Today I heard someone say, "I know LL Cool J mostly as an actor." Coincidentally, I had been planning to do a post about Mr. James Todd Smith (his stage name means "Ladies Love Cool James") for some time now, but hearing this statement made it a priority for me. I think people have almost forgotten about LL's music, especially his great early stuff, which is a shame.
|Two views of LL Cool J as a young man|
Of course, there are virtually two different LL Cool Js. The one I first knew was a skinny, scrappy kid who favored Kangol hats, jumpsuits, and gold chains and who rapped with a raspy, hungry-sounding voice. Somewhere along the line, though, Smith morphed into a smooth-talking, muscle-bound loverman and his delivery got deeper and less urgent. This is the LL who became an actor. LL's 1987 album, Bigger and Deffer (or BAD) is fascinating in retrospect because it sort of marks the beginning of the metamorphosis. A track like "I"m Bad" is indicative of that first LL, while "I Need Love" is virtually a blueprint for everything LL became. And BAD is only his second album!
I thought I'd give you a selection of a few of my favorite LL Cool J tracks, the same ones I listened over and over to as an adolescent:
Let's start with a couple of seminal tracks from LL's debut album, Radio:
And here are a couple of selections from Bigger and Deffer:
And for good measure, here's a track from LL's groundbreaking performance on MTV Unplugged (there had never been a hip hop act on the show before):
BONUS ROUND! No one does a better LL Cool J impression than the oft-overlooked (yet brilliant) Aries Spears. Here's Aries doing his LL thing on Mad TV.