Bitching about the music industry is as pointless as complaining about all the hipsters invading your neighborhood. Yet you can’t ignore Jive’s utterly mystifying decision to repeatedly shelve Lil Mama’s full-length debut, all but squandering the buzz surrounding the hit single “Lip Gloss,” which dropped when she was 17. Which was a year ago. Or, in hip-hop time, 2001. With a bare-bones track pleasantly echoing Audio Two’s “Top Billin,” her ode to the sticky-icky (yes, it’s included on VYP) is that rare rap record that’s genuinely street, sassy, spunky. Even my cynical, raised-in-the biz son (who went to high school with Ms. Mama) grudgingly praises it with faint damnation: “The beat is hot, but it’s about fucking lip gloss.” He also thinks she’s really hot, too. Careers have been built on less.
Thankfully, Lil Mama is more than a pretty face: She’s got a tough, focused, and thankfully cuss-free flow. What’s even cooler? She can have fun without resorting to cheap fluff, and she isn’t trying to be something she’s not, even if it’s consequently a little hard to figure out what she is, exactly. Stylistically, VYP is all over the map. The eclecticism could be her way of proving that she’s got depth, but BK-borough connect aside, she’s no MC Lyte. Not when she’s “repping for the hood” with the cluttered and draggy “Stand Up,” in which she observes: “I come from a place in Harlem where the streets look like Africa.” I’m not going to fact-check anyone’s struggles, but unless she’s referring to the Senegalese guys on 116th Street, it comes off a little forced.
Naturally, there’s a handful of party tracks, including current hit “Shawty Get Loose,” featuring Chris Brown and T-Pain: not bad, kind of frisky, but standard-issue club. Mo better is “What It Is (Strike a Pose),” with its slurred go-go groove and (once again) T-Pain, who is miraculously painless. But somewhere amid all the smart rhymes (“I’m so ahead of myself I gotta start a new life”) and sincere emotion, there appears “Truly in Love,” wherein Lil Mama’s vocals are so girly that Madonna’s “True Blue” sounds like Norwegian death metal by comparison. Not a bad debut, finally, but someone should tell her that speaking for the young people doesn’t mean merely becoming Shanice with attitude.