Monday, January 16, 2017

The Mini LL Cool J Project (1997-2013)

Now this is a first right here for the blog. I've done quite a few well received projects, however, this would mark the first "mini project", with this one focusing on the legendary LL Cool J. You're probably asking, "why a mini project Wayne?" There's a simple yet answer for that loyal reader. You see, I've already covered LL's first 7 albums on the blog and rather than include them verbatim in this project (something I would've done), I thought I'd do something different this time around, but at the same time, I'll include the links to the reviews of those 7 albums before we proceed with this project. Also, what inspired this mini project, so to speak, was a YouTube show named "Thought Crimez" (shout out to Sincere Ignorance and Prince Solomon for the work they do). They had a show where they not only talked about LL and his discography, but they also asked why he's rarely mentioned when talking about the all time greats in hip hop history, which is a VERY good question (that particular show was good and I recommend you checking it out when you get a chance, as well as subscribing to their channel). I'm certainly going to answer that question during this very post. I'll be focusing on his albums from 1997 to 2013, from "Phenomenon" up to "Authentic." Most of his albums released during this period didn't receive that much attention, so what I plan to do here is give these albums a respectable look and listen, something that may not have been done otherwise. So, with all this being said, let's head back to 1997 and the unofficial follow up to 1995's "Mr. Smith" with LL's 7th album, "Phenomenon", but before we get there, be sure to check out my reviews/revisits of his first 6 albums if you haven't done so already.

Release date: October 14, 1997

1. "Phenomenon"
Produced by Sean "Puffy" Combs

Oh man, I couldn't tell you the last time I bumped this joint and trust me it's been a LONG time, lol. On the album's first single, LL was feeling it here.... in a 1989, "I'm That Type Of Guy" type of way and it's a little too smooth for the fellas in my opinion. Produced by Puff Daddy, this had all the makings of something from Bad Boy circa 1997, sample driven production (Creative Source's "Who Is He and What Is He to You?") and interpolations (Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five's "White Lines"). I'm posting the video for a historical perspective.
*3 out of 5*

2. "Candy"
Featuring Ricky Bell and Ralph Tresvant (of New Edition)
Produced by Trackmasters

Now, if this was LL's dedication to his lovely wife Simone Smith, then this was a fine song, especially as LL reflects back to the teenage years, however, if this was not a dedication at all, well, conceptually the song tends to be a slight mess, and since no distinction is made, I'm deducting .5 for that. On the flipside, I liked how LL also alludes to the woman getting better with time and age, coming with lines like "you're like candy, the world's sweetest friend/you taste better now than you did back then." 2/6 of New Edition, Ricky Bell and Ralph Tresvant, bring the interpolation fueled hook, courtesy of their own classic "Candy Girl" and Alexander O'Neal's "Sunshine." Of course, the ladies should love this one.
*3 out of 5*

3. "Starsky & Hutch"
Featuring Busta Rhymes
Produced by L.E.S.

L.E.S. brings a good sample courtesy of Peter Brown's "Dance With Me." I will say that LL and Busta (the latter was hot at this point in '97, plus his sophomore album "When Disaster Strikes" dropped a few weeks prior to this) did a good job going back and forth, two bars each, however, I feel they really could've did more with their collaboration, but instead what we got was another one of those songs intended to make you dance and nothing more.
*3 out of 5*

4. "Another Dollar"
Produced by Trackmasters, Co-Produced by Curt Gowdy

It seemed like Busta was in playing the background here, even though he wasn't credited for some reason. The one thing I can say on this one is that LL was feeling it, but lyrically he wasn't saying anything new or particularly interesting quite frankly.
*3 out of 5*

5. "Nobody Can Freak You"
Featuring LeShaun and Keith Sweat
Produced by Trackmasters

LL wasn't kidding during the first verse when he said "no doubt, the opposite of '96", because this song is NOT a revisit/reprise of the vastly superior "Doin' It", the original and remix. Secondly, Steve Arrington's "Nobody Can Be You" was sampled decently here, but not better than Brand Nubian's "Grand Puba, Positive and L.G." Let's move on.
*2.5 out of 5*

6. "Hot Hot Hot"
Additional Vocals by LeShaun
Produced by Sean "Puffy" Combs, Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie and Ron "Amen-Ra" Lawrence

The sampling of Tom Tom Club's "Pleasure of Love" was probably the most interesting thing here. This was definitely something out of the Bad Boy playbook for sure, from start to finish. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but it was clear as day on this one.
*2.5 out of 5*

7. "4,3,2,1"
Featuring Method Man, Redman, DMX and Canibus
Produced by Erick Sermon

This was the song that really sparked the LL vs. Canibus beef and rather than rehash all of that here, check out my in depth post on that beef at the link below. I'll use this time to talk about the song itself.

Without a doubt, this is the BEST song on the album and definitely one of the most memorable posse cuts of all time, and to this day, I still couldn't tell you who had the best verse. This was damn near a perfect combination of seasoned talent (LL, Meth, Red and even Erick behind the boards) linking up to two then highly regarded MCs new on the scene in DMX and Canibus. Note to active/aspiring artists: Study this classic as a blueprint on the merging of seasoned and upcoming talent. Peep the throwback performance on an episode of "Showtime At The Apollo", minus Canibus.
*5 out of 5*

8. "Wanna Get Paid"
Featuring the Lost Boyz
Produced by Daven "Prestige" Vanderpool

I liked the theme here (even with the "make you dance" vibe) of talking about the pros and mostly cons of doing anything it takes to get paid, but I feel an LL/Mr. Cheeks collaboration could've been much more than what we got here.
*3 out of 5*

9. "Father"
Produced by Trackmasters

This was likely LL's most personal song to date and it's an excellent song as he "tells the story of his life" via 4 verses, backed by a sample courtesy of the late George Michael's "Father Figure." LL's talks about the trials and tribulations he and his mother encountered with his father since his birth (he would also go into more details about this in his book "I Make My Own Rules"). Through it all (and after the fourth verse), LL states he forgave his father and tends to move on with his life. Excellent song that should've closed the album. Now, I can't relate to most of the things LL talked about in this song, but I can relate to forgiveness and before I get to the album's last song, allow me to tell you a story about my own father, Wayne Washington.

