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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?

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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Boomshots: The Unstoppable Rise Of Dre Island

"We rise to the top," Dre Island sings on "We Pray," his massive collab with Popcaan, "cause we know what it takes."

Building on that theme of musical and spiritual elevation, the multi-talented musician—singer, deejay, songwriter, producer, and pianist—has just released his debut album Now I Rise. The project features the aforementioned "We Pray" as well as crucial collaborations with the likes of Jesse Royal and Chronixx. "Ah mi family dem deh," says Dre Island, who has toured Europe backed by Chronixx's band Zincfence Redemption. A graduate of Kingston’s Calabar high school—alma mater of both Jr. Gong and Vybz Kartel—Andre Johnson aka Dre Island is a living link between the vaunted “roots revival” movement and the sound of the Jamaican streets.

“The revival is really within the people," he says. "Reggae music never stop. Reggae artists always been touring. So it’s just the people’s awareness.” During a time when reggae and dancehall stand at a crossroads, Dre Island has emerged as one of the few artists capable of bringing together dancehall vibes and the ancient roots traditions—not to mention outernational connections like "People" his collaboration with UK talents Cadenza and Jorja Smith. “An island is a small land mass surrounded by water,” the artist told Boomshots correspondent Reshma B in their first interview. “But if you read further it’s also a place where you go to find yourself.”

Released through a joint-venture partnership with New York-based DubShot Records and the artist's own Kingston Hills Entertainment imprint, Now I Rise is a 13-track set that includes the hit single “We Pray” featuring Popcaan, “My City,” as well as the recently released “Be Okay” feat Jesse Royal. Never-before-heard tracks include “Days of Stone” featuring Chronixx and “Run to Me” featuring Alandon as well as tracks produced by the likes of Jam2, Anju Blaxx, Teetimus, Winta James, Dretegs Music and Barkley Productions. The artist is now managed by Sharon Burke, founder of the Solid Agency in Kingston, Jamaica. Earlier this month, Dre Island premiered the official music video (directed by Fernando Hevetia) for the last song on the album, “Still Remain.”

“This album speaks of arising, growth, new beginnings and emerging from the ashes," Dre Island states. "At this time, these are all the things we need based on what is happening right now. The truth is, since 2015 I have been advertising that the album is coming. It has been five years and the time is right. As an artist and person Dre Island move different. I embrace Rasta and this way of life, but I am not part of any group like Boboshanti or Twelve Tribes. Everything I do is inspired by the father. I am moved to drop this album at this time because I am divinely inspired to do so. When you look at a song like “We Pray” I can take no credit for a song like that. Yes I wrote the lyrics and built the rhythm and I voice the track, but it's a prayer, not just a song so how a man fi tek credit for something that come from above.”

Dre Island and Boomshots have been linking up from early in his musical journey. During a recent trip to New York City, he sat down with Reshma B to speak about the new project and his unstoppable rise. Check the reasoning:

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Carlos Perez

Anuel AA Breaks Free

In 2015, an entourage of close to 30 men drew guns among one another during a traditional Christmas parranda in Puerto Rico. The scene turned into something straight out of a movie when a pair of gangsters clandestinely attempted to kidnap local rapper Anuel AA. After a brief scuffle and flagrant shouting match, however, the man born Emmanuel Gazmey Santiago went on to finish the evening’s holiday spree in the boisterous company of his loyal posse.

Months later, after ushering in the new year on a promising note by featuring on one of Latin trap’s first global hits – De La Ghetto’s sex anthem “La Ocasion” with Arcangel and Ozuna – someone delivered Anuel AA a divine premonition of sorts: “If you keep talking about this stuff in your songs, something really ugly is going to happen to you.”

A Puerto Rican music legend, Hector “El Father” of reggaeton-turned-son of God, paid Anuel a visit to share his foreboding message. “He and I did not know each other,” explained Anuel, who prides himself on waxing poetics about the real-life experiences Hector was concerned with, “but God spoke to him and Hector felt he needed to reach out to me. When he warned me, he said it with so much conviction that he even cried.”

