1989 was the number.
Another summer. De La Souls 3 Feet High and Rising was leading the
Daisy Age charge in full force along with The Jungle Brothers Done By The Forces of Nature for the
first wave of the Native Tongue movement.
associate Chill Rob G chimed in with Ride
the Rhythm. Erick and Parish had
some Unfinished Business. Public Enemy was fighting the power with
Spike. African medallions were omnipresent and the general tone of East Coast
Hip-Hop was one of consciousness. On the West side, Ice T was waging his war
with Freedom of Speech Just Watch What
You Say. Everyone was about
something. Everyone was on a mission.
It was in this climate
that one of the most innovative, creative, decadent, and self-absorbed albums
ever made came into existence. LL Cool
J’ s Walking With a Panther took
creative risks, stylistically walking the line between Hip-Hop and pop, while
unabashedly standing its ground, refusing to fold or front like it wanted to go
back to Africa like everyone else. LL
decided to leave all the preaching to reverend [Floyd] Flake. Panned by
contemporary reviewers as having little in the way of substance, Panther is,
with apologies to KRS who released Ghetto
Music: The Blueprint of Hip-Hop the same year, and Jigga who dropped The Blueprint over a decade later, the real blueprint of modern Hip-Hop.
After a couple years out of
the game, in the midst of personal turmoil, and whispers that his immature
rapper luster was falling off, LL did the unthinkable: he went further left in
the face of criticism. To those who said his subject matter was too sophomoric,
there was “Big Ole Butt.” Too many songs for ladies? “One Shot at Love, Youre My Heart,
and Two Diferent Worlds. But uncle L wasn’t satisfied there. The same youth
driven machismo that produced the line “I’m only 18 making more than your
pops,” had fully matured to deliver “I’m That Type of Guy.” Self
indulgence at its apex! Over a sinister bassline, LL dropped a chilling
monologue chronicling his taking of another mans woman by comparing his
strengths to the other guys weaknesses. It was like the Serpent describing
Eves seduction. The unusual verse structure, the contemptuous delivery and the
maniacal laugh at the end that would put Dame Dash to shame, were all signs
that this was not going to be about peace and enlightenment.
Songs like that kept the
ladies that love him in check, but for the fellas, he had Droppin Em, Why
Do You Think They Call Me Dope,and Nitro which featured a faster, more
relentless Cool J. Perhaps it was an age
adjustment to his voice but it was deeper than on previous albums and he adjusted
his delivery accordingly. Arguably the hardest of these was It Gets No
Rougher, in which LL begins the first of his many comeback proclamations over
a spy hunter/James Bond-ish beat. These songs show a more seasoned LL, no
longer the lion trying to get at the top, but a battle hardened veteran trying
to keep his spot in a wave of dissenters.
While Cool J boldly stood
his ground topically, perhaps his biggest risk came stylistically. “Going
back to Cali”
was a total departure from convention.
The aggressive delivery of songs like “I’m Bad” and
“Radio” that made your parents hate him was replaced with a silvery
smooth monotone over pounding 808s. Originally released for a movie soundtrack,
Cali had enough to power stripper poles across
The horns however were something new.
While Cool J didn’t return to that flow until his most recent album
almost a decade later, but that didn’t stop Terror Squad from takin’ you home.
Walking With a Panther was the essence of
Hip-Hop. Aggressive, inventive, imperfect, and unafraid to be different. Nah it
wasn’t gonna change your life, but in a very real way, it is responsible for
everything you hate or love about Hip-Hop right now. The ice, the champagne, the misogynist
decadence. It’s a little bloated at over 84 minutes, 18 songs, and about 2 ballads
too much, but its effect, and its lingering legacy make it in form and
function, a classic. When it was released, although it sold, it was critically
considered an ugly duckling of an album in a market of self-righteousness, but
as it turns out, it was a swan. When you look at the Hip-Hop landscape for the
past decade, people from Jay-z(1-900 HUSTLER vs. 1-900 LLCOOL J) to Terror Squad
(Take Me Home vs. Going Back to Cali)
and a few others have taken something from the album directly. Aesthetically, just about everyone has ripped
it off for better or worse. That
decision is yours to make.
Its interesting that 50
Cent would hook up with LL at this point in time, because career wise hes
exactly where LL was, trying to defend a spot against a wave of dissent,
developing a new sound while divorcing from his musical mentor (Rick Rubin vs.
Dre), and facing the challenge of a changing musical landscape. Only LL didnt
have a crew to back him up. The cherry
on top? Panther was almost entirely
self-produced! But LL Cool J really WAS that type of guy, and Walking With a Panther was the classic
that never was.SOUNDCHECK:LL Cool J “It Gets No Rougher”LL Cool J “Droppin’ Em”