Sex sells and LiL Kim is living proof of that. Back in 1996 when LiL Kim released her debut album "Hardcore", it was proof that the Queen B could hold her own and rightfully come out of the shadows of her mentor The Notorious B.I.G. For many "Hardcore" was like a slap in the face to an audience not familiar with the more sexual side of female emcees. While not the first to openly flaunt her sexual escapades, LiL Kim definitely brought it to the forefront like no other. She openly let you into the world of LiL Kim with her sexual filled verses of oral sex and female pimping. Kim's ability to say what others were too afraid to made her an instant star. The Hip-Hop community, especially females, gravitated towards Kim as the next great female emcee. However, after the tragic death of Biggie, it looked as if Kim had lost all her motivation forever. Her sophomore effort "The Notorious K.I.M." was disappointing, especially those expecting a sequel to "Hardcore". But LiL Kim had changed forever, for better or worse. She was no longer that ghetto princess from around the way but rather a fashion/sex icon. While the rap game will always be her calling, Kim no longer needs Hip-Hop to live off of and this is evident throughout her third installment in the LiL Kim legacy "La Bella Mafia".
The once dominant hunger from the Brooklyn queen is all but gone, as Kim's style and lyricism has changed dramatically since her glory days. Gone are the constant, overbearing sexual episodes and in are the more prominent struggles in Kim's life such as dealing with fame and addressing the haters and former running mates. Sexually Kim has toned down a lot since "Hardcore", as she has grown as a person, maturing in every aspect. This is seen on her finest efforts such as "Came Back For You", "Heavenly Father" & "This Is Who I Am". The most intimate of these tracks "Heavenly Father" is one of the best Kim tracks since 96', as she dissects the inner turmoil between her closer friends, family and running mates. The noticeable fall out within Junior Mafia is finally told on Kim's behalf as she washes her hands and looks to start over. "They say the closest ones to ya, be the ones that sneak up behind ya and stick the knife through ya, That's why now I keep my friends to a minimum, Check for the ones wit the venom on they tongue, 'Cuz niggas is snakes, they hugs be fake, Steal from they best friend at his own wake, I did all I can do and I took all I can take. This is it, crossin' me was ya biggest mistake, and was it enough that I split 20% of what I make? Was it enough that I cut niggas half of what I bake? Ain't enough that I almost lost all my bread. Bailin niggas out, keepin' a roof over our head. Enough is enough I wash my hands I'm done wit it. I ain't playin wit u motherfuckers come wit it. Keep the fam together, God knows I tried. But shit ain't been the same since B.I. died". Capitalizing on the hot trend of the moment, the track features a nice soulful loop utilized in the hook which sums up Kim's trouble since Biggie's death "I Pray for love, joy, peace and happiness".
"Came Back For You" is a dedication to all of Kim's loyal fans as she states, "I came back for y'all". The Kanye West produced track is of his usual caliber, only minus a soulful loop or vocal sample. One of the more surprising efforts comes from the Swizz Beatz produced "This Is Who I Am", as Swizz actually laces Kim with one of his best production efforts in the last year or so. Kim stays on her usual course of topic telling all foes "I am who I am, you just can't change me No matter what you do, you can't take the hood out me. People been around me for years, don't know shit about…People steady try to make me into something' I'm not. That's why I had to cut the grass, so I could see the snakes".
While the more intimate efforts are of course the strong hold of the album, what would be a LiL Kim album without her usual bragging rights on the mic. The lead single "The Jump Off" featuring Mr. Cheeks is a nice up tempo banger from Timbaland behind the boards that has gotten Kim tons of air play across the nation. Lyrically Kim switches between her usual party mode and freaky tales with lines such as "I got my eye on the guy in the Woolrich coat. Don't he know Queen Bee got the ill deep throat? Uh! Let me show you what I'm all about. How I make a Sprite can disappear in my mouth".
"Magic Stick" featuring 50 Cent is a throw back to the Kim of old, at her freaky best. Kim and 50 blend together nice to form an enjoyable track even though Kim's lyricism leaves much to be desired. Taking it back to the streets "Get In Touch With Us" featuring the incarcerated Lox member Styles P, is a sure-fire street anthem produced by the underrated Ez Elpee. The Arabic production theme is straight grimy and hardcore as both Kim and Styles blaze the mic.
While these sides of Kim are the type that make "La Bella Mafia" enjoyable, it's the more commercial/gimmicky Hollywood sounds that ultimately bring the album down. One would expect Kim to go this route nowadays and unfortunately the results are not good. "Shake Ya Bum Bum" features a laughable gimmicky sound that surprisingly is produced by J. Waxx, who is a nice up and coming producer. Lyrically Kim glides through here usual tales with no trace of hunger or intensity like the Kim of old. Her flow is less aggressive and her lyricism has gotten extremely simple over the years and this is blatantly evident on the throwaway tracks on the album such as "Hold It Now" featuring Havoc, "Doing It Way Big" & "Tha Beehive". The bouncy Scott Storch produced sounds of "Can You Hear Me Know" featuring Missy and "Thug Luv" featuring Twista are both sub par efforts along with the jacking of two soul classics on "Can't Fuck With Queen Bee" and "This Is A Warning".
While LiL Kim has definitely progressed as a person and an emcee, it seems as if that raw intense hunger on the mic has faded over the years. Blame it on fame and fortunes or the death of Biggie, but that distinct LiL Kim sound of "Hardcore" will unfortunately never be duplicated again. While Kim was one of the Hip-Hop's rising female stars, other female emcees have caught up and eclipsed her over the years. "La Bella Mafia" is a solid effort that has its moments but in the end wont offer anything to keep you interested. And while Kim may proclaim "after me there will be none", we already know that to be false.