In the canon of Forever Didn’t Happen songs, a place of honor has to be reserved for Lil’ Kim’s 1997 hit “Not Tonight (Remix),” featuring Missy Elliott, Left Eye and Da Brat. It was an ubiquitous radio smash that fall, hitting Number Six on the charts, and we all assumed we’d be hearing it the rest of our lives at weddings, parties, bar mitzvahs, bachelorette parties, karaoke nights, everywhere drunken ladies gather. It was clearly destined to be a girls-night-out staple forever. But! Forever didn’t happen.
Part of the reason has to be the title. Everybody thought this song was called “Ladies’ Night,” for the excellent reason that it’s basically a cover of Kool and the Gang’s 1979 disco classic “Ladies’ Night,” and the chorus is Missy crooning, “Oh yes it’s ladies’ night, and our rhymes is tight.” But it’s titled “Not Tonight (Remix),” even though it has nothing to do with “Not Tonight,” an album track on Kim’s 1996 debut Hardcore. “Not Tonight” isn’t a bad song (Kim demands some lip service) but anybody who bought Hardcore expecting to hear “Not Tonight (Remix)” got totally burned. Kim never put it on a proper album, and neither did any of her guests — it got buried on a Martin Lawrence movie soundtrack. It was purchasable as a CD single, but nobody bought singles in ’97, so once “Not Tonight (Remix)” dropped off the radio, it disappeared. Everybody loved this tune, but nobody could find a copy. I haven’t heard it on the radio (or any other broadcast medium) since then, which is strange given how unavoidable it was that fall.
“Not Tonight (Remix)” now sounds like a time capsule of that glorious pop moment when Puffy, Biggie and Missy ruled the airwaves. The top female MCs in the game pass the mike, as Lil’ Kim proclaims, “It’s the rap Mae West, the QB / And I got all my sisters with me!” TLC’s Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes makes fun of her arson-tabulous image, boasting, “I be the one to blame as the flames keep rising to the top, and we don’t stop.” Da Brat rhymes “head tumors” with “spread rumors.” Angie Martinez, a New York radio DJ at the time, gets a few bars even though she admits she can’t rap (“I’m the rookie on this all-star team”). Queen Latifah and Total rock out in the video even though they’re not on the record. And after singing the chorus a few times, Missy demands her own verse: “Yo Kim, I ain’t even gonna leave without saying something on this track. You ain’t gonna use me to just be singing hooks. What do I look like, Patti LaBelle or somebody?”
The whole song sounds like a wild party where you’d gladly hang outside by the door, just for the privilege of listening in. It’s steeped in feminist hip-hop history, using the mike-passing group technique pioneered by Sequence, one of the first female rap crews, while shouting out to Seventies disco and Nineties R&B. “Not Tonight (Remix)” didn’t get the forever it deserved, but at the very least, it should get a beer commercial or something. Because whenever this song is on, it’s ladies’ night and the feeling’s right.