Having forged a legacy of his own as one of the key trailblazing reggaeton entertainers of the ‘90s who later signed a deal with JAY-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records, Hector – now a devoted Christian – understood life imitated art when it came to Anuel’s lyrics.

“My lyrics talked a lot about God and the devil, so when he told me that,” Anuel continued, “I knew I needed to make some changes. Those themes, good versus evil, they were my mark and what separated me from the rest.”

On April 3, 2016, just two weeks after meeting with Hector, Anuel was arrested and held in Guaynabo’s correctional institution on charges of illegal gun possession. Following his biggest musical break yet, just as he was touching the cusp of international stardom, a court judge sentenced Anuel to 30 months in federal prison without bail.

Raised east of San Juan, in the Puerto Rican city of Carolina, Anuel AA has a lot in common with many of my favorite MCs: he’s charming, resolute, and lyrically gifted, yet marred by a criminal past, complicit misogyny and the constant struggle between right and wrong. “I had no choice but to carry those weapons with me, because of the issues I had on the street,” the rapper said to VIBE Viva over the phone, while quarantined in Miami. “I thought to myself I’d rather be locked up than found dead.”

Indeed, Anuel had evaded his probable demise when he was nearly abducted and landed right behind bars months later, fulfilling a prophecy that cost him both his freedom and a flourishing start at the tipping point of trap music en Español. “I was being forced to reckon with all the bad things I had done for money in the past,” Anuel expressed, regretfully. “I started reading the Bible for the first time and realized that my talent and blessings came from God, not anywhere else.”

Anuel had begun to take music seriously around the same time his father, José Gazmey, was laid off from his coveted A&R position at Sony Music. With his back against the wall, a scrappy Anuel left home at 15 and began to engage in felonious activity to help provide for his family and finance his music endeavors.

Like many rappers on the island, Anuel was influenced by popular culture and trends on the mainland, most discernibly by contemporary trap. Anuel understood the genre’s synonymy with street life and the drug enterprise and immediately took to Messiah El Artista, a Dominican-American rapper VIBE profiled for championing Spanish-language trap music all over New York.

“I figured if Latin trap was doing well in New York, it was for sure going to pop in Puerto Rico,” said Anuel, who had signed with the Latino division of Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group the year prior to his arrest. “I spent about a month in New York before I returned to Puerto Rico. Then I started to release all the songs I had, one by one, and they began to gain popularity.”

While artists like J. Balvin helped breathe new life into the reggaeton genre in Colombia, Anuel wanted to spearhead a movement in Puerto Rico with a sound all their own. “I recorded the ‘Esclava’ remix with Bryant Myers and it might not have taken off worldwide, but it became a huge trap song in Puerto Rico.”

Akin to the heydays of reggaeton, an Afro-Caribbean genre-fusing hip-hop and reggae that originated in Puerto Rico, trap music was considered lowbrow and was heavily criticized for its vulgarity, violence, and explicit lyrics. Puerto Rican critics and artists alike had very little faith in the music’s potential and therefore denounced it. “DJ Luian, who is like a brother to me, couldn’t understand why I wanted to put all my energy into music that none of our artists wanted to sing.”

“Reggaeton went dormant for years,” he continued. “It was necessary to make trap music, because it felt like reggaeton was stuck in another era.” A self-described student of the late and oft-controversial Tupac Shakur, Anuel thought reggaeton had reached its pinnacle and believed Latin trap would be its successor.

Songs like “Nunca Sapo,” where Anuel channels Rick Ross’ Teflon Don ethos and spits a grimy slow-tempo flow over a sinister 808-laden instrumental, helped put a face to Anuel’s little-known name in the US. On cuts like Farruko’s “Liberace,” Anuel speeds up his delivery for fun and plays on the “Versace” rhythm popularized by Migos, who all hail from Atlanta—the widely credited birthplace of trap music.

