9 (released October 11, 2019)
Reality shows. High-profile performances. BET Hip-Hop Award honors.
It’s ABOUT TIME y’all gave Kimberly Jones her flowers.
The world of music – especially the world of hip-hop – is known for its “what have you done for me lately?” mentality. And if you became a music fan, say, around 2008 or later, it’s easy to overlook the massive contributions Lil Kim brought to rap.
So let me school the babies – almost every female rapper this decade can trace her umbilical chord back to the Big Momma.
The sexuality. The wild wigs. The twerking. The emphasis on fashion. Flaunting femininity in a male-dominated environment.
The ORIGINAL Queen Bee was the blueprint. Pay homage.
However, as I alluded to earlier, in the world of music you’re only as good as your most recent release. And Kim’s last album – The Naked Truth (arguably, her most complete work to date) – dropped waaaaaaaaaaay back in 2005.
THEY DIDN’T EVEN HAVE IPHONES BACK THEN.
So Kim now finds herself in the place of many returning veterans – attempting to drop a project that not only maintains her relevance in this unfamiliar musical landscape while also connecting with those Day One fans that have been awaiting a new project for almost 15 years.
Finding balance in those two worlds is where 9, Kim’s LONG-awaited fifth LP, really struggles.
Why call this thing 9? It’s a number of significance for Kimmie Blanco – there were nine members of her old crew Junior MAFIA, her daughter was born June 9 and we lost Kim’s mentor Biggie on March 9.
Plus, duh, it’s 2019, and it’s clear that Kim is out to prove her worth to today’s audience. Sometimes, a little too much.
Album opener “Pray for Me” is by far the most interesting track here. Kim’s rugged delivery is on full display while Musiq Soulchild provides a soulful, gospel-tinged hook … with Kim ALSO singing backup.
Get used to it, Kim does a LOT of singing on this album. And it’s not unfamiliar territory – she’s dropped a few harmonies here and there on previous projects and actually pulled it off convincingly at times. However, this sounds like two soloists in competition for attention in the church choir. It gets distracting.
But then, the second half of the track flips everything – the beat completely switches and suddenly Rick Ross bum rushes the track like a Kool-Aid Man gassed off Henny, absolutely stealing the show. Kim abandons the Women’s Day Choir vocals and picks up the aggression herself, doing a serviceable job.
“Pray for Me” kinda feels like the last act of Avengers: Endgame – endless cameos and chaos that doesn’t make a lot of sense if you think about it but it’s kinda fun in the moment. And it’s certainly not boring.
The rest of this album is not so lucky.
If you ever wondered what it would be like if Lil Kim masqueraded as Future for Halloween, this is the album for you.
“Bag” is every trap cliche you can think of – sparse production, creeping lyrics, unnecessary autotune, sing-songy hook. It’s more like a trap parody than a homage. Kim bring a couple of OK punchlines to “Catch My Wave” but the track is so dull that you won’t bother rewinding to catch them, especially with Rich the Kid sounding like he got his masters at the Silkk the Shocker School of Offbeat Flows.
“Go Awff” is Kim’s attempt at a club banger – I know the minimalistic beat is intentional but it feels so empty that it sounds unfinished. And she’s downright unrecognizable on “Too Bad.” If you told me this was Lil Juice Boxxx or YNB Nestle Crunch rapping on the track I’d probably believe you.
Things get slightly more interesting on the last half of the album. “You Are Not Alone” is the one time Kim’s singing works. Blending her homemade R&B vocals with her trademark cockiness makes for a pretty fun time:
All these black bottles of Patron
But that Henny got me feeling like Jill Scott on the microphone
Haters please leave my life alone, before your life be gone
“Auto Blanco” is probably the best (?) of the trap stuff – at least she sounds like herself this time – but it only runs about two minutes. It ends just when it starts getting interesting. Did Summer Walker produce this or something?
And at least I give her props for trying to create a new stripper anthem with “Found You,” which flips Bubba Sparxxx’s “Ms. New Booty.” Kim’s as nasty as ever but her guests – That One Girl From City Girls and OT Genesis, who compares sex to mac’ n cheese – add absolutely nada.
Here’s the biggest issue with 9 – Kim spends so much time trying to lure in a new audience with her shiny new trap persona that she abandons much of the aura that made her a legend. In essence, she’s alienating her core audience (the one that’s been patiently waiting for her for years) to chase a younger demo that probably won’t be checking for her in the first place – especially when she’s sounding like the Great Value version of the rappers they already know. No one wins.
I know it sounds like I’m being really hard on Kim. Believe me, I’m glad she’s back and getting the accolades she’s due. But as a huge Day One fan, I wanted 9 to be the album that proves to young naysayers that, yes, Lil Kim is the true queen. Instead, she comes off more as a clone.
Best tracks: “You Are Not Alone,” “Pray for Me,” “Auto Blanco”
2.5 stars out of 5