The line between Lil' Kim's personal life and public persona has always been thin, but on her latest album, The Naked Truth, it disappears entirely. A veritable State Of Lil' Kim Address, it deals with the circumstances that led to her prison sentence with visceral outrage and single-minded purpose. So how is rap's most shameless exhibitionist, emotional and otherwise, feeling these days? If The Naked Truth provides any indication, she's angry, bitter, and horny, in roughly that order. Kim's aptly titled new album provides a window into the tormented mind of the controversial hip-hop icon and wildly divisive sex symbol, and it's as dark and chilly as the synthetic beats provided by a committee of producers who specialize in recapturing the icy electro-funk of early Bad Boy. Part soap opera, part crime melodrama, part oral porn, The Naked Truth radiates anger and intensity as it surveys a grim landscape dominated by fork-tongued gossips, bitter rivals, and vitriolic hateration. Paranoid tracks like "Slippin'" occupy a shadowy world where betrayal lurks around every corner and yesterday's ally is today's mortal enemy, especially Kim's old clique Junior Mafia and her former partner in rhyme 50 Cent.
As always, Kim's mentor Notorious B.I.G. serves as a guardian angel of sorts, especially on the standout track "All Good," where he provides the posthumous hook. But judging by the trouble on Kim's mind, he sure isn't doing a good job of keeping her out of harm's way. Kim spends so much time rapping the blues and bucking for lyrical revenge here that it's easy to forget she's arguably hip-hop's premier sex symbol until "Kitty Box" and "Kronik" provide semi-pornographic reminders. The Naked Truth starts to lose its intensity and focus in its second half, and a plethora of lame voice-mail skits beg for the fast-forward button. (Is it too late to request a complete moratorium on answering-machine messages on hip-hop albums? Are voice-mail messages, even those left by celebrities, ever of interest to anyone other than the people they're sent to?) The Naked Truth could benefit from judicious cutting, but for its superior first half at least, it boasts the intimacy of a diary entry and the urgency of a kite sent straight out the penitentiary.