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Lil' Kim

La Bella Mafia

RS: 3of 5 Stars

2003

Play View Lil' Kim's page on Rhapsody

It's dark there in the shadows, but lil' Kim always made the most of her spot in the long silhouette cast by her mentor and former lover, the late Notorious B.I.G. As a foil to Biggie, the pint-size firestarter found lyrical niches that the big man just couldn't compete with -- unexpurgated sexuality and unchecked materialism -- and milked them thoroughly. Her first two albums -- 1996's Hard Core and 2000's The Notorious KIM -- had enough oral sex to shame the Vivid girls and enough wanton bling to put the Robb Report out of business.

But if Kim helped set the template for the ghetto-fabulous glam queen, her topical redundancy and lumpy lyricism wore out the formula almost immediately. As a result, no one can copy Kim -- not even herself -- because no one does Kim like Kim did Kim. La Bella Mafia, her long-delayed third album, sports her typical cavalcade of shocking sex positions ("I make a Sprite can disappear in my mouth") and nouveau riche knickknacks: Amex Centurion Cards, edible Gucci thongs. "Even got a manicurist in the booth while I rhyme," she jokes on "Shake Ya Bum Bum." But to her credit, Kim sounds like she's bored with such rote boasts. Only truly electric production can keep these sluggish raps fresh, and on some songs it does: "Magic Stick," on which Sha Money injects inebriated blues samples, and "The Jump Off," on which Timbaland punches up a Southern marching-band brass section with synth stabs left over from "Get Ur Freak On."

The album gets a lyrical charge when Kim takes swipes at her old nemesis Foxy Brown and revisits the grimy ride-or-die side not seen since her Junior M.A.F.I.A. days. "This Is a Warning" revises R. Kelly's sublime slow jam "A Woman's Threat" and turns it into a murder ballad, 50 Cent-style. (50 himself pops up for a saucy cameo on "Magic Stick.") And on "Tha Beehive," she taunts, "You bitches ain't been through shit, y'all just minors/What you know about stuffing half a brick in your vagina?" When she really gets her hands dirty, Kim sounds more forceful and engaged than she's been in years. While decadence has grown tired, the uncut raw seems fresh again. On "Heavenly Father," she laments, "I'd sacrifice everything I got right now to have my man Biggie here with me." With the best of these down-low and dirty songs, she's trying to do just that.

JON CARAMANICA
(From RS 919, April 3, 2003)



(Posted: Mar 11, 2003)

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