For Anuel, whose life mantra “real hasta la muerte” is now a famous hashtag, music aspirations had little to do with radio play. Anuel, 27, was largely concerned with dominating the digital space, especially while incarcerated. Despite his arrest, he continued to release music from behind prison walls while his team fed his massive following up-to-date content.

Hear This Music CEO, DJ Luian heeded what Anuel was trying to accomplish and began to work with Bad Bunny, the Latin Grammy-winning artist and star voice of the current Latin trap movement. “When I was locked up, Luian helped develop Bad Bunny and he basically became in charge of keeping trap alive while I was away,” said Anuel, who ironically came under fire recently and was accused of throwing shade at Bad Bunny for the video treatment of “Yo Perreo Sola,” in which the rapper-singer dresses in drag as a stance against toxic masculinity.

“I couldn’t believe something like this was going viral,” Anuel interrupted anxiously before I could expound on a question concerning their relationship. “It looked like it was something that was edited or put together to make my Instagram posts read that way. I immediately texted Bad Bunny about it and he was like, ‘Don’t worry, people are always going to be talking sh*t.’”

Anuel considers Bad Bunny a genius at what he does and maintains that despite not knowing each other very well, he and his fellow compatriot are friendly collaborators with a working rapport: “When he and I do a new song together, what will people say then?”

Today, the collective jury will reach a verdict upon listening to Anuel’s newly-released sophomore studio album Emmanuel, where fans will find a track titled “Hasta Que Dios Diga,” a sultry, mid-tempo reggaeton number. Fans can expect to hear a star-studded project riddled with guest features, including Tego Calderón, Daddy Yankee, Enrique Iglesias, J. Balvin, Ozuna, and Karol G, to name a few.

Discussing life during a global pandemic, Anuel spoke fondly of his partner-in-rhyme, Colombian singer-songwriter Karol G. “She’s the love of my life. She’s been there with me through the good and bad. People who really love you are the ones who stand firm by you when things are bleak. In my toughest moments, Karol was there. She’s shown me how to be a better man,” he gushed.

“Karol comes off as super feminine—which she is, but Karol also has a really tough masculine side,” Anuel laughed heartily on the other end of the line. “She rides motorcycles and likes taking them up these crazy hills. She rides jet skis too! She’s like a dude, haha. We work well together and we give each other advice all the time.”

The pair are making the most of quarantine life in South Florida, releasing a self-directed and self-shot music video for their joint single “Follow,” a reference to flirting over social media in the era of social-distancing, the idea that shooting one’s proverbial shot can lead to a budding romance.

On July 17, 2018, Anuel dropped his debut studio album, Real Hasta La Muerte, hours before he was released from jail. By September, the RIAA certified his introduction to the game platinum, garnering the attention of Roc Nation artist Meek Mill. When the Philly wordsmith released his fourth studio LP in November of the same year, followers were geeked to learn Anuel had earned himself a place on Meek’s highly anticipated Championships album with “Uptown Vibes.”

I always wanted you and anuel aa to make a track together bc i feel like he’s the meek mill of spanish trap , how was it working with him ?

— Nagga (@naggareports) December 17, 2018

“Recording with Meek Mill for me was like when Allen Iverson played with Michael Jordan for the first time,” Anuel said, singing praises about their first-ever partnership. “I’m a huge fan of Meek; when his music took off I was still in the streets, so I related and identified with a lot of the things he was saying.”

“Meek doesn’t understand a lick of Spanish,” he mused in jest, “but he’s always with a bunch of Latinos. When I speak to him he says, ‘I don’t know what you’re saying, but my Spanish [speaking] ni**as tell me you be talking that sh*t!’”

Anuel leveraged his knack for storytelling and released “3 de Abril” earlier this year, an emotional freestyle about the day he was arrested and a graphic snapshot of his trials and tribulations.