My mom and dad broke up when I was 5 years old and even though my mom had physical custody of me, I still would see my dad and talk to him throughout the years. I always got a call from him on my birthday and spent some Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with him. During all of this, there were times when I would call him and ask to be picked up, but some of those times he didn't show up, even though he said he would. I never called him out on it (my mom SURE did), never got angry (I was disappointed to be sure), etc, I felt that for him to be doing this, something else had to have been going on in his life and as I would later find out, this was the case. When I was either 18 or 19, my mom told me that during the early-mid 90s, he had drug and alcohol issues. It wasn't that she didn't want to tell me, but she wanted to make sure I was old enough to handle such news, and of course, I was shocked by these revelations because I had no idea. Even in either 1991 or 1992 when he wrecked his Cadillac Seville and almost died from it because he was "under the influence", I still wouldn't have guessed that he was going through any issues like this. In more recent years, I told him that I never hated or resented him for anything he did back then and I always loved him. He did clean himself up, started working again, got married in 1998 to my Godmom Cynthia (they're still married today and not only will they celebrate 20 years in 2018, but she held him down through it all and I respect her for that), he and my mom have been more cordial than in years past and he's a deacon at the church he attends (I go there as well). Quite the success story here.

Also, a "5 out of 5" for "Father."

10. "Don't Be Too Late, Don't Come Too Soon"
Featuring Tamia
Produced by Stevie J.

Coming after "Father", this is an anti-climatic closer for sure and the only thing I'll say is that it's clearly a joint for the ladies and less of a dedication to his wife in my opinion.
*2 out of 5*

First of all, Puff Daddy was the executive producer of this album and outside of the artists on his Bad Boy label circa 1997, Puff wouldn't have a stellar track record when it came to executive producing albums, because his take charge attitude usually results in his fingerprints having a key role in the album(s) he's overseeing. I understand it from a business perspective, but at the same time, you have to allow the artist(s) in question to do their own thing without too much interference, especially when it comes to an artist who had been in the game as long as LL had at this point. You can basically say that had LL signed with Bad Boy, this is the exact album he would've released under that banner and as a follow up to the excellent "Mr. Smith" album, this was a noticeable step down, because almost none of what made that album so good is present here, with a few exceptions. What saves this album from being totally forgettable is the classic "4,3,2,1" and the events that followed, as well as "Father" and to a lesser extent "Candy." Songs like "Starsky & Hutch", "Another Dollar" and "Wanna Get Paid" should've been highlights, but they weren't. "Phenomenon" hit #7 on the "Billboard 200" chart and peaked at #4 on their "Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums" chart, leading to a Platinum certification. Overall, LL's 7th album gets a 3 star rating from me. 

[LL's name was still in the public eye as we headed into 1998, by way of the beef/battle with Canibus and his increasing presence on the "silver screen" in Hollywood. He would release his 8th album, "G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all Time)", almost 3 years after "Phenomenon."]

Release date: September 12, 2000

1. "Intro"
Backed by a sampled variation of Mad Lads "The Promises of Yesterday" (the same sample used by The RZA on Cappadonna's classic "97 Mentality"), LL drops quite an ill freestyle to set the tone for the album. Again, I don't rate intros, but I'm making a "4 out of 5" exception here.

2. "Imagine That"
Featuring LeShaun
Produced by Rockwilder

This "exercise in male seduction" (the album's lead single) features probably the smoothest Rockwilder production you'll ever hear, sexy vocals from LeShaun and LL at his slickest. I'm sure the fellas probably had no issues with the beat, but you don't even have to ask WHO this song was aimed it (it's quite obvious).
*4 out of 5*

3. "Back Where I Belong"
Featuring Ja Rule
Produced by Vada Nobles

There was one point in time when I had an issue with Ja Rule doing the hook for this song, but after a while that quickly became a non-issue. Now, this song is VERY interesting. Not only does LL reassert himself back on the scene after 3 years, but the lines he threw at Canibus here are scathing to say the very least and I have to break this down. Before I do that, I want to go back to the Thought Crimez show I mentioned in the intro. During their show on LL, they talked about how LL could be a "troll" at times, and when listening to this song, LL certainly does that here, lol, LONG before "trolling" became a thing, especially on the social media level. So, allow me to break down some of LL's lines aimed at Canibus:

"As far as Canibus go, my man is hittin' his ex-broad/I'm gettin' head from his new piece while 20 gangbangers applaud" (Lol, those lines right there are enough to damage a career in one fell swoop. I don't think LL's wife would've cared to hear the second line, but that first one, was there any proof of that, lol? Simply put, LL was very likely just being cocky here, pulling no lyrical punches.)

"You came up wit that bullshit, some heads sucked it up/Then dropped that garbage album and totally fucked it up" (Ouch! Now, to Canibus' credit, "Second Round K.O." is still fondly remembered to this day as one of the best diss songs of all time and as I've talked about this before on the blog, it legit had people thinking that LL had finally met his match..... until he returned fire with "The Ripper Strikes Back" and the rest was history. Regarding LL's second line, many heads were in agreement that Canibus' debut album, "Can-I-Bus" was such a disappointment and I will agree with LL halfway here. When you have the buzz that Canibus had in 1997- 1998, not only should you ride that buzz to the fullest extent, but your debut album should exceed the buzz and expectations and unfortunately, Canibus wasn't able to do that and LL was largely the reason behind that. And the fact that Canibus didn't respond to "Back Where I Belong" didn't help matters either.)

"I've coulda told the world the way your label hate your guts/And how me and Wyclef got together to set you up/And how he gave me half your budget, don't believe me, look it up/Your A&R promotion niggas, they helped me hook it up(Ouch again. Now, I'm completely bypassing the line about LL "knowing Canibus' mom from the after hours spot." Really LL, you took it there, lol?? Anyway, you would think someone like LL would look out for someone new to the game like Canibus, probably even taking him under his wing, however, LL had to have felt threatened in some type of way to come like this. The Wyclef line I've always taken with a grain of salt, I mean, why would Clef do this, considering he had Canibus on the remix to "Gone Till November?" Was that done in an effort to set him up? I doubt it and when you consider how hard Clef went at LL on "What's Clef Got To Do With It", I refuse to believe LL and Clef had conspired against Canibus.)

"I hate to be responsible for destroying your career/A one-hit wonder huh, no wonder you disappeared" (Wow, that's a complete burial right there, any way you slice it and LL didn't stop there. Later in the verse he said, "I heard your second album, '2000 BC', and that shit is garbage too/LL Cool J and I did this to you." Again, a burial. You can say that Canibus was a one-hit wonder based on "Second Round K.O" because he would never capture that same buzz he had from 97-98 again. To his credit, he had continued to make albums post "2000 BC", but on a small scale.)

All things considered, this was LL flexing his muscles, in a manner of speaking, while at the same time figuratively shoveling the last bit of dirt on Canibus' career at this point, along with some extreme trolling (lol). But, but, on the positive side, years after the fact, they did reconcile and ended their beef on stage a few years ago.

