremy O. Harris: I had this moment with someone the other day and we were talking about the importance of mirrors and seeing each other inside the mirrors of the set. Well, the reason the idea came about was because at Yale the theater was in a three-quarter thrust and the second year project is one of the smallest projects to do. The audience, I think, is 70 people every night. It wasn’t a huge audience, maybe 90, I don’t know.

Anyway, it’s a three-quarter thrust. I went to Yale at a historic time. There were more people of color there than at any other time. The craziest thing about the show for me was while watching, I saw all the people of color checking in with one another throughout the play and them having these moments of revelation together and looking at white people like, "Why are you laughing then?"

I make people uncomfortable. I make people who are straight uncomfortable. I feel like everything I do, I do loudly by accident.

What’s your sign? I’m a Gemini.

Oh my God! I’m a Gemini. When’s your birthday? June 2nd.

I'm June 17. (Laughs) I think being a Gemini is also part of why I live loudly. I don’t shy away from who I am. My hair has always been big. People might eroticize my hair or fetishize my hair but they’re still uncomfortable by it because their hair can’t do this. Also, because I went to predominately white institutions as a child, I learned quickly that my intellect made people uncomfortable.

Were you usually the smartest one in the room? Yeah, or at least the teacher would say that. I think part of the problem with growing up in the south is everything is so racialized, even compliments. It would be "he’s smarter than the white kids and the black kids."

Did you have any other names for the play besides Slave Play? For me, titles are what make a play and the minute I thought of this play was the minute I was thinking about all of the different slave films. The first thing I thought about was on Twitter there was this whole discussion about 12 Years of Slave with people saying, "Why do we always have to be in a slave movie?" and then I thought, "Oh, a slave movie. There are so many slave plays...Oh, Slave Play!

There’s a litany of narratives that can come from that and a litany of histories that come from that. I was like, "Let me try and make something that was the end all be all of these histories" for at least me. It doesn’t have to be the end all be all for the next writer who wants to interrogate these similar ideas and similar histories, but it gets to be my one foray into this question.

I saw Slave Play off-Broadway and it was a lot to take in. However, I think the play isn’t so much about interracial relationships as it is white people’s relationship with black people. Am I correct?

I think you are. I’ve never written a play that’s going to be about one thing.

Because you aren’t one thing.

Exactly. One of my professors said the problem with a lot of American writers is that they write plays that function like similies. This is like this, whereas in the U.K. and Europe and a lot of places I love, those places function like metaphors. I wanted to have a play that functioned as a metaphor. So it’s not like, "Being in an interracial couple is like..." It’s "An interracial couple is" and it becomes a container for a lot of different histories and a lot of different confluences of conflict which I think are important.

Relationships can become an amazing space of interrogation for a lot of our interpersonal relationships, our historical relationships and our thematic, deeply guarded emotional truths that we haven’t worked out on a macro, but we can work them out on this microcosm of a relationship in a way like white-American politics and black-American politics are also in this weird symbiotic relationship.

Do you think white America can ever fully love black people?

I think love is something that’s beyond words. I think its something we have to only know in action in the same way that I don’t know if black America will or should ever love white America, do you know what I mean? How do you love something that’s harmed you so deeply?

Super facts.

But then again, if we’re using relationships as metaphors, [then] we’ve seen people try and make sense of that love in a lot of different ways. You see black America’s relationship to capitalism, which is something that benefits whiteness more than it could ever benefit us, yet there is this sort of weird romance that happens in so much of our music. So much of our literature and so much of our art, with the idea of capitalism even with its own interrogation and criticisms. But there is this weird push and pull. It’s similar to someone who’s in this battered relationship with an ex-lover.

I read you didn’t expect to receive so much criticism from the black community. How did that make you feel? 

It made me feel sad and reflective in a lot of ways. I wanted to make theater for a certain audience and, for me, the best vehicle for making theater for that audience was the Internet. I was like, "How can I flood the Internet with these ideas about what my plays are so I can maybe get a new audience into the theater with more excitement?" And that worked in a certain way. What I didn’t take into account was that I basically asked everyone to learn how to ride a horse bareback without ever learning the fundamentals of riding a horse.

People were interrogating the ideas on the Internet of what this play might be without an understanding of how the theater functions, and so I think that made them feel very displaced from what this play was, and when you feel displaced from something you have to react to it. I don’t blame anyone for their reactions to the title or the images they saw. Some of those images aren’t images I would’ve ever wanted people to interrogate without the context of the theater. In hindsight, I now know, like, "Okay, cool." I do this experiment and I saw some of the false positives of it and I saw the actual positives of it and now I can move on and keep building and repair the relationship. I get to now watch it with more careful eyes.

What questions do you hope white people ask themselves?

I think the whole play is about: how can people listen in a way that’s not shallow but deeply? I think at this moment a lot of white theater audiences believe they’re listening deeply to the black artists that are having this moment right now. But I think when you read the words they write about it, and the quickness with which they have an opinion about it, you recognize they’re not listening deeply. So quickly they’re telling us what they think we said and it’s like, "No, take a second, and let us speak on it." Take a step back.

Slave Play is playing at the John Golden Theater. Get your tickets here.

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