Lil' Kim fires back at haters and lovers alike with her most assured release yet.
Let me say it for the record: I'm proud of Lil' Kim. When the woman who introduced herself to the world in a leopard spotted bikini, posing crotch-first for the camera, releases an album titled The Naked Truth, you have to be afraid of what she'll do to top herself (or un-top herself, as the case may be). I'm proud of Lil' Kimberly Jones for resisting the temptation to overdo it on the album cover. Instead, she gives us a close-up of her face, perhaps looking her critics in the eyes. Maybe she looks a little bit like Kelly Clarkson on this cover, but I'm willing to take what I can get.
So what's new in the Queen Bee's hive? Well, there's the media attention from her perjury case, and after being sentenced to a year and a day of jail time, you can tell she can't wait to address it. Who could blame her? After all, she's hip-hop's parallel universe Martha Stewart.
The album opens to camera clicks and chatter from reporters, after which Kim launches into "Spell Check", the Queen's spelling bee for stating her position. It's a lil' like listening to a female K-Solo, the late '80s and early '90s EPMD protégé and Scrabble champ, but she pulls it off, right down to the thumping beat and the Run-DMC "Peter Piper"-like chimes. And oh yeah -- if you'd like to know how she feels about her former Junior Mafia homies, peep this: she's tougher than those "Bitch ass guys / 'Cause they took the stand on the D.A.'s side". Of course, nothing addresses the massive hateration like the album's lead radio single, "Shut Up B***h". She confronts it all, from the rumors that Biggie used to write her rhymes, to her plastic surgeries, to her opinion of a certain hostess of The View ("Star Jones don't like me / She's cheap and I like the best / Damn! It must feel good to pay less").
Okay, so Kim has a tasteful album cover and has the guts to confront her critics. Big deal, right? Well, guess what: she's growing up. That's right, the woman who, back in '96, dramatized her erotic dreams of screwing R&B headliners -- yes, the same woman who bragged about keeping her private parts "fresh like Doug E." -- actually has something to say besides sex talk, missing Big Poppa, and hatin' on haters. Don't believe it? Try the second single, "Lighters Up". Quite possibly the best Kim song ever, "Lighters Up" takes us for a stroll through the somber mind of a regular kitten from Brooklyn. It's a tale of urban life and survival, where regular people -- you know, the ones without the bling and the Prada and the fancy cars -- work their butts off to make it each day. Still a disbeliever? Try "Last Days", Kim's personal manifesto. She's not going out until it's her last and final day and she's going to keep working hard at her notorious J.O.B. Sure, it's not exactly Socrates, but it's less shallow than the skin deepness we've seen from Big Momma in the past.
But don't get it twisted. homegirl's got no plans of giving up her title of rap Mae West. She parks the sexually explicit tracks near the album's backdoor. On "Gimme That", Kim and her male friends trade sexual fantasies and bragging rights. Easily the weakest tune on the LP, "Gimme That" could have been omitted entirely or replaced with a bonus track. The real sexiness comes in the form of "Kitty Box" and "Kronik". "Kitty Box" would have made an excellent Eartha Kitt impression. If there's ever a Catwoman 2 with an R or NC-17 rating, "Kitty Box" should make the soundtrack. Meanwhile, "Kronik", featuring Snoop Dogg, pays homage to the Queen's skills in the sack.
Musically, you won't be bored by the sound of Kim's fury. She's got the funky stuff on "Whoa" that resembles the S.O.S band, as well as the Bedstuy reggae of "Lighters Up" and "Durty". Plus, she switches her styles, from her spelling bee flow on "Spell Check", to an Eminem impression on "Quiet", to Kim's version of Bone Thugs N Harmony on "We Don't Give a F**k". Samples on The Naked Truth are used sparingly, and when they do appear they work. For example, "I Know You See Me" is built on a surprisingly well-looped "Whatchu See Is Whatchu Get" by the Dramatics. Meanwhile, "All Good" contains samples of Notorious B.I.G.'s voice pronouncing the title, along with the big man's assorted "Uh"s and "Gangsta"s.
All in all, The Naked Truth is a great musical and lyrical effort, as well as a timely response to the media and the peanut gallery. Anybody out there wondering if Kim has the chops to stay in the game should be satisfied now.