*4.5 out of 5*

4. "LL Cool J"
Featuring Kandice Love
Produced by DJ Scratch

Appropriately titled? Of course, lol. This is "vintage LL" right here across both verses. He didn't waste any time throwing ANOTHER shot at Canibus ("rocks in ears, blingin' the atmosphere/fuck Canibus, I bodied him last year"). DJ Scratch tried, but no one sampled Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" better than DJ Premier did for Biggie's classic "Kick In The Door." 
*3.5 out of 5*

5. "Take It Off"
Produced by Adam F
Adam F brings a sound VERY reminiscent of Q-Tip's "Vivrant Thang", which is a much better song in my opinion. Not only was this a joint for the ladies, it was a joint to make you dance as well.
*3 out of 5*

6. "Skit"
LL, Meth and Red tell a host of jokes for 45 seconds, lol.

7. "Fuhgidabowdit"
Featuring Redman, Method Man and DMX
Produced by Trackmasters

Even without the presence of Canibus, this was not "4,3,2,1 revisited", not even close. This was a dope song, featuring some noticeable wordplay from all involved, but this one lacked the spark that "4,3,2,1" had.
*4 out of 5*

8. "Farmers"
Featuring Tikki Diamonds
Produced by Self

Self came through with an ill sample of The Temptations' "Unite The World" while LL was lyrically feeling this one with a sound that called back to 1990 and the classic sounds of the "Mama Said Knock You Out" album. Good song.
*4 out of 5*

9. "This Is Us"
Featuring Carl Thomas
Produced by Vada Nobles

I was on the verge of saying that this was another joint for the ladies, but that's not the case here. The title "This Is Us" would suggest LL talking about where Blacks were as a people circa 2000, but here LL focuses squarely on the actions of women, I guess all in an effort to clean up their acts.
*3 out of 5*

10. "Can't Think"
Produced by Ty Fyffe

"I'm a child of God, witness the rising son/From the cradle to the grave I remain number one"

On a mental level, LL can't decide whether he wants to hustle, murder, get paid, or make music, but at the end of the day, he simply wants to survive and "use his soul" to guide him.
*4 out of 5*

11. "Hello"
Featuring Amil
Produced by DJ Scratch

Aside from this being another joint for the ladies (not surprising), the most notable thing about this song is that the same beat and hook were part of a FUBU commercial I used to see a lot back in the day. Check it out below. (Nothing else to say about this song otherwise.)
*2 out of 5*

12. "You And Me"
Featuring Kelly Price
Produced by DJ Scratch

Along with Ms. Kelly Price on the hook and a sample courtesy of Hi-Gloss' "You'll Never Know", LL comes with the "Hey Lover" flow here, but a little less blatant than 1995, if you will. I'll say this (again), LL is definitely a man that'll go to any lengths to get what he wants, especially when it comes to the ladies, but at the same time, it seems like he's trying to present an uplifting message here.
*3 out of 5*

13. "Homicide"
Produced by DJ Scratch

I'm not sure whether the stories LL tells here are based in reality or not, and even though he's never been known for his storytelling skills, he does a good job here. LL talks about a series of crime related happenings in Farmers and takes the media to task for not reporting those happenings the same way they did when the tragic school shooting in Columbine took place in April 1999, making the statement that "Columbine happens in the ghetto every day/when this shit goes down y'all ain't got nothin' to say." Good song.
*3.5 out of 5*

14. "U Can't Fuck With Me"
Featuring Snoop Dogg, Xzibit and Jayo Felony
Produced by DJ Scratch

LL links up with some tight West Coast talent, then again, 2 out of 3 ain't bad, lol (I just never been a fan of Jayo Felony like that). Pretty good, apply titled song right here, featuring LL going in on Jamie Foxx after the fight they had on the set of "Any Given Sunday" ("once and for all, what's my opinion on Jamie Foxx/he pussy, plus he ain't funny as Chris Rock", ouch). They would resolve their issues like men a few years later as well.
*4 out of 5*

15. "Queens Is"
Featuring Prodigy
Produced by Havoc

It didn't take long for LL to get over-aggressive alongside Mobb Deep's Prodigy. I had an issue with the extra hardcore lyrics on "14 Shots To The Dome" and I had some of those same issues here. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that LL couldn't be hard (the classic "I'm Bad" ends that argument), but when it came to the gunplay talk, moving/pushing weight, etc, that's not believable coming from LL, plus Prodigy's verse didn't provide anything new or interesting. A missed opportunity here.
*3 out of 5*

16. "The G.O.A.T."
Produced by Adam F

Lyrically, this is "vintage LL" as he makes his claim of being "the greatest of all time", however, the statement LL is trying to make is muddled a bit thanks to the not so thrilling production of Adam F. It's not an anti-climatic closer I'll say that.
*3.5 out of 5*

*17. "Ill Bomb"
Produced by DJ Scratch

"Lord have mercy, these rookies got it confused/You thought you caught me slippin', I was falsely accused/Sleepin' wit my eyes wide shut like Tom Cruise/They wishin' an impossible mission to see me lose"

I personally consider this and the next song as two bonus tracks. When it comes to "Ill Bomb", I first heard it on Funkmaster Flex and Big Kap's "The Tunnel" and it had me hyped for the "G.O.A.T.", which shows how dope the song is, and with the David Porter sample courtesy of "I'm Afraid the Masquerade Is Over", this was a "5 out of 5* winner. It may be the best song on the album.

*18. "M.I.S.S. I"
Featuring Case
Produced by Ill Am

This was merely ok, but honestly I could've done without the inclusion of this song. Forgettable. (There was a song called "Mirror Mirror" that was included on the Japanese version of the album. WHY that wasn't on the US version as well, I don't know, smh.)
*2 out of 5*

Without a doubt, this is a 4 star album and certainly a much better album than "Phenomenon", but not close to "Mr. Smith" in terms of quality. After being away from the scene for a few years, LL returned to stake his claim as "the greatest of all time", the central theme of the album of course. I'll say this, IF this album was his swan song, should he still remain in the discussion of all-time greats when you consider his body of work? Absolutely, no doubt in my mind. A very good, Platinum certified album (his actual first and only album to hit #1 on the "Billboard 200" chart), albeit kinda slept on. LL would return to the scene two years later with "10."

Release date: October 15, 2002

[A few things before we head into "10." This is actually LL's 9th studio album. For some reason, "All World" was considered an actual album despite it being a "greatest hits" compilation. He would later become the first artist in Def Jam history to release 10 albums.]

1. "Intro"
A clip of an interview with Free (of "106th & Park" fame) sends us right into.....

