It makes me wanna holler every time I hear someone ludicrously tout Lil’ Kim as a Generation Now feminist, thus veiling the incredibly low self-esteem neatly tucked away in purple pasties, blue contacts, and blond wigs. On the (very) late Notorious KIM, Kim isn’t celebrating female sexuality and liberation; she’s just gearing her salacious appetite for anal sex and deep-throating your man into hyperdrive (taking a moment to mourn her late lover, Notorious B.I.G.). The kitsch begins with a Puff Daddy-produced courtroom skit-drama, “Lil’ Drummer Boy,” featuring Redman, Cee-Lo of the Goodie Mob, and Kim hailing herself as the “first female king of rap.” And in a sense she might as well be, because Ms. Jones is now the archetype of the so-called gangsta-fabricated goddess Niggas With Attitudes engendered a decade ago: the woman as a holy chitlin’ and occasional rump. Queen Bee became the vanguard for happy ‘hos everywhere. And still, I’m not mad at her hustle, just deflated at times by one familiar melody after the other forcing me to shake my ass nostalgically. Unlike the merely watered down samples riddling her hardcore debut, Notorious cold-jacks snippets of classic track after track. Not to mention that, since Kim’s X-rated coming out, other slap-happy ‘hos like Trina and Strings have made Queen Bee’s lyrics sound, uh, prosaic (discuss).
KIM‘s first single, “No Matter What They Say,” grows on you because of the old-school “interpolations” and Puffy’s trademark hypnotic rantings (“yeah, uh, don’t stop, come on . . . “). Producer Darren “Limitless” Henson borrows the Latin guitar relish of Jose Feliciano’s “Esto Es el Guaguanco”—befittingly enough, an Afro-Cuban type of rumba celebrating the very sexual rivalry between the orishas Chango and Ochún, which theme gives her track a divine swing. And just in case you’re not feeling it, Henson jacks the rhythm sections of rap standards that will surely reel you in: Special Ed’s “I Got It Made,” the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” and Eric B. and Rakim’s “I Know I Got Soul.” And if you’re still not feeling it, the accompanying video features Kim in a see-through body stocking and five-inch stilettos.
bell hooks was right when she wrote that, as with many Americans, the culture of greed validates and legitimizes Lil’ Kim; so who cares if she’ll ever know love, since the pursuit of money compensates for what she lacks emotionally? She’s gone on record attributing her Michael Jackson-esque reinvention (painful breast implants, icy contacts, liposuction, rumored nose job, blond wigs, etc.) to a lifelong self-image problem and scores of manipulating men. And still, we cannot get past the paradox whom Vogue‘s André Leon Talley calls “the black Madonna” long enough to notice. Or give a fuck.
Four years after Hard Core, Kim is still less interested in love than in accumulating riches and cultivating a new, unrecognizable persona as a defense mechanism against herself. Unlike Kim’s killer verse on Mobb Deep’s “Quiet Storm,” “Suck My D**k” lyrically contradicts the song’s thematic role reversal. Kim rhymes, “Met this dude named Jaleel. . . . He said he’d pay me 10 grand just to belly dance/Cum all on his pants.” Kim turns on Jaleel by placing her burner in his mouth when he doesn’t pull out the cash, but not before he and his boy Julio play her out like a ‘ho. Still, you can’t help but love the song, mainly because you couldn’t help but love B.I.G.’s “Me & My B***h.” The lazy synthesized six-string guitar lick makes it prime for a freestyle session with DJ Cucumber Slice, just like it did back when B.I.G. released it the first time.
But the real ode to Kim’s lover, creator, best friend, and pimp (don’t front, we’ve all been there) is “Hold On,” beautifully featuring Mary J. Blige mourning in the chorus. Over Willie Hutch’s dejecting “Stormy Monday” melody, Kim reveals not the secrets of her affair with B.I.G. but a vulnerable strength by keeping the faith, as Jill Nelson would say. Mary drowns Kim’s elegy, though, with the perfect way she agonizes. Mary J. Blige is the Jackie O. of hip-hop soul, and we unconditionally love her for it—she wins because, like Sade and Billie Holiday before her, her suffering is sincere and graceful. Kim, on the other hand, has come off as a one-dimensional nymph and sex toy from the very beginning. So again, nobody cares.
There’s one catchy yet uncreative moment after another on Notorious KIM. The lilting title track featuring B.I.G. is unspectacular; the equally coochie-popping “How Many Licks” predictably features a curiously flamboyant Sisqó on chorus, not to mention Kim showcasing her “designer pussy.” And Lil’ Louis’s house music moanfest “French Kiss” serves as the almost undoctored foundation for “Custom Made (Give It to You).” Throw in a slew of supa-dupa guests—Grace Jones, Carl Thomas, the Junior M.A.F.I.A.; Notorious KIM still wasn’t worth the wait or the bootleg.
Debuting at No. 4 in Billboard‘s 200, Lil’ Kim is halfway to her professed goal of being a pop superstar like Michael Jackson. Fine. But there isn’t anything womanist or even sisterly going on in Notorious . . . just ditties dedicated to the love of ice, c.r.e.a.m., and the glamorous life, with hiccups of humanity. Without self-love, it ain’t much. It ain’t much.