The inner sleeve to L.L. Cool J’s debut album, Radio is a pitch-perfect analysis of this (then) young man’s budding talents. Presented below, in its well-respected hilarity is the entirety of Nelson George’s take on the young L.L. Cool J. Enjoy.
A Minimalist Homeboy Who Knows His Beats
You can call it rap, hip hop or street, but it really is a way of hearing music – and partying hard – that expresses the experiences and attitudes of a great many inner city kids. L.L. Cool J is one of the best young talkologists around, because he speaks directly to and about his generation over large beats that recall Run-D.M.C., Trouble Fun, James Brown, and funky little bits of AC/DC and Yes. Born and raised in Queens, New York and first recorded by Rick Rubin’s and Russel Simmons’ then independent Def Jam label, L.L. Cool J made his name with “I Need A Beat.” The groove is metallic and relentless, L.L’s rhymes literate and tough (“There is no category/for this story/it will rock in any territory”), and his delivery full of youthful excitement.
Those same qualities run throughout L.L. Cool J’s debut album. “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” is a b-boy’s explanation of their love affair with portable cassette players, while “El Shabazz” is an a cappella rap as streetcorner-funny as a Richard Pryor monologue. “Rock the Bells” is a smoking hip hop-go go- rock ‘n’ roll jam, and “You’ll Rock” is almost as hot. But L.L. isn’t just hardrock. His sensitive side comes through on the rap ballads, “I Want You” and “I Can Give You More,” both of which really capture the tug of adolescent love. “I Want You” is particularly poignant as L.L. talks about his crush on an older woman who “used to be my baby sitter.” On the funny side L.L. snaps on a big boaster played all too convincingly by his manager ‘Rush” Simmons during “That’s A Lie.” This teenage music is built around beats, but not just any old beats. It is all about a beat with style, with personality, and L.L. Cool J has plenty of both.
Written by Ad-Rock and producer Rick “Def Jam” Rubin, the 1985 soundtrack (or “sound track” as it’s listed on the cover) to the smash-bang-hit, She’s On It, is little more than an elaborate, mediocre, wave two Beastie Boys offering. There’s a reason She’s On It never appeared on a proper album, and that’s because it’s shit. I love the Boys Beastie, but I’m sorry. This song is terrible… and the video is even worse. But… this razor-edged opinion in no way prevents me from seeking out this release to round out the collection. 1985 Beastie Boys was a very sad, but ultimately necessary phenomenon… one that would be all but eclipsed with the dawn of a new era (wave three), ushered forth by the impeccable Paul’s Boutique. It’s okay to question your heroes… RIP MCA.
Back in 1985, and well before Mama Said Knock You Out, Ladies Love Cool James, aka LL Cool J released his full-length debut on Def Jam Records titled simply, Radio. The man was still in high school at the time, kids! Which when you listen to this raw, early hip-hop classic, is kind of overwhelming to fathom, to say the least. Produced by Mr. Def Jam, Rick Rubin, Radio helped launch the lucrative career of James Todd Smith (also LL Cool J) which, among many other things, helped to secure a recurring (title) role on NCIS: Los Angeles. Why the hell didn’t I rap in High School?! I could have had a cop show by now! (Thinks to himself) Oh yeah, J had talent! Nurture the young, kids!
Did you know that Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz of Beastie Boys fame wrote L.L. Cool J’s first single, I Need A Beat? Did you know that it was released in 1984, a full two years before the obnoxiously dominating full-length debut Licensed to Ill? Did you know that L.L. Cool was only 16 when he recorded this single?
Did you know that I Need A Beat was the debut record for the now prolific Def Jam Recordings, and is the owner of the coveted DJ001 catalog moniker? Did you know that this single, as well as L.L. Cool J’s 1985 full-length debut, Radio was produced by Rick Rubin? Did you know that Def Jam headquarters began and was run out of Rick Rubin’s NYU dorm room?