2. "Born To Love You"
Featuring Kandice Love
Produced by Trackmasters

After coming "fresh off a private jet from Europe", LL is back on the scene in the flyest way possible. This was decent, something the ladies and the fellas could rock to.
*3 out of 5*

3. "Luv U Better"
Featuring Marc Dorsey
Produced by The Neptunes

This joint right here was a hit back in 2002, probably one of the last times LL was in heavy rotation on the radio and TV. The Neptunes, on a hot streak of their own at this point, provided LL with such laid production and even though this was clearly for the ladies, I'm sure the fellas couldn't deny the vibe this one had. The album's lead single was also a success for LL, reaching the top of three of the five Billboard charts.
*4 out of 5*

4. "Paradise"
Featuring Amerie
Produced by Trackmasters

This one didn't receive as much airplay as the previous song, but it was right behind it. The lovely yet underrated Amerie supplied the hook and with the nice sampling of Keni Burke's "Risin' to the Top", a personal favorite of mine, this was pretty good.
*4 out of 5*

5. "Fa Ha"
Produced by DJ S&S

I didn't know that DJ S&S, known for some dope mixtapes back in the 90s, was producing at this point (he does come with an ill sample of Hall & Oates' "Rich Girl"). And yes, "ha!" in the case of this song refers to "that specific lady", nothing more or less on this one.
*2.5 out of 5*

6. "Niggy Nuts"
Produced by The Neptunes

Oh man, HOW did this make the final cut? The chemistry with LL over Neptunes production was fully realized on "Luv U Better", but not this time around. LL was needlessly edgy in terms of his tone and delivery and the Neptunes beat here was one of the busiest beats I've ever heard from them, and not in a good way. This is for the ghetto??? I'm sure the ghetto wouldn't accept this, even considering the talent involved.
*1 out of 5*

7. "Amazin"
Featuring Kandice Love
Produced by The Neptunes

LL and Ms. Kandice Love talk about how life and love are "so amazing", nothing more or less. (50 Cent and Olivia would have a song on 50's "The Massacre" album titled "So Amazing" which was almost identical to this one.)
*3 out of 5*

8. "Clockin' G's"
Additional Vocals by Pharrell Williams
Produced by The Neptunes

This may have been about the all too familiar "paper chase", but I feel the main purpose of this was to make you dance. The Neptunes brought their signature sound to this one.
*3 out of 5*

9. "Lollipop"
Produced by Chop & Big Joe

The lady of LL's eye, well, she's going to be treated "like a lollipop" and loyal reader, I'll let you use your imagination for the rest. I shall proceed.
*1.5 out of 5*

10. "After School"
Featuring P. Diddy
Produced by Chop & Big Joe

LL and Diddy do nothing but have fun with their "girl chasing" ways, along with a slight throwback vibe thanks to the Neptunes-esque production.
*3 out of 5*

11. "Throw Ya L's Up"
Produced by Ron "Amen-Ra" Lawrence

This was continuous "vintage LL" here. I commend him for trying to bring back the "call & response hook", but it was long past the point when such hooks were effective in hip hop.
*3 out of 5*

12. "U Should"
Produced by The Neptunes

In his own way, LL is telling the fellas how to treat the ladies, but at the same time, also telling you in a not-so-subtle, yet slick fashion that he'll do it if you can't.
The Neptunes were 4 for 5 on this album overall.
*3 out of 5*

13. "10 Million Stars"
Produced by Ron "Amen-Ra" Lawrence

LL's lyrics here would've fit much better over harder production, just saying. An ok song otherwise.
*2.5 out of 5*

14. "Mirror Mirror"
Produced by Trackmasters

This version of "Mirror Mirror", with an "I'm That Type of Guy" vibe, is much different from the one that should've made the "G.O.A.T." album. I liked how LL used some of his song titles throughout this one. I'll post them both so you can hear the differences.
*3 out of 5*

15. "Big Mama (Unconditional Love)"
Featuring Dru Hill
Produced by Chop & Big Joe

"10" closes with LL's heart warming tribute to not only his grandmother, but to all the grandmothers everywhere. The Spinners' "Sadie" is nicely sampled for the Dru Hill led hook. Like you need to ask what this song gets.
*5 out of 5*

You'd think this album would've been more monumental than it was considering the apparent milestone it was supposed to be for LL and Def Jam, however, it's just another album if you ask me, a 3 star one at that. Also, LL decided to take a different approach and not have any curse words at any point during this album (and that would be the case for his next two), plus it seemed like the album was aimed at one audience and one audience only: the ladies. I mean, I had no problem with that, but you don't want to forget the fellas LL. The highlights here were "Big Mama (Unconditional Love)", "Luv U Better" and "Paradise", everything else was filler at best. "10" peaked at #2 on the "Billboard 200" chart en route to a Gold certification. He would return two years later with his actual 10th album, "The DEFinition."

Release date: August 31, 2004

1. "Headsprung"
Produced (and additional vocals) by Timbaland

I remember liking this one quite a bit when I first heard it and now when I think about it, I'm a little surprised that LL hadn't linked up with Timbaland sooner (more of that later). Even though this didn't enjoy the exposure that "Luv U Better" had two years prior, it still had a respectable amount of a presence on the radio and it was the last time one of LL's singles would grace the radio in this form. The lead single was a success on the Billboard charts, peaking at #16 on the "Hot 100", #4 on "Hot Rap Songs" and #7 on "Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs." Much like the Bad Boy formula in the mid-late 90s, this one was designed to make you dance and it worked (LL and Timbaland were feeling it on this one).
*4 out of 5*

2. "Rub My Back"
Produced by Timbaland

Yep, it's safe to say this was another "vintage LL" joint for the ladies. He did work Timbaland's production well here but that's about it.
*2.5 out of 5*

3. "I'm About To Get Her"
Featuring R. Kelly
Produced by Teddy Riley, Eric Williams and Marquinarius "Sanchez" Holmes

This couldn't possibly be the first time that LL and Teddy Riley worked together, couldn't be. I have to research that one a little bit more after I finish this project, lol. Well loyal reader, look at the title of this song and who the guest is..... you already know what to expect and of course, you won't find "Mr. Kelly" too far behind when a song like this is present (and you already know my feelings on him so I won't rehash them here).
*2 out of 5*

4. "Move Somethin"
Produced by N.O. Joe

Yes, the same N.O. Joe who played a key role behind the boards at Rap-A-Lot is the one who produces this and it has a Timbaland-esque sound all the way through. And yes, lol, it's another one that serves two purposes: to get the ladies up and to get them dancing.
*3 out of 5*

5. "Hush"
Featuring and produced by 7 Aurelius

If you gon' creep on the low with LL, you gotta do it his way, nothing more or less here. This one had a presence on the radio, but on a smaller scale than "Headsprung", and it enjoyed similar success like that song as well. Auto-tune usage aside, I liked the throwback vibe here, complete with the beatboxing and 7 Aurelius sounding A LOT like Al B. Sure. Good song and even though it's for the ladies (again), the fellas could bounce to this one too, I think (lol).
*4 out of 5*

6. "Every Sip"
Additional Vocals by Candice Nelson
Produced by Timbaland

"You ever try to focus, resist wit' all your might/But every sip you take pulls you deeper in the hype"

