Whether mourning her alleged lover Biggie Smalls, talking up her breast implants, or posing vixenlike on the cover of Vibe in a blond wig, Lil’ Kim has kept up the buzz during her four-year absence from wax. In the midst of all the chatter-building, Kim has come to symbolize a vapid sort of ’90s feminism. Media pundits have latched onto Kim in their search for a sexual liberation that doesn’t disturb the sausage makers’ grip on power. And now that it’s become cool for people who once ignored hiphop

to invite real live rappers to their parties, Kim rules as the poster girl for a new women’s revolution, which will be televised.

When Lil’ Kim’s first album, Hardcore, debuted, she was hailed as the new independent woman—a sexually aggressive, unapologetically gold-digging, self-described bitch. Kim took all of the stereotypes of women that had been floating for years in hiphop and gave them a voice. She was the honey EPMD described in “Gold-digger”—the girl who, as Jeru said in “Da Bichez,” wanted “minks, diamonds, a Benz,” and would “spend all your ends/Probably fuck your friends.”

And, while men liked Kim’s raunch, women identified with it. They loved her tales of shopping sprees, expensive vacations, and shallow sexual encounters. Most of all, women loved Kim for exhorting them to use all they think they have to take men for all they think they are worth. Hardcore was simplistic to a fault; Lil’ Kim came off as less a human being than an idea. Not much has changed since then. Her new album, The Notorious KIM, digs deeper into the world of Lil’ Kim—but not deeper into the world of Kimberly Jones.

Instead, Notorious presents us with a parallel dimension where all the women tote guns and oral sex is dispensed on demand. In Kimland, shopping sprees to Saks are routine. No one ever gets pregnant, no one contracts AIDS, and no one falls in love. None of the women suffer low self-esteem, because they can all grow long blond hair and firm, round breasts at will. Imperfections have been airbrushed away, leaving women free to romp around in G-strings and short skirts.

Rap is rife with cartoons of this sort—Kimland is no less incredible than DMXville. But whereas male rappers construct their world around their fantasies, Lil’ Kim builds hers atop female insecurities. Notorious doesn’t paint a world that women want but a world that women sometimes wish they wanted. Notorious argues against reinventing the weapons of the gender wars, instead urging women to learn to play the same games as men. From “Suck My D**k”: “Imagine if I was a dude and hittin’ cats from the back/With no strings attached….I treat y’all niggas like y’all treat us/A yo, yo come here so I can bust in ya mouth.”

Hiphop media make a fuss about how such talk empowers women. If that is true, it is also surprisingly palatable to men. Women’s liberation, as presented on Notorious, amazingly holds no threats. At the album’s core lies a superficial form of sexual flagrancy—there is little discussion about breaking shackles. The album contains no calls for an end to systemic sexism, or even its symptoms, such as rape and spousal abuse. Notorious is no call for feminine solidarity—in several instances, the album is more dismissive of women than it is of men. On “She Don’t Love You,” Kim brags, “Girls know not to leave they man around me/I get my hands on ’em, he puttin’ rent and a Benz on me.” And her heroines on Notorious aren’t the warrior women who hold down two jobs and raise families, but the victims who’ve lost some of themselves to the matrix. “Custom Made (Give It to You)” epitomizes Kim’s worldview: “To all my bitches in the strip club — shakin’ they ass/I ain’t mad, do your thing mami. Get that cash.”

The balance of Notorious sounds about the same as any other rap album in the player genre. Kim shoots, drinks, clubs, and fucks with the best of them. She disses Foxy Brown and Puff Daddy protege # Shyne (yet she puts Puff on the album). She spins cowboy tales of women who want her dead for no apparent reason. Not much in the way of clever lyricism, but the average Lil’ Kim fan isn’t looking for the next Rakim, anyway. CP