It’s a story heard countless times in the music industry: the promising artist getting toyed around by the whims of label suits. For whatever reason, there are albums that, if given the push, can move units like nobody’s business, but the label chooses to release it with no promotion, or worse yet, shelve it. It happens to everything from the underperforming Janet Jackson album Damita Jo to the genuinely excellent Amerie album Touch. You can add hip-hop wunderkind Lil Mama to the list. After releasing the incredibly infectious single “Lip Gloss” last year, Lil Mama’s debut album was delayed several times from release until this year. Despite the lack of support from her record label, Lil Mama’s VYP: Voice of the Young People is a delightful surprise and worth a listen.
The album kicks off with “Lip Gloss,” which was one of my favorite singles of last year. It’s a giddy pop tune set against sparse handclaps, stomps and a simple rap about, of all things, lip gloss. It’s flirty and Lil Mama’s assertive delivery makes the song a bit of a mall rat anthem. It’s innocent fun and Lil Mama’s cuss-free lyrics make her an age appropriate female rapper for the kids.
Lest you think that all she had was “Lip Gloss,” Lil Mama fires back with “One Hit Wonder.” The song features backing male vocals straight out of an M.I.A. song, “One Hit Wonder” is a shockingly self-aware song about the limited shelf life of pop music and the music seems primed to appear on ringtones across the country. Speaking of ringtones, “Shawty Get Loose” has a hook that’s just begging to be made into a ringtone. Featuring teen darling Chris Brown and the ubiquitous T-Pain, the song is basically a club banger. Lil Mama’s sprightly delivery is at its best here, but Chris Brown does steal the show with the energizing chorus. Even I’m not immune to the charms of Chris Brown.
As with many albums put together by a rotating number of producers, VYP: Voice of the Young People suffers from uneven production. Some tracks are spare but sublime, but others are bogged down with overproduction. “G-Slide (Tour Bus)” is one such track. It’s heavy with too many tricks and obscures Lil Mama’s spunk with bland synths and an annoying “Wheels on the Bus” sing-along chorus. Thankfully, she fights back with the second half of the album. More subdued, the rest of the album explores darker material about her Brooklyn and Harlem upbringing.
“Stand Up” has some choice lyrics (“I come from a place in Harlem where the streets look like Africa“) and her half-sung delivery is charming but the music is a bit cluttered. Better yet is “L.I.F.E.” a soulful song as Lil Mama painfully recounts how her mother failed to be there for her growing up. Her confessional lyrics are a breath of fresh air and you can’t help but feel for her when she raps: “I wake up every day to the same old foster mother/ I ain’t got no pictures of my mother/ She was a crack fiend, nothing like `Pac mother/ She didn’t make a difference, even though she could’ve.”
Another touching and lovely track is “College” featuring beautiful vocals by Yirayah. Told through the eyes of a young Lil Mama, she articulates the confusion and pain of visiting her father in prison or as her mother calls it, “college.” Switching to musings on relationships, Lil Mama delivers “Broken Pieces.” She argues with herself in the mirror over her inability to leave a guy who’s all wrong. Interestingly, in the last verse, Lil Mama switches back and forth between rapping and singing to further illustrate her torn emotions. It’s a delight to listen to.
After such heavy material, a song like the saccharine sweet “Truly In Love” seems out of place. The song is ridiculously girly and recalls Madonna’s “True Blue,” but it’s about as harmless as it gets. The album closes with two could be hits, “Make It Hot” and “Pick It Up.” “Make It Hot” is the better of the two tracks, thanks to outstanding production by James “Groove” Chambers. “Pick It Up” has Scott Storch’s trademark slick synths, but lacks character.
It would be too bad to see that VYP: Voice of the Young People could potentially get lost in the shuffle. It’s a very impressive debut for someone so young. With the massive success of “Lip Gloss,” you wouldn’t have been blamed for thinking that she was just some label-engineered flash-in-the-pan performer built to make kid-friendly club jams. Thankfully, the album shows far more depth and a lot of potential in Lil Mama. Her ability to switch it up in songs shows just how comfortable she is as a performer and it’s refreshing to see a female rapper not resort to using sex to get attention. She is by no means the next Jean Grae or Ms. Dynamite, but she’s someone to watch for, for sure.
Chris Brown – Exclusive
MC Lyte – Lyte as a Rock
Ciara – Goodies
Video: “Lip Gloss”