The lines above tells the all too familiar story, if you will, of what happens when you have a few drinks in your system, never know what to expect depending on how many drinks you had (lol). Decent song.
*3 out of 5*

7. "Shake It Baby"
Produced by N.O. Joe

We have heard songs like this before, even down to the title. An ok song, but again, nothing we haven't heard before.
*2.5 out of 5*

8. "Can't Explain It"
Additional Vocals by Candice Nelson
Produced by Timbaland

This joint is straight out of the "Mr. Smith" playbook. Sometimes the "best love" is hard to explain and it's something the ladies should love a lot, the fellas would likely skip it.
*2 out of 5*

9. "Feel The Beat"
Produced by Timbaland

LL did feel Timbaland's beat on this one. The most notable thing about the song was him talking (briefly) about his history with Def Jam. Another song talking about that would've been good, but this song was not the best choice.
*3 out of 5*

10. "Apple Cobbler"
Produced by Timbaland

If LL was attempting to turn "apple cobbler" into another (nick)name for a woman's backside, if you will, then this failed. I could've done without this one and even LL was on the uninspired side of the tracks here.
*1.5 out of 5*

11. "1 In The Morning"
Produced by Dame Grease

Backed by some decent Dame Grease production, LL tries to bring a harder close to the album, but literally at this point, it's a little too late.
*2.5 out of 5*

It should come as no surprise that the sole highlights here were "Headsprung" and "Rush", the two lead singles, everything else (including the latter) was largely catered to the ladies and again, there's nothing wrong with that, but after a while it gets to a point where we have heard it all before and there's nothing new or creative brought to the table. Speaking of new and creative, that brings me to the production. You'll notice that Timbaland produced 6 of the 11 songs here. Think about this for a moment: can you imagine if LL treated this album as a return to form, much like he did on 1990's "Mama Said Knock You Out", with Timbaland producing the entire album? Something like that would've worked better between 1998 and 2000 rather than 2004. The two lead singles and the LL Cool J name is what propelled this 2.5 star album to its Certified Gold status in excess of 500,000 units moved. Will LL switch things up as we head into 2006' "Todd Smith" or will it be more of the same? We shall find out.

Release date: April 11, 2006

1. "It's LL And Santana"
Featuring Juelz Santana
Produced by Shea Taylor

This was a rather interesting choice to start the album. The average person would view this as the seasoned veteran linking up with one of the hottest up-and-coming artists in the game, however, that's not the case here unfortunately. I like Santana, but whatever buzz he had was slowly but surely starting to die down at the time of this album's release, plus it sounded as if LL was trying to keep up with Santana with his entire verse. It's ok, but not a "history making" moment.
*3 out of 5*

2. "Control Myself"
Featuring Jennifer Lopez
Produced by Jermaine Dupri and LRoc

Apparently this song was a success back in '06, which is a surprise to me because I did not hear this on the radio (or see a video) at any point during this time. It also was a success, debuting at #2 on Billboard's "Hot Digital Singles" chart and a "Hot 100 re-entry" at #4. I'll say this: the best thing about this song was the sampling/2006 callback to Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force's classic "Looking For The Perfect Beat", but other than that, this was a miss at its attempt to get you on the dancefloor, even with LL's flow consisting of De La Soul's "Me, Myself & I" meeting his own "I'm That Type Of Guy." I know "All I Have" is a much different song, but the chemistry LL and Ms. Jennifer Lopez had on that song was not present here.
*2 out of 5*

3. "Favorite Flavor"
Featuring Mary J. Blige
Produced by Trackmasters

LL equates the beautiful woman (of his eye) to a "variety of flavors." Nothing wrong with that, but we have heard songs like this before from LL, nothing new or different. Oh yeah, I love Ms. Mary J. Blige, but for some reason, she sounded a bit awkward performing the flavor dripping hook. The ladies would love this one more than the fellas that's for sure.
*3 out of 5*

4. "Freeze"
Featuring and produced by Lyfe Jennings, Additional production by LL

Even though this is a joint for the ladies, I'm sure they would appreciate the vocals laid by LL and Lyfe Jennings, but the overall theme would confuse them. Let's proceed.
*2 out of 5*

5. "Best Dress"
Featuring Pharrell Williams and Jamie Foxx
Produced by The Neptunes

Ok, this one was all over the place. The positive side was that it was cool to hear LL and Jamie Foxx on the same track after ending the beef they had, but outside of that, I have nothing else to say about this song. I mean, was LL asking the lady to get dressed for a special occasion? I'm asking because the three verses would suggest the uplifting of the ladies. Conflicting issues on what should've otherwise been a straight forward song.
*2 out of 5*

6. "Preserve The Sexy"
Featuring Teairra Mari
Produced by Keezo Kane

Well, I have a "personal thing" for Ms. Teairra Mari, so I clearly liked her presence on this song, intended for the grown and sexy (even if it's more materialistic than anything else). The back and forth between LL and Mari was good here.
*3 out of 5*

7. "What You Want"
Featuring Freeway
Produced by The Narcotics

Now this is what I'm talking about right here. This really could've been out of place on an album like this, but to my surprise it isn't and quite frankly, it's the best song on the album. LL and Freeway go back and forth, tag team style and it's a very good song with a chemistry not found with LL and Santana. Even LL seemed energized alongside Freeway and speaking of the latter, had his closing verse went on a little bit longer, he would've stole the show.
*4 out of 5*

8. "I've Changed"
Featuring Ryan Toby
Produced by Trackmasters

After the prior song breathed some much needed life into this album, we're back to the same ol' same ol' in no time. Haven't we heard a song like this many times before, where the artist in question did some type of dirt on his lady but is asking for forgiveness throughout the song (hence the title)? Yes we have and LL clearly brings nothing new to the table here. The song is not bad, but man we have heard it before.
*2 out of 5*

9. "Ooh Wee"
Featuring Ginuwine
Produced by Scott Storch

1) Scott Storch's production is right for the occasion. 2) This is strictly for the ladies across the board. That's all that needs to be said.
*2 out of 5*

10. "#1 Fan"
Featuring Miredys Peguero
Produced by Trackmasters

This one started off well enough with the obvious Spanish influence as LL proceeds to talk about his "#1 fan"..... but when he got to the second verse, starting with "she said I wanna get wit' ya/I'm talkin' more than an autograph and picture", that did it right there. Seriously, come on LL.
*1.5 out of 5*

11. "Down The Aisle"
Featuring 112
Produced by Trackmasters

If this song was a dedication to LL's wife, it's beautiful. If it's the complete opposite, and I believe that it is, what a wasted opportunity here.
*2 out of 5*

