Rewind the Rhyme: LL Cool J

It's no question that presently, lyricism has taken a back seat to

bouncing and snapping and "chicken noodle souping" for that matter, but

there are still many artists out there old and new, from every region

who consider rhymes to be an essential part of what makes a great song

and an even greater MC. With Jay-Z coming out of retirement, Nas

releasing a new album, and Andre 3000 returning to his flow, it's

clear to see that the legends haven't given in to the idea of quitting

or changing up what made them legends in the first place. More on the

club side of things as of late, LL Cool J has admittedly focused more

on making catchy songs than "Hip-Hop quotables." Nevertheless, his

lyrical prowess has long been what made him a living legend.

The ladies love cool James for many reasons. For some, it's the

chiseled body and strong features. For others it's the smooth voice.

But for this lady, it's the lyrics. Though he has drawn great praise

for his proven ability to not only write clever punchlines and

complex verses but to also deliver them with unwavering confidence, in

his time LL, has repeatedly been forced to remind fans and fellow MCs over and over again of his skill. On Phenomenon he was forced

to jog Canibus' memory and in this latest edition of Amanda Diva's

"Rewind the Rhyme" he took time out to go through some of his most

well-known and under-appreciated verses to refresh the readers of

AllHipHop as to why Mr. Smith still reserves the right to call himself

The Greatest of All Time. So I want you to go back in time and tell me where your mind was at when you did this record right here…

["I'm Bad" - Bigger and Deffer (1987)]

LL Cool J: I think my mind was just in that I wanted to absolutely, without a doubt, establish myself in the game. This was my second [album]. Rick Rubin had left Def Jam at that point, so it was a scary time for me because I didn’t have that crutch to lean on as a producer. So now here I am in this scenario, in this situation where I have to make some changes. So what you’re really seeing is me. I did what I wanted on my first record, but I had a little more guidance on my second record. I just went for mine. And you know “I’m Bad”, and “I Need Love”, and all of that, was just me, going for mine, you know what I’m saying? I’m just gonna make it happen by any means necessary. So what did you want, so when you wrote those words, you wanted people to basically just realize like you’re here to stay?

LL Cool J: Yeah, I’m here to stay. I’m the best and I’m gonna win no matter what. Was it based on lyrics?

LL Cool J: Well, lyrics were part of it for me; style was [another] part of it for me. I actually, over the years, have had to simplify my style in order for people to understand me. I mean with humility [when] I say this: I’m a much more intellectual person than my music kind of says.

If you don’t understand me, it doesn’t matter what I said, [or] how fly it is. I notice that a lot of my songs, a lot of the things that I said were going over peoples’ heads. Like a lot of times, that’s why a lot of them ladies were able to gravitate to my music a little quicker than guys, because they listened. There’s a lot of fellas [that] don’t really listen, they’re not hearing it because they [don 't] want to, you know they only want a certain energy to move them. And if it ain’t that particular type of energy that moves them right away, then they don’t want to take the time, they’re not patient enough to listen and try to understand why it’s so fly. This is like a first. You collaborated with the West Coast on this too.

LL Cool J: Yeah, yeah it was, what happened it was Russell actually put me, Bobcat, and the L.A. Posse [together]. They had done some songs for another rapper that sounded like LL-type records, and Russell was like, “Well if these guys are producing records that sound like LL-type records, why don’t we just put them with LL and make some songs.” And we did. And Bob is real talented DJ. You know what I’m saying. Bobcat is still one of my close friends, and you know we got in the studio and we just did our thing - all produced by West Coast.

["Mama Said Knock You Out" - Mama Said Knock You Out (1990)] I think obviously people figure it’s like, he’s trying to get up again to remind you like, “Nah, I ain’t a sucka. I still got it.” But you know, lyrics are definitely, lyrics are definitely you know, especially like you said your lyrics are more than just, you know what meets the eye.

