• Bo$$
  • Born Gangstaz (DJ West/Chaos/Columbia) 1993 

The line between female empowerment, cynical image-mongering and a B-girl variant of exploitative self-abuse evaporates in the mic work of Lichelle Laws, the gun-toting, chronic-smoking, fuck-not-giving voice and mind of Bo$$. Joined by partner Irene Moore and an all-star cast of producers headed by Erick Sermon, MC Serch, Jam Master Jay and Def Jef, Laws fronts a full-on gangsta pose-spewing animosity, talking sex, recalling bank jobs and promising violence on convincingly hardass tracks like “Drive By,” “2 to da Head,” “Born Gangsta,” “Recipe of a Hoe” and “Diary of a Mad Bitch.” Punctuated by death-happy vignettes, Born Gangstaz is made fascinating by Laws’ tacit acknowledgment that she’s play-acting: phone messages from her mother and father detail a middle-class catholic-school/tap-dancing/piano-playing upbringing that doesn’t exactly mesh with the album’s relentless crudity and senseless violence. Some gangstas, it seems, are made, not born.

[Deborah Sprague]