Finally, after 11 years, we've got a new Eve album. Her first since 2002's Eve-Olution, it actually lives up to the buggy, nervy promise offered via a half-decade of underrated and unfairly maligned singles like "Tambourine” (air-raid siren meets a Soul Seachers sample yammer-rap), "Me N' My" (a dubstep-pop track before everybody was doing them), and "Coolin'" (a scream of squeak-synths from producer Swizz Beatz). Although none of those tracks ended up on Lip Lock, most of the record — save for an unfortunate collaboration with Cobra Starship vocalist Gabe Saporta called "Make It Out of This Town" — works off that same blueprint of rap-rave weirdness. One way to look at Lip Lock: Imagine if Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, frontloaded with A.D.D.-addled rap tracks, just ended after "Champion." To most, that should be a ringing endorsement — a spastic, hard-spitting half hour or so that jumps in, does its job, doesn't get all pop for no good reason, and then splits. As Julianne Escobedo Shepherd wrote in SPIN's review, "Lip Lock may not be the best rap album of 2013, but it's interesting, and it's honest. After 11 years, that's a respectable way to ride out."
Lip Lock exudes the simple joys of decidedly strange beats and ruthless rhyming: The robo-drone and moan of "Eve," which is like a remix of Ginuwine's "My Pony"; the Pitbull-if-he-didn't-hate-himself ballad with Dawn Richard, "Keep Me From You"; helium-voiced shuffle-house on "Wanna Be"; reggae-tinged Dance Dance Revolution jazz-hands-of-the-future freak-out, "Forgive Me"; and most importantly, "Wanna Be," featuring Missy Elliott, which piles cicada synths, crime-movie minor chords, topped by sped-up and slowed-down vocals. Eve's style — straightforward, well-crafted shit-talk — strangely enough, feels as out-of-step as, say, Salt-N-Pepa's did when Eve appeared in the late '90s; but that adds to the appeal, here. She doesn't entirely give into the bizarre right-now tics of these beats. Instead, she engages them, even battles them, always finding room for her airtight, conventionally-crafted raps, which is appropriate for an oft-delayed album that has seemed to suffer from being too forward-looking (or six months too late), depending on the latest, non-starting single.
A case study in sticking to one's guns and doing you, Lip Lock wins by even being available at all. And in that regard, even "Make It Out of This Town" featuring the dude from Cobra Starship, is rewarding because it's the single reminder of how disastrous this record could have been. Namely, that a confused and desperate record label actually might think that a guest shot by the guy from the band best known for singing a song about snakes on a plane gave this track the most potential for a pop crossover. Its appearance here, particularly when so many other tracks are radio-ready without bending over backwards, is a testament to Eve's talents and dedication. Here's a record that bears only the slightest hint of the mishandling that unfortunately comes with being a rap veteran — particularly a female rap veteran. Mostly, Eve transcends, and as a result, Lip Lock is a small major-label miracle.