Lil' Kim: La Bella Mafia

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Lil' Kim

Album: La Bella Mafia
Label: Atlantic
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Lil' Kim

Album: La Bella Mafia
Label: Atlantic

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Never far from controversy, Lil' Kim has been feuding of late with Foxy Brown and Eve, but both artists owe her a debt for expanding the boundaries of what female superstars can rap about. In a hip-hop world where promiscuous women are constantly disparaged, Kim has flaunted her sexuality with abandon, becoming as famous for her surgically enhanced body as her artistic content. Kim famously rode Notorious B.I.G.'s coattails to notoriety, but she's done enough interesting things with fame, iconic posturing, gender, and sexuality to keep Camille Paglia occupied for the rest of her career. She may not be your favorite rapper's favorite rapper, but she could be your favorite drag queen's favorite rapper. Outrageous in a calculated fashion, Lil' Kim takes pop-rap's obsession with demographic-pandering to ridiculous extremes: She might be the only person in popular music to court Nickelodeon viewers and prison inmates with equal vigor. Accordingly, La Bella Mafia careens from style to style with heedless abandon and uneven results. The first proper song, "Hold It Now," follows blatantly and entertainingly in the footsteps of Missy Elliott's Under Construction with its lively resurrection of Beastie Boys' "Paul Revere." On "Magic Stick," Kim and 50 Cent sashay saucily around the central single-entendre on a track that's as good as anything on the latter's overrated debut. The Kanye West-produced "Came Back For You" ends the album on a soulful high note, but this being a Lil' Kim record, La Bella Mafia is also riddled with missteps, most notably a preponderance of time-wasting skits and tracks like "Can't F**k With Queen Bee," which sounds more like a personals ad than a song, as Kim lets prospective gentleman callers know that "I like a man that can stand on his own two feet / got a strong business mind, straight out the street." The rapper continues to milk the memory of B.I.G., which is commercially savvy (as P.T. Barnum might have noted, nobody ever went broke exploiting the memory of a beloved dead rapper), but also unnecessary. Lil' Kim will forever be associated with her mentor, but she's gone on to create a complicated, contradictory, flawed, and fascinating persona all her own.

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