Lil’ Kim Is Back With a Vengeance on ‘9’

Lil’ Kim’s 1996 double platinum debut “Hard Core” was a game changer in hip-hop. It marked the first time in history when a female rapper truly flipped the genre’s gender roles on their face. She rapped with an uncompromising swag, pushing the envelope with her unhinged vulgarity, and objectified men the same way they’ve always objectified women. Having been mentored by none other than Notorious B.I.G, she had developed a skill set, even by her first album, that shocked and awed. It goes without saying that there would be no Nicki Minaj or Cardi B without Lil’ Kim. Minaj and Kim actually had a feud in 2007, and eventually reconciled, but as Minaj recently announced her retirement from music, Kim is still at it, having just released her new album “9.” Her first full-length since 2005’s “The Naked Truth,” it shows Kim keeping up with the times, and showing that she still has that spark in her. 

“Pray For Me” begins with soft keys and synth swells, with the word “ecstasy” uttered once. Musiq Soulchild’s voice is the first to enter, and Kim comes in complementing his lines. She’s in singing mode here, reminding us of the versatility of her skill set. The two mesh into harmonies in an ethereal R&B intro. Then Kim starts rapping, and the album officially begins. With lines like “You put a ring on my finger but you married to the streets,” it’s a song about clinging to hope in a risky life. Rick Ross makes an appearance over a section in which the beat suddenly turns to arpeggiated electronica, and a trap beat seals it all together. His verse is full of the usual braggadocio, along with the rather confusing line “Me and Kimmy ’til I die, forever adversaries.” Kim and Soulchild keep joining for the choruses, and the song registers as thugged-out gospel. 

On “Bag,” Kim shows how much she has evolved with the times — not in reference to her looks, as that has nothing to do with the times, although she does address that too, rapping,“people looking at me funny… Had to put some distance, had to keep these stank niggas from me.” If we take her word for it, she couldn’t care less, and she certainly sounds like she means it. The aforementioned evolution regards her style of rapping, as she could hardly sound more of the moment. The chorus “Give me that bag, give me that bag” seems to be about Kim’s drug dealing past. The song features a particularly hilarious cocaine reference in the line “I used to move that white boy, Justin Bieber.”

These days, the biggest female rappers — Cardi B, Nicki Minaj — shuttle among seemingly infinite different voices, and while Kim here seems to draw influence from those who drew influence from her. On “Catch My Wave,” she delivers the chorus in her usual, rather masculine voice tone, but moves beyond it for some high register acrobatics during the verses. Rich the Kid drops a generic verse, and in fact the whole track is extremely generic, although also immediately catchy. It’s not about very much. If you took the line “I got too much swag for these bitches,” and tried to flesh it out into three and a half minutes of running time, this is what you’d get. 

Single “Go Awff” prominently samples the XX’s “Dangerous.” It’s an effective single — snappy, and infectious. It’s perhaps a bit too infectious actually, as the four-note melody that runs through the entire song can get beyond irritating. Fortunately, the song is short. Otherwise, it’s a readymade hit, showcase Kim blending her rapping with melodic phrases expertly. The chorus is “Go off / If you a bad bitch and you in your bag,” making this the third song so far in which Kim focuses on “bags.” Kim paved the way for many current female rappers, and here she proudly boasts, “Queen Bee gon’ reign forever… The way I slay, you bitches could never.”

“Too Bad” seems like an ultra-confident song about indecision. Kim raps about wanting to stay, not wanting to stay, wanting to drink and smoke, culminating in the declaration “I just wanna drip and drown in it,” and shrugging, “Too bad for you niggas.” Right. It’s one of the most sonically interesting tracks on the record, with Kim going full Auto-tune, which would normally be anything but interesting today, except that the timbre of her voice makes it especially dynamic. At times, her voice morphs into guttural sounds that can be a bit hard to take, but it’s an engaging display at any rate. 

“You Are Not Alone” sounds like Kim has taken inspiration from the late Lil Peep, with the guitar-driven beat recalling Peep’s “”Benz Truck (Гелик.)” One would expect a song titled “You Are Not Alone” to be a sweet, consolatory love song — but not at all. In fact, it’s a threat. Kim warns, “You are not alone / Matter of fact, I’m in the other room,” and continues, “Haters, please leave my life alone ‘fore your life be gone.” The inevitable sex jam comes in “Found You,” featuring O.T. Genasis and City Girls, and let’s just say it’s very gratuitous. Genasis sounds vaguely like an updated 2 Live Crew, and Kim is explicit. Of course, she always has, and that’s an essential component of her persona. It’s a major part of what put her in a category of her own on “Hard Core.” It’s certainly an effective track, sure to leave you either excited or cringing, depending on your taste. 

After all the trend chasing, Kim makes sure to let old fans know that she still keeps it real. She follows the lead of Lil’ Durk, who demonstrated that he needn’t rely on Auto-Tune, by dropping straight bars, unfiltered, on “No Auto Durk.” Kim adopts the same beat for “Auto Blanco,” and raps straight through, crisp and harcore, no chorus and no effects. She resurrects her old “Kimmy Blanco” moniker for the track, hence its title. It hits hard, and is a standout, without a doubt. As if to overcompensate, closer “Jet Fuel” begins with an avalanche of Auto-Tune, finds Kim grabbing for cliches left and right, rapping in trap syllables with some help from fellow rappers TLZ and Big Lew. The most exciting bits are when Kim dons her throaty, menacing voice, but there are few and far between, and the Auto-tune is almost an infestation. 

Hip-hop is an entirely world today than it was when Lil’ Kim first arrived on the scene, and it’s a marvel that the original Queen Bee of Hip-Hop didn’t fizzle out. The world assumed she did, since she has been out of the public eye since 2005. But boom, here she is, twenty three years after she stopped the rap world in its tracks. “9” will relieve you of any doubts that Kim has kept up with the trends. Moreover, she adopts them convincingly, never seeming forced or phony. The only drawback is that album seems preoccupied with current relevance, and offers little in terms of originality. Other than her rapping skills, the primary quality that originally set Kim apart was that she was like no one else. On the latest album, she basically sounds like everyone else. Ironically, the ones she sounds like were influenced by her in the first place, so go figure. At any rate, it’s a treat to see that Lil’ Kim is still at it. 

9” is available Oct. 11 on Apple Music.