Lil' Kim 

The Naked Truth (Atlantic)

The most compelling question about Lil' Kim's fourth album is how many "black Martha Stewart" comparisons it will spawn. That's a shame, since the Queen Bee -- now serving a year for perjury and conspiracy -- actually offers some of her finest performances on The Naked Truth. Following the disappointing Notorious K.I.M. and the thuggishly workmanlike La Bella Mafia, she didn't have much momentum for a jail sentence to interrupt. But Kim turns any doubts to her advantage on the clever, dancehall-tinged "Shut Up B***h," which repeats every rumor whispered about her, then slaps them all down. And the beats from Kanye, Scott Storch (the reggaefied "Lighters Up"), et al. make this by far her best-sounding release.

Yet it's tainted by the naked truth of the album, which is -- like most pre-prison recordings these days -- mostly one long whine about the-artist-as-martyr. "I'm a stand-up type," Kim declares on the haunting soul ballad "Slippin'" -- before blaming everyone else for her troubles. Most hilariously, she claims "they indicted me for my fuckin' music"; such inanity makes the heavy-breathing Missy Elliott retread "Kitty Box" a comparative relief. But as the latest hip-hop artist to explain away a crime by claiming the government is out to get 'em, Kim's got plenty of company, at least.

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