LIL’ KIM / “Lighters Up”
Source: The Naked Truth (Atlantic - 2005)
Lil’ Kim’s 2005 Brooklyn anthem “Lighters Up” reminds me a lot of Damian Marley’s “Welcome To Jamrock” and not in just the obvious ways. I don’t know if Kim was consciously giving a nod to Damian, but sometimes her phrasing sounds almost identical. The similarity is there in the beat too. “Lighters” isn’t exactly a dancehall record, but something about that piano loop makes you think electro-reggae. But also like “Jamrock,” “Lighters” may have gotten me hooked sonically, but every time I hear it (meaning “Lighters”), I feel both exhilarated and unsettled.
The weirdest thing about “Lighters Up” is that Kim spends four minutes extolling the virtues of her borough without once saying anything that’s actually good about the place…or even unobjectionable, for that matter. In truth, “Lighters” is about pain and poverty, and about the habits and addictions that result from both. But throughout, Kim’s tone is as even and uncolored as the too-perfect face-paint she wears on the cover of her album.
To Kim’s credit though, there’s also none of the financial high-siding and designer label shit-talking that constitutes most radio rap these days. The lyrics are blunt and basic, seeming neither watered-down nor overly sensational. Structurally, Kim sticks to brief phrases. The isn’t a story, it’s a description. At times, the unyielding drive of the song—fact after terrible fact—takes on the monotony and implacability of grocery list…or a police blotter.
No matter what she’s describing, Kim’s tone remains as matter of fact as the lyrics. The frequent similes and metaphors are a slight concession to aesthetic necessities, but as for sentimentality, there’s none. “Police stay on us like tattoos.” “Weak lambs get devoured by the lion in the concrete jungle.” “Dice games kill more niggas than cancer.” “Twelve-year-olds prostituting, there’s no solution.”
If the young rapper’s bio is to be believed—and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be—that last line means more than it seems to mean. Kim is only twenty-seven years old, but she made her professional debut as a recording artist more than eleven years ago. A product of the same streets she salutes on “Lighters,” it’s said that Kim had been earning her living on those streets for years before she started receiving royalty checks. You can figure for yourself what that means. Let’s just say she was putting food on the table the hard way.
I don’t doubt that the double entendre in the album title is intentional. Kim is making a joke out of her habit of appearing in public with barely anything covering her body and simultaneously promising the listener that, this time around, her music will be raw and unvarnished. But there’s an unintentional irony too. The album is called The Naked Truth, but take a look at the cover art. Kim’s face is made up so thoroughly (and probably airbrushed to boot) that she looks like a idealized caricature of herself. Couple that with all the cosmetic surgery she acknowledges having had done, and there’s nothing either naked or true about the way Lil’ Kim looks, even when she doesn’t have clothes on.
Kim’s town, to quote her, may be the truth, but if we want the truth about Lil’ Kim herself, we aren’t going to find it here. Take another look at the album cover. Her lips may be all come-hither pouty, and her head is titled at just the right angle, but those perfectly round, perfectly hazel eyes of hers are as dead as a wall.
As a bonus, here’s a mashup from a cat named J*Star. He’s mixing the ‘Nationwide’ version of “Lighters” (the one where Kim gives a shot out to places other than Brooklyn) with an unknown reggae song. J*Star calls the mashup “Kingston Lighters,” and to my ears, it sounds just as good as the real thing. If it’s still up, you can download the mashup from J*Star’s My Space page.
—Mtume ya Salaam
The Harder They Come
Hard as a Fort Apache-precinct brick wall. Hard as ghetto feelings. Hard as a constipated shit. This is not music. This is anguish. Stylized anger. The hard knocks that make “bout it, bout it” mean something to everyone in the know and a mystery to those in the status quo. Hard-body hard on a woman whose flesh has been so abused, there is not a soft spot left anywhere on her.
Mtume, when you said Lil’ Kim was the Contemporary selection, I was just waiting in the cut to see what the fuck you could come up with that would make sense out of bullshit, and it seems to me you hit the bull’s-eye when you deftly described what the bull has been forced to eat and how the resulting shit ought not be surprising. A whole lot of us turn up our noses at this shit while we be feeding the bull everyday.
Sooner or later we’ve got to face what we’re doing (or what we are allowing to be done; at the very least, tolerating being done) to the youth. Mtume, you’re right. Kim’s bio makes it clear: she’s not getting over, she’s just struggling to get up.
What you have written is a good example of what I think music criticism ought to be. You run the voodoo down, explain the origin of the fumes funking up the place without falsely raging at the bull in the pen. It’s the ranchers and their funky business who stink—raw capitalism slaughtering ghetto youth. This is what we have to deal with. Raise your lighters to that!
—Kalamu ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Sunday, February 18th, 2007 at 1:11 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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