12. "We're Gonna Make It"
Featuring Mary Mary
Produced by Bink

Towards the end of the album, LL allows his spiritual and uplifting side to show, along with the equally spiritual vocals of Mary Mary. Good song.
*3.5 out of 5*

*13. "So Sick (Remix)"
Featuring Ne-Yo
Produced by Trackmasters

Instead of the closing with the prior song, we get this bonus track. All things considered, this was ANOTHER joint for the ladies (it was moreso Ne-Yo's song than LL's), and check this, Poke and Tone managed to work in a few samples courtesy of Public Enemy ("B-Side Wins Again"), Michael Jackson ("Human Nature") and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five ("Flash It to the Beat"). This was ok, but it didn't need a remix.
*2.5 out of 5*

Well, what can I say about this album? The intended audience was clearly the ladies (again) and it's damn near the same album that "The DEFinition" was. The clear highlight here is the Freeway assisted "What You Want", with "We're Gonna Make It" and "Preserve The Sexy" not too far behind (I guess). Even with no real hit singles to speak of, the album was still able to hit #2 on the Billboard "Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums" and #6 on the "Billboard 200" charts, respectively, leading to another Gold certification. Even with that success, overall, this is not what I would call a good album and a DEFINITE change was needed. Next up, 2008's "Exit 13" (and 2 stars for "Todd Smith"), his last album under the Def Jam banner.

Release date: September 9, 2008

1. "It's Time For War"
Produced by Suits and Ray Burghardt

Jarrid Mendelson's "The Ultimate" was the perfect sample for this opener. This has to be the best opener on an LL album since..... "The Boomin' System" on the "Mama Said Knock You Out" album? Wow. This return to form of sorts has an energized LL not seen on any of the previous three albums.
*4 out of 5*

2. "Old School New School"
Produced by Ryan Leslie

First things first, minus .5 for the lazy hook, which really could've been better, but everything else on this one was good, with LL's message to the artists of the old and new school: he's here to stay.
*3.5 out of 5*

3. "Feel My Heart Beat"
Featuring 50 Cent and Precious Paris
Produced by The Dream Team

Smh, another missed opportunity right here. Now, before I briefly talk about this song, let me back up a bit. LL and 50 were fairly close at this point, almost leading you to believe that LL was on the verge of signing with G-Unit. Also around this time, there was a pretty DOPE song called "Queens" which featured LL, 50, Prodigy, Kool G Rap and... Tony Yayo. I'm almost certain that it was a 50 song that not only had a presence on mixtapes, but it was released in promotion of his "Curtis" album which dropped the prior year, but man that joint would've fit RIGHT in this spot instead of what we got. Outside of this, there's nothing to say about this "Feel My Heart Beat" song. 50 is only on the hook and it's another one for the ladies. Been there, done that, let's move on.
*2 out of 5*

4. "Get Over Here"
Featuring Nicolette, Jiz, Lyrikal and Ticky Diamonds
Produced by Frado and Absolut

I'm surprised that R. Kelly didn't do the hook here because it sounds EXACTLY like something that would come from him. LL comes through with a decent enough first verse where he seemed like he wanted to do the "double-time flow" (he ended up stopping short of that), however, this was more or less a showcase for the guests, all of whom I've never heard of before or since (LL rudely cut of Ticky's verse, not sure why).
*3 out of 5*

5. "Baby"
Featuring The-Dream
Produced by Tricky Stewart

The-Dream makes his presence felt on another one of these joints, and even though songs like this were commonplace on the radio at this point in '08, there's something very catchy about this one and for the most part it works, something the ladies and fellas can rock to.
*4 out of 5*

6. "You Better Watch Me"
Produced by Marley Marl and M. Will

LL links up with Marley for the first time since 1993 and the "retro results" here were effective. The production does seem to borrow from two identical beats, Cassidy's "I'm A Hustla" and Grafh's "Bring The Goons Out", moreso with the latter though. Very good song here.
*4 out of 5*

7. "Cry"
Featuring Lil' Mo
Produced by Raw Uncut

Well, this is certainly the opposite of Ja Rule's "I Cry", but that isn't saying much. This song is all about LL showing his sensitive side to the ladies, nothing more. An ok song, but AGAIN, we've heard this before.
*3 out of 5*

8. "Baby (Rock Remix)"
Featuring Richie Sambora
Produced by Suits & Burghardt

Um, no, just no, and did LL say "he wanted to get his Elvis on?" Smh. I appreciate LL attempting a  different sound here, but "Baby" clearly didn't need a remix, especially a rock one.
*1.5 out of 5*

9. "Rocking with the G.O.A.T."
Produced by DJ Scratch

This is definitely the song that "The G.O.A.T." (from the "G.O.A.T." album) should've been. Supported by some tight DJ Scratch production straight out of 1997-1998, this was very good.
*4 out of 5*

10. "This is Ring Tone Murder"
Featuring Grandmaster Caz
Produced by DJ Scratch

Hold on now, did LL throw some subliminal shots at Jay-Z here, who was the president of Def Jam at the time? At least that's what some would have you believe and listening to these bars, it kinda makes you think that's what LL was doing here (LL reportedly didn't like how he was being pushed to the side in the Def Jam "pecking order"). Think about that for a moment: can you imagine what an LL/Jay beef on wax would've been? Lyrically, LL was on fire here with an intensity that hadn't been heard/seen in quite a LONG time, proving he could still get down to business and battle when necessary. This one song beats ANYTHING on the "Todd Smith", "10" and "The DEFinition" albums.
*5 out of 5*

11. "Like A Radio"
Featuring and produced by Ryan Leslie

One of the purposes of this song: "to turn the ladies on like a radio", what more can I say?? After the prior song breathed a little more life into this album, we get this and if you've heard any song like this, you've heard them all.
*2 out of 5*

12. "I Fall in Love"
Featuring Elan (of The Dey)
Produced by Suits & Burghardt

I'm sure there are some women out there who would make a certain man fall in love with them even at the mere SIGHT of them..... but did we need a song about that though? I didn't care too much for this one.
*1.5 out of 5*

13. "Ur Only A Customer"
Produced by Dame Grease & Music Mystro

This was decent, but I feel LL could've done more talking about his hustling side.
*3 out of 5*

14. "Mr. President"
Featuring Wyclef Jean
Produced by Suits & Burghardt

It seemingly had been a while since an MC had presented us with another "letter to the president" type song, which is what we get from LL and Wyclef here. LL directs this one not only to then-President George W. Bush, who was in the final weeks of his 8 year term at this point, but to future presidents as well. LL talks about the very important issues of the day, circa 2008, the "War On Terror", health care and immigration, with the latter being two of the most important issues facing our country AS I TYPE THIS. Considering the state of our country nowadays, this is a song that needs a revisit by all of us.
*4.5 out of 5*

