As if Lil' Kim hadn't taken off enough already, now she lays herself completely bare. Her fourth album, "The Naked Truth," exposes the person beneath the personas.
Most Americans know Manhattan Kim: Our Lady of a Thousand Wigs, breast-baring, pasty-wearing Black Barbie, runway walker and jury sweet-talker. That Kim told the judge who recently sentenced her to a year and a day in prison for perjury, "I now know that it was wrong."
Hip-hop fans know Brooklyn Kim: Biggie's ride-or-die chick, a Big Mama to the man-children of Biggie's Junior Mafia crew. That's the Kim who boasts unrepentantly on her new album: "I'm from Brooklyn / I can do that time on my head." But as either pinup doll or gangsta moll, Lil' Kim's secret was always the yes, yes, y'all. We're talking about Hip-Hop Kim, the one female rap star who never needed gender identification and titillation to justify her presence onstage with the best of them. Through the trial and the ticking clock of her impending incarceration, that's the Kim revealed on "The Naked Truth": angry, acidic, reminding you that her tongue is even better at lashing than licking.
She's got plenty of scores to settle -- with rival femme-cee Foxy Brown, with onetime rhyme cohort 50 Cent and even with daytime talk host Star Jones Reynolds. But the Queen Bee saves the stingers for her former partners, such as Li'l Cease, whose truthful testimony helped convict Kim. She's more man than these guys, she spits on "Spell Check," the album's opener, " 'Cause they took the stand on the D.A.'s side." ("I fought tooth an' nail to keep them punks outta jail," she also thunders on "Quiet.")
Lil' Kim's cohesive fury from track to track nearly makes this a rap opera, climaxing in "Last Day," a mournful tune in which Kim finds release: "If being loyal's a crime, then I am so guilty." Kim is disingenuous: Lying was her crime, but in her world, loyalty trumps truth.
And on "The Naked Truth," mastery trumps it as well. Her first three albums displayed skill, but body and beats always took center stage. On "Truth," the beats still bang, but Kim bangs harder, whether fighting a battle or simply batting her lyrical eyelashes at you from her BMW: "Summin' made o' German enginurrin' / With rack-&-purrin' steerin'." Even when Pinup Kim reappears to deliver the salaciously unprintable, she does so with flashes of Prince and the Pussycat Dolls -- "Kitty Box" is as adventurous as anything of Andre 3000's.
The coup de grace is delivered by superproducer boyfriend Scott Storch, who crafted the current chart burner "Lighters Up." While this reggaeton-influenced tune is a commercial no-brainer, it's also the most ambitiously clever pop song Lil' Kim has ever done, a worthy synthesis that manages to assemble all the Kims on one track: Beauty, Brain, Soldier and Artist. At last, Lil' Kim has a song -- and an album -- as iconic as her image.
Lil' Kim went in on Sept. 19. Her album came out yesterday.
Iconic meets ironic: Lil' Kim's latest comes eight days after she was jailed for perjury.