Lil' Kim, 'La Bella Mafia' (Queen Bee/Big Entertainment/Atlantic)

6
La Bella Mafia
Critical Mass
Label: Hell-on-heels rap diva returns.

by Nick Catucci

Once upon a time, back when the Kingdom of the East was at war with the Kingdom of the West, Lil' Kim, Princess of Brooklyn, proclaimed herself Queen Bitch. Hard Core, her 1996 debut, updated Roxanne Shanté's scabrous The Bitch Is Back for a hip-hop community groping toward a new synthesis of grime and glamour. Milking her bulldog-in-a-thong image like a wet nurse, Kim blew up like nobody thought she would, and--2000's Notorious K.I.M., a textbook hip-hop soph slump, aside--she's basically kept the same number, same 'hood, ever since.

Her lil' feet could never fill Biggie's shoes, of course, but onLa Bella Mafia, Kim slips into the latest Manolos instead, spitting sass all over the hottest tracks big money can buy. And these stilettos are going to walk all over you: "You bitches ain't been through shit / Y'all just minors / What do you know about stuffin' half-bricks in your vagina?" she inquires on "The Beehive."

Elsewhere, many tricked-out bandwagons get jumped. Furthering hip-hop's Bollywood obsession, "Shake Ya Bum Bum" turns a sample of an Indian singer into a brilliant chikki-chikki-bom-bom hook. The chorus of "Heavenly Father"--a sped-up snippet of the O'Jays' "A Prayer"--echoes the Smurfs-on-helium refrain of Jay-Z's "U Don't Know." As up-to-the-minute as the album sounds, Kim herself remains stuck in the past, eulogizing B.I.G. ("Doing It Way Big") or strapping on the horny scorn she birthed so long ago ("Magic Stick"). But the Queen Bee still finds honey in the most unlikely places. "This Is a Warning" rewrites R. Kelly's beautiful yet creepy "A Woman's Threat" as an ode to the revenge of the underestimated female. The king is dead--long live the queen.

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