LL Cool J: Yeah, “Mama Said Knock You Out” was a very frustrating period for me, because that was when I came off of Walking With The Panther. And the stuff that I described to you earlier, you know about the champagne and you know models on the cover and you know just all of that. So there was an underlying frustration here that because I didn’t feel like people really understood, it wasn’t the sales that reflected it was the comments that were made, and the way the critics and the Hip-Hop press and the community received the record that kind of made me real uncomfortable. So I remember kinda sitting on the floor and my grandmother sitting up in the bed, and I was just talking to her about it. And she was like, “You just got get out there and knock ‘em out. You gotta show ‘em that you’re good.” And I just said, “Yeah, all right, cool.” And then my man, Bobcat came in and he had the track, Marley [Marl] added some more beats to it and you know me and Marley made the album, me and Bob made a couple of songs on the album and we just, you know just went for it. And I remember writing it and having ten guys just standing around jumping up and down while I was singing in my condo, it was crazy. They was just, we was just up in the condo like all night singing the chorus, you know it was just crazy, you know. It was a lot of fun, lot of fun.

["4, 3, 2, 1" - Phenomenon (1997)] Some people would be like, “Look, I’m still doing this s**t.” Being a legend in this game, and having young boys trying to get at you, it seemed like your lyrics on this record were a lot more than just trying to show, “I’m, LL.” You basically showed a whole generation of listeners like, “No really, step your game up.”

LL Cool J: I’ve learned that it’s harder for a man to conquer himself than it is to conquer a city, you know what I’m saying? So the battling thing is a stage that I went through, you know. But at the same time, you can always tell the level of a man’s self esteem by how easily he gets offended. At the end of the day, the battle and stuff that means a lot of us, all of us have had emotional stuff that we got to work through. You know, I mean Hip-Hop may not want to hear that, but it’s the truth. I don’t know what I would or would not do going forward, but back then, my main thing was just that, you know nobody could see me, and don’t try. That’s what the mentality was. In terms of battle lyrics do you think there’s a limit to how far you can go to get at somebody?

LL Cool J: No. I don’t think there’s no limit. I mean you know I use, how we gonna go to war and then you go and tell me where I can drop [bombs]. [In war,] hospitals is getting taken out, you know. The only thing I’m not gonna agree [battling] is the Holy Spirit. Your church is a safe place, places of worship are safe. But other than that and schools, [everybody ’s going down]. But you know what, that’s, that’s if you’re in that scenario. So you know, I don’t even want to do those now. That's some grown man stuff…

LL Cool J: It’s maturity, yes. Yeah, it is. It’s grown man. It is. Not that I would, I can’t tell you what I would never do, but let me just say that my inclination would not, I don’t want to be involved in that because I think that is a distraction. And I’m much more interested in building my career as opposed to tearing someone else’s down. So you know it’s kinda like one of those things. As far as Nas going to Def Jam, I think it’s a very intelligent business movement. It’s a big decision. And if it better fits his life, then it was the right thing to do. You can’t let your past hold your future hostage. And you know, unless the people that are complaining were going to assign him, maybe they should just chill.

["Droppin Em"Walking With a Panther (1989)] Okay, talking about Walking With A Panther, a lot of people slept on that. But on the album, “Droppin’ ‘Em” was one of my favorite LL records. Was there a particular mind frame you were in on that particular song?

LL Cool J: “Droppin’ ‘Em” was one of those songs where, I think I did that, I produced a track, you know so, ‘cause a lot of songs, on a lot of my music I do the beat, you know a lot of people never knew that ‘cause I would either just give the producer all the credit or wouldn’t say anything or you know, I just never took that part of it and embraced it. But I think that was a song where I had did the track and I was like, I was just you know in the zone but it was a little complicated. I think that, in hindsight, that was a very complex song. I had a good time on that record. You know, that album that was absolutely probably one of the wildest moments in my life or ever is in my life, Walking With A Panther ‘cause I was celebrating the success of the first two albums and had come into some cake and was really the wild out. So you’re still bad?

LL Cool J: What? So you’re still bad?

LL Cool J: Yeah, to a certain extent.