15. "American Girl"
Featuring Mark Figueroa
Produced by Illfonics

Nope, this was not LL's answer to Estelle's "American Boy", in fact far from it. As a patriotic man, I really liked this one. LL shows mad love to the American woman, backed by some Americanized, string laced production by Illfonics. I tripped out a bit when LL said "you go girl, you make me wanna holla/I'd take George off and put your boobs on the dollar", lol. GOOD song here which was much different from your standard song for the ladies, respectively.
*4 out of 5*

16. "Speedin' on da Highway/Exit 13"
Featuring Funkmaster Flex
Produced by Suits & Burghardt

One thing I gathered from this was that after life on Def Jam for 24 years, life would continue to roll on and then some for Mr. Smith. I didn't get the inclusion of Funkmaster Flex here.
*2.5 out of 5*

17. "Come And Party With Me"
Featuring Sheek Louch and Fat Joe
Produced by Illfonics

To get the party people on the dancefloor, this one slightly works, but I can't help but think that this was another missed collaborative opportunity for LL. Linking up with Sheek and Joe should've brought out an aggressive side of LL, not the club side.
*3 out of 5*

18. "We Rollin"
Produced by Cue Beats

Gwen McCrae's "90% of Me Is You" was sampled well for this mellow contribution.
*3 out of 5*

19. "Dear Hip Hop"

To close his final album on Def Jam, LL pens a letter to hip hop and apologizing for her treatment over the years (and even as we speak, said treatment hasn't gotten any better) as well as how things had become so materialistic and money-oriented over the years, which definitely affected the culture in many aspects. He also notably mourns the turntable transition from "real vinyls, real tables" to Serato. Good song.
*3.5 out of 5*

If this was LL's way of showing Def Jam what they would be missing with his departure, he succeeded..... half way. The good on this album is largely that. The clear highlight here is "This is Ring Tone Murder", which features "vintage LL" on such a strong scale. "American Girl", "Mr. President", "Baby", "It's Time For War" and "You Better Watch Me" are all very good songs. The "bad" here can simply be described as filler and clear cut missed opportunities (songs 3 and 17). This also was LL's first album since "G.O.A.T." to feature the "Parental Advisory Explicit Content" sticker on the cover, but even then he didn't cuss that much on this album. In addition to the (slight) change in tone, what also helped this album a little bit more than his previous three were the production. It wasn't awesome, nor was it terrible, but for what LL was capable of circa 2008, this was acceptable. I wasn't able to locate the final sales for "Exit 13" (probably Gold or close to it), but it did hit #2 on Billboard's "Top Rap Albums" and #3 on the "Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums" charts, respectively. Overall, I'll go with a solid 3.5 star rating for "Exit 13." 

And for the final portion of this project, we head to 2013 and LL's last album to date, "Authentic."

Release date: April 30, 2013

1. "Bath Salt"
Produced by Trackmasters, Co-Produced by Jaylien

Well, this was an interesting opener to say the very least. I'm not sure what LL was going for considering the title, however, to open the album, this was ok at best.
*2.5 out of 5*

2. "Not Leaving You Tonight"
Featuring Fitz & The Tantrums with Eddie Van Halen
Produced by Jaylien

If you DON'T know WHAT this song is about and WHO it's catering to, I don't know what else to tell you. I'll give LL points on going with a different sound here, but other than that, say it with me, "we have heard all of this before."
*2 out of 5*

3. "New Love"
Featuring Charlie Wilson
Produced by Trackmasters, Co-Produced by Jaylien

Read EVERYTHING I said in the prior song and apply them here. Let's continue.
*2 out of 5*

4. "We Came To Party"
Featuring Snoop Dogg and Fatman Scoop
Produced by Jaylien

I liked the throwback vibe that all involved were going with here, even though it tries a bit too hard at getting you to the dancefloor..... but parts of the song seemed designed to get you to do the opposite, lol
*3.5 out of 5*

5. "Give Me Love"
Featuring Seal
Produced by Jaylien

Sigh, see songs 2 and 3.
*2 out of 5*

6. "Something About You (Love The World)"
Featuring Charlie Wilson, Earth, Wind & Fire and Melody Thornton
Produced by Trackmasters, Co-Produced by LL and Jaylien

Well, even with all the talent involved here, it's still just another song for the ladies and if I've said it once I've said it MULTIPLE times during this very project: we have heard it all before. I mean, this is decent, but still.
*3 out of 5*

7. "Bartender Please"
Featuring Snoop Dogg, Bootsy Collins and Travis Barker
Produced by Trackmasters, Co-Produced by LL

If you ask me, this joint right here sounded more like a Snoop & Bootsy song and LL was sort of out of place on his own song. This is the type of song that would be played in a club once and never to be heard again. It seemed like everyone enjoyed making this, but it's not something I would call a "good song."
*2 out of 5*

8. "Whaddup"
Featuring Chuck D, Travis Barker, Tom Morello and Z-Trip
Produced by Trackmasters, Co-Produced by Z-Trip

Ok, I was tempted to deduct .5 for LL linking up with Public Enemy's own Chuck D for the FIRST time in 2013, but I decided not to do that. Imagine what an LL/PE collaboration (with Bomb Squad) production would've sounded like between '87 and '92..... At any rate, this guitar laced joint does breath a little life into this album featuring an energized LL and Chuck only on the "Welcome To The Terrordome" inspired hook. Good song here.
*4 out of 5*

9. "Between The Sheetz"
Featuring Mickey Shiloh
Produced by Soundz, Co-Produced by Tricky Stewart

And not surprisingly, once some life has been injected into an LL album at this point, said life has been sucked out of the proverbial room. You know what, I won't even repeat myself here, let's move on shall we.
*1 out of 5*

10. "Closer"
Featuring Monica
Produced by Trackmasters, Co-Produced by Jaylien

The first verse here was good, but the rest of the song seemed to fall off a cliff, mainly because I didn't know what direction LL was trying to take it. Nothing more to say here.
*2 out of 5*

11. "Live For You"
Featuring Brad Paisley
Produced by Jaylien

This song is rather confusing and it's somewhat difficult to determine if this was a dedication to LL's wife or if it was ANOTHER song for the ladies. You know what, I won't rack my brain trying to figure it out either.
*2 out of 5*

12. "We're The Greatest"
Featuring Travis Barker and Eddie Van Halen
Produced by LL and Eddie Van Halen, Co-Produced by Trackmasters

Lyrically this was good and LL's delivery was equally good, however, even though I appreciate him going with the rock infused sound, it was YEARS after it would've been effective.
*3 out of 5*

Song 12 wouldn't have been an anti-climatic closer, which is a surprise considering the rest of this album. So rather than end it here, I'm going to include the four bonus tracks that were only on the "deluxe edition" released at Target.

