Lip Lock (to be released May 14, 2013)
The year was 1999 and the art of female rap was in need of change. In most cases, the road to mainstream success meant flaunting one’s sex appeal. And while there were a handful of notable female emcees who embraced a harder edge, they didn’t enjoy the financial success of their sexier sisters.
The Ruff Ryder’s pitbull in a skirt merged sex appeal and street skills into a formidable package. She was the girl next door who could out-spit any guy on the block. She quickly became rap’s leading lady.
The year is 2013 and the art of female rap is in dire need of change. Pop stars are now masquerading as emcees, cheaping the success of their foremothers. It’s the perfect time for Eve to return to the game and usher in a new genesis of substance over style.
Sadly, Lip Lock, Eve’s first album in 11 years (!!!) is not the revolution we’ve been craving.
“They had a little time, tried to be E-V-E/snatching the plate back, it’s my turn to eat,” she boasts on “Zero Below.” It’s horribly ironic because Eve spends most of the album reminding listeners that she’s ready to reclaim her spot but winds up stumbling into the same pitfalls as her contemporaries – relying way too much on warmed-over pop beats.
The good news is that Eve’s lyricism hasn’t waned in her decade-long layoff. Too bad it’s potency is swallowed in a sea of generic production. Evie reminds listeners that “the struggle builds character” on the inspirational “Make It Out of This Town” while “Never Gone”serves as a story of perseverance. Lyrically, they’re sound; Eve just doesn’t seem comfortable in her own skin on tracks that sound like they were swiped from Taio Cruz sessions. “All Night” and “Keep Me From You” also beg on its hands and knees for Top 40 spins, with the latter especially sounding like the play cousin of Nicki Minaj’s “Starships.”
Singles “She Bad Bad” and “EVE” sound a bit more like the Eve of old but even they lack a spark to truly set them apart. The “She Bad Bad” remix comes really close, though. Guests Pusha T and even Juicy J amp up the energy set by the tribal chants and hand claps.
Lip Lock really needed a bit of innovation to launch it above the status quo. The brightest flash of creative brilliance doesn’t come from Eve, but from guest Missy Elliott on “Wanna Be.” Riding a beat that sounds like the old People’s Court TV show theme, Missy first distorts her voice to sound like a 5-year-old girl, then loads it with so much bass that she sounds like an obese trumpet player. It shouldn’t work but it does. To quote a friend who I spoke with just before writing this review, “life favors the bold.” He ain’t neva lied.
Before y’all flood my inbox with hate mail, understand that there’s nothing wrong with making pop records. Some of Eve’s biggest hits were crossover smashes. But the difference between those and most tracks here is that she tailored those lighthearted beats to fit her personal style, giving them a Ruff, err, rough but appealing edge. The one track here that exemplifies that is “Forgive Me” – a bouncy offering where Eve teases a man who is infatuated with her. It’s very catchy, sounds somewhat unique and is classic Eve.
I really wish Lip Lock had more tracks like that. After an ll-year absence, we didn’t need Eve to fit in to today’s scene, we needed her to switch up the game.
Best tracks: “Forgive Me,” “EVE,” “She Bad Bad Remix”
3 stars out of 5