08/07/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
Lil' Kim (Queen Bee/Atlantic)
Born Kimberly Jones in Brooklyn, Lil' Kim was a protégée and lover of the late rapper Christopher Wallace, known as the Notorious B.I.G. With a persona that was half Kewpie doll and half porn queen, and an often overt sexuality, she became an instant star with her 1996 solo debut CD, Hardcore. Since then, Kim, 25, has punched up her already outrageous image by wearing outfits that would make Jennifer Lopez
blush. And after postponing her sophomore CD numerous times, mainly because of contractual snafus and wrangling over stylistic direction, she has finally delivered this much anticipated album.
While Kim still has her feisty moments, some of her bad-girl spirit seems muted. Kim and her producers can't seem to decide if she should tone down her act in favor of a more radio-friendly pop sound or go for the more rugged lyrics that made Hardcore outrageous and fun. Kim raps with venomous delight on the title track, but the half-hearted attempt at salsa on the single "No Matter What They Say" and the love-gone-wrong lament "Don't Mess with Me," with its homage (via sampling) to Pat Benatar's "Heartbreaker," fall flat.
Bottom Line: Sweet and sour