All relatively recent missteps aside, LL Cool J is one of the most celebrated names in hip-hop, with almost three decades in the game and a dozen albums under his belt. He’s on the short list when it comes to longevity and successfully parleying rap prowess and personality into a multi-platform career. Authentic, his thirteenth and first project not affiliated with Def Jam, does little to reflect that rich, award-winning history. Unless you count the high profile connects he’s made across genres in the music industry.
Beginning track, “Bath Salt”, produced by Trackmasters, is grating from Mr. Smith’s opening maniacal laugh. He kicks a handful of admirable sentiments like, “never try to sound like a rapper I raised;” a key issue for lyricists over 30. But while LL may be attempting to act his age, he misses the main goal – to create awesome, inspired music. In the following “Not Leaving You Tonight” featuring Fitz and the Tantrums and Eddie Van Halen, Akon affiliated Jaylien sets a more palatable soundscape sprinkled with “I Need Love” interpolations. It’s the first of a slew of failed attempts at a signature LL love song.
After another ringtone-esque Trackmasters cut, “We Came to Party”, boasts a lazy Snoop Dogg assist and pays homage to “Going Back to Cali”, via dissonant guitar chords and thick cuts. Then suddenly a Fat Man Scoop appearance agitates rather than adds energy to the song. Least abrasive is “Something About You (Love the World)” featuring the legendary Earth Wind and Fire, Uncle Charlie Wilson (the second time around) and former Pussycat Doll Melody Thornton. The same can be said for the sexy Soundz and Tricky Stewart produced “Between the Sheetz”, accompanied by singer-songwriter Michaela Shiloh. “Whaddup” featuring Chuck D, Travis Barker, Tom Morello and Z-Trip is almost promising, but a closer listen garners the most exciting touches samples of Public Enemy’s “Welcome to the Terrordome” and Barker’s drumming.
As a whole, Authentic plays like LL testing the waters of new styles, not a cohesive album; a compilation rather than a solo effort. For someone with a classic discography large enough to sample himself, this is almost unforgiveable. There are about 16 features too many, several artists making multiple unnecessary appearances. Still, there are small glimmers of hope throughout the project. If the G.O.A.T. ever decides to take a stab at a fourteenth, hopefully he’ll try and set those sparks afire. To be named Authentic, number thirteen doesn’t hold true to his legacy. But at least he’s still shouting out Farmers Boulevard.
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