*13. "Waiting On You"
Featuring Babyface and Noelle Scaggs
Produced by Jaylien

I won't waste your time, you know what I'm going to say here. Let's keep it moving.
*2 out of 5*

*14. "Jump On It"
Produced by Trackmasters

I laughed a bit when LL said "watered down hip hop, what we do not need." I got mad respect for you LL, but "watered down hip hop" is what this album certainly was, just being honest here. This song was ok, but the magic LL had with Trackmasters back in the day was not present.
*2.5 out of 5*

*15. "Take It"
Featuring Joe
Produced by Trackmasters

Ok, now this is another joint for the ladies, however, it works. LL and Joe had good chemistry and I liked the sampling of The Jones Girls' "When I'm Gone." This should've been on the album but not as a "bonus track."
*3.5 out of 5*

*16. "Remember Me"
Featuring Alicia Meyers

Produced by Marley Marl

I liked the throwback sound Marley brought to this one, truly sounded like something that could've been made in the late 80s or early 90s. Man, this really sounded like an unofficial swan song from LL and why this was included as a bonus track and not on the album is beyond me (it's a good song). Speaking of the bonus tracks, this one and "Take It" should've been on the actual album, I could've done without "Jump On It" and "Waiting On You."
*3.5 out of 5*

Man, with or without the bonus tracks, this would've been a chore to sit through, and I feel a little bad saying that about an LL album. Then again, if this was more of a chore to sit through than "Todd Smith", "The DEFinition" AND "10", that's a big problem right there. When I bumped this back in '13, I wasn't too crazy about it then and I like it even less today. In addition to the aforementioned two bonus tracks, the sole highlight on this uninteresting album was "Whaddup", everything else was forgettable filler at best. It did manage to hit #4 on Billboard's "Independent Albums" and #7 on the "Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums"  charts, but to date it has only moved 26,000 units. We can chalk this up to being another missed, 2 star opportunity.

And now we have come to the end of the "mini LL Cool J project", but before I close this project, I gotta break quite a few things down.

MY TOP 25 LL SONGS (in no order)
1. "Rock The Bells"
2. I'm Bad"
3. "I Can't Live Without My Radio"
4. "4,3,2,1"
5. "I Shot Ya (Remix)"
6. "Jack The Ripper"
7. "Mama Said Knock You Out"
8. "To Da Break Of Dawn"
9. "Going Back To Cali"
10. "Jingling Baby (Remixed But Still Jingling)"
11. "The Boomin' System"
12. "My Rhyme Ain't Done"
13. "Ill Bomb"
14. "Big Ole Butt"
15. "Around The Way Girl"
16. "I Need A Beat (Remix)"
17. "Hey Lover"
18. "Doin' It"
19. "Loungin' (Remix)"
20. "I'm That Type Of Guy"
21. "Cheesy Rat Blues"
22. "Droppin' Em"
23. "Hip Hop"
24. "Mr. Smith"
25. "Murdergram"

The general consensus is that his debut, "Radio", is his best album, albeit challenged by "Mama Said Knock You Out" and "Bigger And Deffer" on a slight scale. This leads me to the next one.

Well, "Radio" is definitely my favorite LL album and since it's #1, "Mama Said Knock You Out" would be "1A."

Hands down, "Mr. Smith."

The easy choice here would be "14 Shots To The Dome" or even "Walking With A Panther", but I'm honestly going to go with "The DEFinition." I really feel that the same direction that LL and Marley Marl took in 1990 with the "Mama Said Knock You Out" album, LL could've done that with Timbaland in 2004. Granted, it may not have been on the same level, but an inspired LL over the signature sounds of Timbaland would've led to a VERY good album that we would probably be talking about today.

I'll start with the "greatest of all time" line. Do I feel that LL should be part of that conversation? Absolutely. When you consider his body of work from "Radio" up to the "G.O.A.T." album alone, as well as the precedent he set for being able to successfully have an edge merged with sex appeal, being one of Def Jam's first successful solo artists, etc, he more than deserves to be mentioned and anyone who has him in their top 10 and/or consider him to be the "goat", I fully respect it. LL came with such charisma, energy and a commanding presence about him that will likely never be equaled in hip hop history. And with that said, allow me to ask the reverse: why is LL not mentioned along with some of the all time greats? This one is rather easy and simple. I feel the latter part of LL's career (post-2000), really didn't make too many people particularly happy, mostly the fellas. Some would say that he fell off way too hard for someone who had been in the game as long as he had, plus he simply wasn't making good music anymore. Furthermore, he was becoming a key figure on the silver screen with a respectable list of movies he starred in, so that right there played a role as well. I commend those who take and accept other opportunities outside of hip hop, but sometimes that does tend to affect the quality of your music, leading you to play "catch up" when it's time to get back in the studio (almost like when a wrestler takes time away from the squared circle for a few months to film a movie, TV show, etc, and when he returns, he's wondering if his "spot" is still intact, depending on the level of push he was receiving prior to taking time off). Going back to the "post 2000" era, if you will, of LL's career, he really did change things up by catering the majority of his music strictly for the ladies. Again, there's nothing wrong with that, but you do want to have a balance there because contrary to somewhat popular belief, the ladies weren't the only ones buying LL's albums. This line of thinking really affected the quality of all the albums released after "G.O.A.T.", especially "Todd Smith", "The DEFinition" and "10." And speaking of those albums, except "The DEFinition", I want to comment further on them and additional missed opportunities. "10" should've been a huge milestone for obvious reasons, but outside of a hit in "Luv U Better", it was just another LL album. "Todd Smith" should've represented a more personal side of LL (circa 2006), but again, it was just another LL album. "Authentic" should've showed the world that LL indeed still had it in 2013, but it amounted to being the worst album of his career. Hell, even though "Exit 13" was solid, it still should've been more of a statement to Def Jam considering one of their first signed acts would no longer be with the label. It was also disappointing that when you consider some of the artists and producers LL had worked with in recent years, those opportunities only served to being missed ones or simply being too little too late, all of which were detailed in this very project. The conclusion drawn here is that LL did rest a little too comfortably on his music laurels post 2000. I've seen/heard that "G.O.A.T. 2" may be LL's next album. Thus far, nothing has been mentioned at all about that project seeing the light of day. Part of me wants to say he still has it in him to drop what could very well be his last album, but it should be NOWHERE near close to "Authentic" or any of his latter albums, and the aforementioned "Authentic" should NOT be his last album, officially or otherwise. Overall, I give much props and respect to LL for all of his accomplishments since 1985, plus he was one of my first favorite rappers back in the day. A good portion of this mini project was indeed critical, but that doesn't affect how I view his career at the end of the day and if he doesn't make another album, his contributions will not be forgotten and his legacy will likely continue to grow overtime. LL, thank you!!

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