“I did things without caring about the consequences. I thought I was a man because I was street smart. Now I know what it’s like to lose everything, so I wanted to talk more about my life and the experiences of me and my family,” Anuel described the inspiration behind the song.

Following the release of “3 de Abril,” Anuel again turned hip-hop heads when he and Lil Pump shared a fiery audiovisual for their collaborative effort “Illuminati,” stamping Pump's first new song since summer 2019. This year, Anuel also has songs with Colombian pop empress Shakira (“Me Gusta”) and with the late Juice WRLD (“No Me Ames”).

Albeit Anuel and Juice WRLD never got to meet in person, Anuel learned about the Chicago rapper from listening to his singles on the radio in jail. “The same year I won Billboard Latin’s Artist of The Year award, Juice WRLD won New Artist at the American Billboard Awards. We ended up recording the song after that but held off on releasing it for a bit because he and I had respective singles coming out at the same time,” Anuel explained.

“By the time we were finally ready to premiere it, Juice WRLD had passed away. We were never able to record together in person, but at least we got to feature him on the video. I know the tribute gave his fans and family some needed strength.”

Less than 30 minutes have gone by and already I am forced to wrap my conversation with Boricua’s burgeoning superstar:

Anuel, explain “real hasta la muerte” for me. Why exactly is this mantra of yours so important? 

“I can’t betray anyone. I don’t know what it’s like to really betray someone. I’m very loyal to my circle, my family, and those I hold close to me. Being real is what keeps me humble. It doesn’t matter how much money I make or how much I accomplish. What’s critical is staying real to myself and keeping my feet on the ground. That’s what helps keep me going.”

This interview was translated from Spanish to English and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Exclusive: BBD's Mike Bivins And Ricky Bell Speak On Funk Fest 'Garage Concert Series' And George Floyd's Murder

The early '90s wouldn't be the same without Bell Biv DeVoe's style of hip-hop, smoothed out on the R&B tip with a pop feel appeal to it. Even as a stark departure sound and style-wise from their New Edition group days, BBD  literally ushered in a new tint to the already hot sounds of Teddy Riley's "New Jack Swing" of the mid to late '80s. Their universal party anthem single, "Poison," cures any wack wallflower growing jam and will forever be the barbeque favorite of your aunt and uncle to sprain an ankle to while dancing.

So today, May 28th at 9 pm EST on, it's only right that the crew known as BBD brings that same energy to the comfort of our homes, with "The Garage Concert Series" during these quarantine times via a streaming deal with the 19-year-old urban music festival, Funk Fest. The series is billed as a jam session that comes to you with the flavor of a bare-bones home garage performance that gets to the organic feel of the music. Joining BBD in this landmark event will be recent Verzuz social media battle stars, Jagged Edge.

Tonight's festivities will be in honor of aiding those in need through the newly created charity by the trio named BBD Cares. This community initiative focuses on the seniors of Laurel Ridge Rehabilitation Care Center in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Proceeds from the moderately priced pay-per-view performance will go to those impacted by the grip of Covid-19. "We’re proud to launch the Garage Concert Series and our BBD Cares effort to raise money and awareness during a time when our communities, our culture, and our society need healing," said Ricky Bell.

Both Mike Bivins and Bell spoke to R&B Spotlight founder, Cory Taylor for VIBE on ZOOM to detail the idea and plans for the Funk Fest and Garage Concert series, as well as expound on the turbulent times we are currently experiencing in society. While explaining how hard things are to bare, music being an outlet helps in healing and this digital event looks to continue to flourish in expanding that notion. “The Garage Concert Series, which we conceptualized and named after other culture-shifting brands like Amazon and Microsoft that started in their garage, is our contribution to the global community,” states Bivens.

Be sure to watch their interview with us and log on to at 9 pm EST for a blast to the past of good music for a great cause. Ronnie DeVoe sums it up best, “our goal is to continue to spread the love while raising money for those who are most in need.”

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