Ms. Kimberly “Lil’ Kim” Jones, here’s your most telling lyric: “You can never be me. You can only resemble.” Apparently, though, resemblance is a good trick these days, since our favorite Queen Bee is both looking and sounding like the feral love child of Howard Stern and RuPaul. The Notorious Kim‘s come a long way, baby—post-Biggie, knee deep in Puffy, and almost beyond taking seriously.
Were Kim not so adept and relentless at proving she’s tough enough to hang with the bad boys, Notorious Kim might fall flat altogether. That’s not to say that the album doesn’t often hang together with danceable, hype beats and flavorful lyricism. It does that, and more—and the bulk of the album delivers us a Kim that’s polished and hard as the million dollars worth of diamond she sports on the album’s cover. After a weak first track, the album rolls into a seven-song-strong showcase of Lil’ Kim’s raw power. And the ride is worth it: you’re feelin’ it through the golden “Custom Made,” the robotic and sinister “Single Black Female,” and fun ‘n’ dirty “How Many Licks.” And the climax, “No Matter What People Say,” is a glorious fortissimo of salsa/reggae fusion, brilliantly laced with old skool hip-hop throwbacks and futuristic throw-forwards. Notorious Kim does this with the aid of Kim’s own Factory of Superstars: tough, well-timed talent including Sisqo, Grace Jones and Junior M.A.F.I.A. The album is also bloated with innovative samplings from (in true Puffy style) sources as out there as Pat Benetar or Susan Vega (which you appreciate, even if they’re a little, uh, weird).
But what Kim has overdone on this album is the camp—she’s almost become a caricature of herself. Her hair is too blond; her callouts to Brooklyn are too pat; her emphasis on her dollar dollar bills too empty; even her props to Biggie lose their sentimentality for being too easily commercial and convenient. Track 10, She Don’t Love You, is such Lil’ Kim-cliché, you half wonder if it’s for real. That’s how the album can be kinda like space food—sometimes tasty, but when it comes down to it, frieze dried and processed.
In light of her would-be celebrity parents/role models, the apple doesnt fall far from the tree. A gimmick can only go for so long. Then what? Kim, unlike Mr. Stern and Miss Thing, is a true talent, who we can only hope will learn to be herself without trying to outself herself. Listen to the gems of Notorious Kim repeatedly, and try to stifle your giggles through the rest of it.