Tuesday, August 28, 2012

LL Cool J

LL Cool J, the man, the legend. You know, and I’m not sure if I mentioned this in a previous post, but LL is how I got my VERY first exposure to hip hop. The first song I ever heard (and it got me hooked ever since) is the classic “I’m Bad”. When it comes to songs that made me “lose my mind”, lol, that was one and when I play it today, it brings back SO many memories. You can say LL was hip hop’s first true superstar (on the solo level), definitely created the first hip hop ballad in “I Need Love”. Not only has he created a legacy in hip hop, he’s also made the transition to films, clothing, books, commercials, you name it, he likely has done it, seemingly with the greatest of ease. Respectively, we’re not going to focus on his “non hip hop activities”, as we’re going to go down memory lane with his discography!

The legacy begins with this classic from 1985. This is one of the best “first statements” ever, as it’s essentially “I love hip hop and this is what I want to do”, and that’s what counts. This was also one of the first releases on the newly formed Def Jam Records, along with the groundbreaking (at the time) production from Rick Rubin, long before they would eventually turn into a powerhouse in the music business. 

Rating- 5 stars

5 favorite songs- Rock The Bells, I Can’t Live Without My Radio, Dear Yvette, You Can’t Dance, & I Can Give You More

Two years after his debut, LL returned and stepped up his game a little with “Bigger And Deffer”, largely thanks to “I’m Bad”, which is basically my favorite LL song ever. He took what worked on the first album and transitioned it to “BAD”, and another classic album resulted.

Rating- 5 stars
5 favorite songs- I’m Bad, I Need Love, Go Cut Creator Go, .357- Break It On Down, & Bristol Hotel

Now, here’s where LL begin to falter a little. Even back in 1989, some were already cramming for commercial/mainstream success, and LL (again) was one of the first to make an attempt at it, and to say that it failed would be a slight understatement. He completely changed up his style and it was not a welcomed change from a fans perspective. When you receive a chorus of boos at a place like the Apollo Theatre, something’s wrong. This album is not bad, but LL was capable of more (as we’ll get to on the next album), and it does have a few classics as well (“Going Back To Cali”, “Big Ole Butt”, etc). Another small thing is that the Kool Moe Dee diss song “Jack The Ripper” was foolishly NOT included on this album, and that affected it a little bit too.

Rating- 3 stars

5 favorite songs- Big Ole Butt, Droppin Em, Going Back To Cali, Jingling Baby, & I’m That Type of Guy

“Don’t call it a comeback, I been here for years!” That one line sets the entire tone for LL’s album, arguably his best album and to this day “Radio” gives it a run for its money. LL again changed up his style, this time for the better, hooked up with a great producer in the form of Marley Marl, became more aggressive (lyricism still in tact), and what resulted was his best album since “Radio”. Classics up and down the lineup, banging beats, tight rhymes, what more can you ask for. Classic material.

Rating- 5 stars

5 favorite songs- The Boomin System, To Da Break Of Dawn, Jingling Baby (Remixed but Still Jingling), Murdergram (Live at Rapmania), & Mama Said Knock You Out

Welcome to 1993, where the so called “Gangsta Rap” era was in full force and the East Coast was in the midst of a complete resurgence. Oh yeah, LL underwent another change, and with hindsight being 20/20, it came off as forced. He tried to be more harder than usual, and it simply didn’t fit him. The aggressiveness worked on “Mama Said Knock You Out”, but not this time around and the results spoke for themselves. Overall, forgettable album, even with the small hits in “Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag, Getting Crushed By Buildings” (a VERY unique song title), “Back Seat”, and “How I’m Comin”.

Rating- About 2-2.5 stars

Around this time in 1995, his first sitcom “In The House” was starting, and based on the episodes I’ve seen, it was a very good show (I may have to YouTube this show, as it’s no longer on TV), which leads me to “Mr. Smith”. I still consider this his last very good album, and even though it does hint at being a little more commercial than in the past, LL still delivers for the most part.

Rating- 3.5-4 stars

5 favorite songs- I Shot Ya (the original and remix), Hip Hop, No Airplay, Hollis to Hollywood, and Get Da Drop On Em

This was the second LL album to fall completely under the radar, but, one of the few hits on this album is “4,3,2,1” featuring a tremendous lineup (Redman, Method Man, DMX, & Canibus) and a very good beat by Erick Sermon. A word on “4,3,2,1”:

Long time fans know this is how the beef between LL and Canibus begin. What started a simple form of flattery/admiration (Canibus asking to borrow the mic on LL’s arm) turned into a battle, and it was the first (and only) time there was a potential battle within the song. LL asked Canibus to change the line, which he did, and the rest is history. LL kept his original lines intact, and almost everyone knew those lines were directed at Canibus, although LL told Canibus no one would know. I talked about this several months ago, and the more I think about it, LL may have intentionally did this in order to continue to further his own career, and it worked. Short term, it helped Canibus, as he created one of hip hop’s best diss records with “Second Round Knockout”, but once LL returned with “The Ripper Strikes Back”, it was a literal wrap for Canibus’ career. This entire episode confirmed one thing: watch which legends you go after.

I previously owned this album (no longer do) and at the time I thought it was good, but I don’t time has been kind to it at all. I haven’t heard it in YEARS, and I honestly don’t plan to revisit it or re-add it to my collection either, and knowing me, that may change. After taking a look at the guests (Method Man, Redman, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, Prodigy, & DMX, just to name a few), I *may* change my feelings on this one!

Rating- 3-3.5 stars

“10”, “The DEFinition”, “Todd Smith”, and “Exit 13”, all released after the GOAT album, well, I never checked out any of them, and based on the largely mixed-negative feedback for all four of them, I have no plans to do so. Singles such as “Luv U Better”, “Paradise”, and “Headsprung” kept his name out there, but none of these albums have any sort of spark to them.

When it’s all said and done, LL Cool J will definitely go down as one of the greatest of all time, and his track record largely speaks for itself. I don’t see him releasing another album at this point in his career, as “Exit 13” was seen as his swan song of sorts with Def Jam, and with him firmly being entrenched in TV, I personally don’t feel he needs to release another album. His legacy is already set and he doesn’t need any additional blemishes on it. Salute to one of the greatest!

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