Arts, Music, Review

Lil’ Kim Explores New Sound on Long-Awaited ‘9’

Fourteen years have passed since the last studio album release by Lil’ Kim. Although she filled the interim with releasing various mixtapes, many fans still longed for an official LP from Queen Bee Entertainment. Lil’ Kim released her fifth studio album, 9, on Friday night.

Fans anticipated a new album from the Hard Core rapper since 2017, when she shared some details of the project during an interview with Billboard. There was little word, however, on the exact release of the project until two years after that interview at a show. The wait seemed to nearly be over when Lil’ Kim announced in March that her album would be released in May 2019. Soon enough, May rolled around but her album did not.

The hiatus would eventually come to an end when it was announced than Lil’ Kim would receive the BET ‘I Am  Hip Hop’ Award at the 2019 BET Hip Hop Awards, which took place on Oct. 9, 2019. Two days later, 9 was released. It is in the last few years that Lil’ Kim formally acknowledged by BET for her immense contributions to hip-hop and pop culture, and it is at the end of this decade Lil’ Kim decided to release her fifth project. Now the question is whether Lil’ Kim is foreshadowing a musical comeback to once again revolutionize hip-hop, or simply adding a sting from the Queen Bee to the current hip-hop trends?

As a single body of work, 9 is different than a lot of trending hip-hop music characterized by quick-paced, witty lyricism with similar tempos to match. Much of this nine-track album can still be played in a club despite the slower, more enunciated rapping. It is clear that Lil’ Kim wants listeners to hear her every word, especially on the opening track, “Pray for Me.”

“Pray for Me” features Rick Ross and Musiq Soulchild, two artists who are neither novices nor ghosts to the music industry. Hence, this trio seems to aptly come together for a soulful song. Lil’ Kim shares the dichotomous battle she faces—there are dangers from her attraction to old habits or her old neighborhood juxtaposed to her partner’s connection to these ambiguous bad habits. In the chorus, Lil’ Kim shows off deep, heartfelt vocals as she sings, “Pray for me / ’Cause I be in these streets so much / I don’t know if I’ma make it.” Yet in the second verse, Lil’ Kim cries directly to someone who is constantly threatened by “the streets” and the police.

Lil’ Kim continues to show off her diverse artistic range in the next track, “Bag.” Evidently influenced by the contemporary era of trap-soul—where R&B meets hip-hop—Lil’ Kim gives the ultimate reason for her 14-year album hiatus. As if it was not already clear by the title, Lil’ Kim was getting to that bag.

It is no secret that soon after her first couple of albums, Lil’ Kim was already a teenage-millionaire. In other words, the answer Lil’ Kim provides for her official album absence is not really an answer at all. Instead, she lets listeners know she basically minded her business and did business. To Lil’ Kim, the actual details are irrelevant to the general public. This is an interesting choice, however, as she admitted in the earlier-mentioned interview that she wanted the chance to tell her story for her Beehive. 

What exactly are fans entitled to know about the everyday lives of the celebrities they follow? No one would guess that Lil’ Kim went dead broke in her interim. One song had the potential to maybe drop gems on how to get to that bag like Lil’ Kim, the song falls flat and sounds like any other artist could have used those lyrics on their song.

Despite the title “You Are Not Alone,” the Michael Jackson sample to which her song alludes is not introduced until the last few lines. This makes room for Lil’ Kim to jump right in and spit onto a wavering piano key and heavy percussive instrumental. The song has an interesting structure with a single verse spanning the entire track. In lieu of a chorus, Lil’ Kim haunts the verse with repetition of the four words, “You are not alone.” Her words are stark, and she means business. 

At the same time, it is difficult to see 9’s Lil’ Kim in Hard Core Lil’ Kim—her delivery is hardcore, but the actual content isn’t. Even the tone of her voice is different. The deep pitch she takes on at certain points can feel borderline theatrical. Yet in “You Are Not Alone,” Lil’ Kim explicitly salutes Biggie, one of the nine members of hip-hop crew Junior M.A.F.I.A, and it seems like the song is supposed to mirror that of old Lil’ Kim, but execution falls short. 

Lil’ Kim announced 9 may be a predecessor to a second album that’s expected to come out soon. Hopefully she can better balance her newer trap-soul aura with her notorious crudeness in that project.

Featured Image by Atlantic Records

October 21, 2019