In a statement to EW Online, Kim explains that you can't rush a good thing: ''I wanted to put out the best album possible for my fans, and I needed more time in the studio to do this.'' Likewise, Sean ''Puffy'' Combs -- the album's executive producer who's been busy with his own share of legal and business problems -- tells EW Online: ''I am a perfectionist and so is Kim, and we will only put out an album when it's right.''
But some who've heard songs say it's a long way from being ''right.'' Since last summer there's been a damp basement's worth of leaks from the project. Indeed through fan websites, street vendors, and radio mix shows, EW Online has obtained 12 tracks -- more than enough for a typical album. They include Puffy-esque cuts based on '80s hits (Eurythmics' ''Sweet Dreams''), an elegy to Kim's late mentor the Notorious B.I.G. with Mary J. Blige (and the revelation that Kim was once pregnant with B.I.G.'s child), and a cheeky cover of Donna Summer's ''Bad Girls'' with RuPaul.
But while these songs should have generated buzz for the project, they instead dampened it -- at least in the eyes of some. ''It's very pop and doesn't have a street edge,'' says one well known hip-hop publicist. ''People are going to think, 'Who are you trying to be, Lil' Kim or Mandy Moore?'''
There's no word on which if any of these bootleg tracks will make the finished album. But there are signs that Lil' Kim's been adding some much-needed hip-hop bite to the project. An Atlantic spokesperson says that Kim has recently recorded new tracks with hot producers Rockwilder (Jay-Z) and Timbaland (Missy ''Misdemeanor'' Elliott). And the decidedly hardcore ''D!#k'' should quash all rumors that the foulmouthed femme fatale has gone Disney. But after almost a year of delays, will the world still care?
''It's risky to take more than two years between albums,'' admits EW music critic David Browne, ''especially in the ever-moving world of hip-hop.'' But Violent Brown, the urban buyer for Wherehouse Music's 543 stores, says that Kim's high profile buys her some time. ''We've been getting a lot of calls for Lil' Kim,'' says Brown. ''I think she could put out an album anytime this year and it will be huge.'' Let the countdown begin.