Ladies Love Cool J burst on the scene in 1985 with his smash album, “Radio.” Even from the beginning, at the tender age of 14, Cool J challenged hip hop stereotypes by avoiding references to the drug culture (he was originally going to go under the alias “J-Ski”) and similarly avoiding songs about being black, poor, or on the streets. Instead, his first album was just about loving music. “Radio” spawned several hits that could be classified as some of the Greatest Of All Tunes: Can’t Live Without My Radio, I Need a Beat, and, of course, Rock the Bells.
J’s voice hit you in the chest like a bass drum, coming as hard and correct as Chuck D, but he was a kid. A kid! And within two years he was touring with The Beastie Boys and Run DMC, two of the biggest rap acts in the world and the first hip hoppers to break through to mainstream.
Two years later—an eternity by modern standards–LL Cool J put out his sophmore release, Bigger and Deffer, which became the biggest album of his career. It was the one with “I Need Love,” where he went from youthful boasting about his own rap skills to the R&B-influenced raps about romantic love, which became his signature style.
From there, he continued to have hits like “Going Back to Cali,” “Jingling Baby,” and “Big Ole Butt,” but he wasn’t selling as well and he didn’t seem as innovative. So in 1990, it was time for a come back.
“Don’t call it a comeback/I been here for years…” Those were the opening bars, snarled and savage, of “Mama Said Knock You Out,” the title track from LL’s 1990 album that won him a Grammy and put him back in the sights of the industry. It’s a great song, with a strong video that showcased Cool J’s ability to deliver hard-hitting rhymes and go against anyone in a rap battle—the same stuff that made him such a force as a teenager—by directly dissing Kool Moe Dee.
After Mama Said, Cool J released what I personally felt was his best overall record, 14 Shots to the Dome, but it wasn’t as big a hit for him as his others, and J became an actor. He continues to make music, but he’s more of a screen star now and, frankly, his star is fading.
Further listening and covers: Rather than mention his hits again (see above), my personal candidate for an LL Cool J GOAT is “Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag Getting Crushed by Buildings”. I almost made it my pick, but I knew only a few of you would even have heard of it. Let’s post it, before we do the usual different takes on the GOAT song itself…
THE GREATEST OF ALL TUNES (G.O.A.T.) is a series of posts, producing my 100 favorite songs of all time. The master list is here, and I update it about every two weeks or when I have another 10 songs or so.