Lil’ Kim, nee Kimberly Jones, is no stranger to controversy. Throughout her ten-year career, she’s often sought it out, with her X-rated, sexually upfront lyrics and her outrageous award-show outfits. But in 2005 she came face to face with the biggest controversy of her life: a year-long prison term for perjury. Rather than fade into hip-hop memory, Kim released her fourth album and addressed the concerns that have arisen since her trial. The resulting album, The Naked Truth, is an artistic highpoint for Lil’ Kim, containing some of her best and most personal material to date.
The Naked Truth is far from perfect. The album has two distinct vibes: Half is dedicated to discussion of the trial, her feelings about her situation, broken friendships and her prison term; the other half is classic Lil’ Kim – party jams and oversexed numbers. Both halves have standouts and missteps. Taken together, The Naked Truth is an incredibly enjoyable listen.
The album works best when Kim is confessing about her legal troubles, such as in the scathing “Slippin’,” where she calls out everyone from the media to her representation. In opener “Spell Check” she calls out Junior Mafia: “P.U.S.S.Y., because they took the stand on the D.A.’s side.” “Shut Up, Bitch” is the album’s most entertaining track, comically addressing all the rumors surrounding Lil’ Kim, including her plastic surgeries and financial problems. She even disses Star Jones for shopping at Payless. Closer “Last Day” resonates with its dark production, built around a simple piano, with Kim rhyming about her place in hip-hop as she prepares for jail time. But her Eminem-styled rhymes on “Quiet” fall flat next to the Game’s delivery on the hook.
Although the album’s predominant vibe is personal, the many club tracks break things up. Dancehall flavors are experimented with on lead single “Lighters Up” and the altogether more appealing “Durty.” Going to jail apparently hasn’t made Lill’ Kim less horny, as evidenced by back-to-back sex-fests “Gimme That” and “Kitty Box.” “Gimme That” is pure Lil’ Kim; the hook exclaims, “Gimme that good dick” like a perverse nursery rhyme.
In terms of production there is something for everyone – she almost seems to be trying to tap every urban style and movement available. Crunk, reggae, East Coast, West Coast, commercial and underground sounds all float around The Naked Truth, broadening the album’s appeal and giving Kim a diverse soundscape for her nimble flow.
Just as she was becoming irrelevant, Lil’ Kim returns with her hardest, bravest and most exciting album to date. The irony is, of course, that she is sitting in a prison cell during its initial release. But, like Martha Stewart, Lil’ Kim will undoubtedly come back stronger than ever.