When you brick at the time when you are billing yourself as the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) it has to do a little something to your self-confidence. Yet, while LL Cool J has undeniably proven himself to be one of hip-hop’s most iconic figures, he has also proved to be just as resilient. After all, everyone counted him out after Walking Like A Panther (a flossy LP that would be better received today), but that was until Mom Dukes had an old-fashioned heart to heart with him, which resulted in the multi-platinum, Grammy Award winning Mama Said Knock You Out. Though LL has since yet to match the full-bridled intensity of Mama Said, his last few endeavors, while sub par, have furthered LL’s penchant for delivering bankable singles; see “Pink Cookies” and “Back Seat” from 14 Shots To The Dome, “Doin It”, “Hey Lover” and the wicked posse cut “I Shot Ya” from 1995′s Mr. Smith and the controversial “4,3,2,1″, which started his lyrical war with Canibus on the horrid Phenomenon.
After taking it on the chin with G.O.A.T., the one LP that did not generate a heavy rotation single, LL finds himself desperately needing just that (a hit) in 2002. With his acting career in full swing, LL has become more synonymous as of late with the silver screen then he has for ripping sixteen’s. More pressing is the fact that with his landmark accomplishment, Ten, LL’s contractual obligation with Def Jam has expired he’s now a free-agent; and you know that all ballers step it up in the final year of their contract for that impending re-up right (more on that later)? So, when you are in desperate need of a hit these days, who do you call? That’s right The Neptunes. And while working with hip-hop’s most-sought after production tandem yields that sought after hit with the infectious “Luv U Better”, even Chad & Pharrell cannot resurrect LL’s descent down the ladder of hip-hop’s hierarchy.
Though he eschews the Farmers Blvd. lingo, for a PG-13 arsenal that includes nary a curse word (Heavy D would be proud) with his pop friendly, sweeter then a lollipop endeavor, Ten, expletives aside, LL still takes the easy route by once again adopting the role of heartthrob. While he wears the role well, the ladies will love cool James chiseled physique and romantic nods, LL’s really not giving himself enough credit here. After all, Ten’s finest moments unfold in classic James Todd fashion; as he gets rough, rugged and raw on the Neptunes frenetic “Niggy Nuts” (think “Planet Rock” meets “Grindin”), flips a nice play on words style with “Fa Ha” and reaches an apex with the Ron “Amen-Ra” Lawrence produced “10 Million Stars”—”I’ma champ you a peon, kiss the ring be gone, known and respected on ayyy block you be on, stand there get your envy on, I chuckle cause its nothing to waste energy on.”
While many will debate LL’s repeated G.O.A.T. claims, there’s no denying he deserves everyone’s respect for a catalog that now runs Ten LP’s deep (eleven if you count his Greatest Hits package), a career that has spanned seventeen-years and as he so loves to remind Russell, Lyor and Kevin Liles for helping put Def Jam “up in them skyscrapers”. Yet, for the reminder of Ten, it’s obvious that LL is not attempting to remain relevant, or even push himself. Rather, he’s trying to hard to duplicate the Soundscan formula of his younger cohorts, exemplified by the bubble-gummy “After School” f/ P. Diddy, the downright embarrassing “Lollipop”, “Mirror Mirror” which rehashes the whispery flow that moved no one during the Phenomenon era and the expected tropical fluff from the Trackmasters ”Born To Love You”. And just for good measure LL interpolates Keni Burke’s “Rising To The Top” for the umpteenth time on the downright lazy “Paradise” f/Amerie.
Upon the first few sit downs with Ten, I was prepared to deliver my Eminem eulogy to LL–” while you’re in it, try to get as much shit as you can, and when your run is over just admit when it’s at its end.” But with “Luv U Better” burning up the charts and helping make Ten at least a commercial success, this is surely not the last we will hear from LL; it just remains to be seen if his career will resume at Def Jam. Bottom line, though it’s unfair to expect LL to revisit his Radio heydays, we don’t really need him to help us get in touch with our sensitive side either (even if it knocks like “Luv U Better”.). Someone call Marley Marl!!!
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