L.L. Cool J, Mama Said Knock You Out (1990)
“Don’t call it a comeback!” L.L. Cool J shouted at the start of “Mama Said Knock You Out.” By 1990, for all his bravado, L.L. was sorely in need of a career boost. As he rapped on “Cheesy Rat Blues,” his self-mocking tale of woe: “I wanna fall off, but I don’t know where the edge is / I’m so hungry, I eat my neighbor’s hedges.” The twenty-two-year-old got new life on his fourth record by hooking up with legendary New York DJ Marley Marl, who produced a radio-ready hip-hop masterpiece: not just spare, muscular beats, or self-conscious samplefests, but a smooth blend of borrowed licks with real instruments and vocals. When you played the album in your car, it had so much propulsion, it started the ignition and rolled down the windows all by itself.
L.L. had a lot on his mind–his stature in the rap community, insults to be avenged, life in Queens, the power of God–but what he rapped about on most of the fourteen tracks here was women, particularly the homegirls with bamboo earrings he praised on “Around the Way Girl.” L.L. portrayed himself as a good-natured Lothario; he had enough confidence to assume that all women would want to sleep with him and enough perspective to laugh when they turned him down. On rap after rap, he stretched metaphors for sex as far as they could possibly go–and sometimes beyond, as on “Milky Cereal,” where he crammed more Kellogg’s trademarks into a single song than you would think possible. But “Illegal Search” was brilliant: L.L. took the indignities of racial profiling and effortlessly flipped them into the efforts of seduction.
(By Gavin Edwards. Originally published in Rolling Stone 928 (August 7, 2003).)