Walking With a Panther: The REAL Blueprint

1989 was the number. 

Another summer. De La Soul’s 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. 

Peripherally, Queen Latifah followed Lakim Shabazz’s Pure Righteousnessand dropped All Hail the Queen, while Flavor unit

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' sWalking With a Panthertook

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, Pantheris,

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,” “You’re 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 man’s woman by comparing his

strengths to the other guy’s weaknesses. It was like the Serpent describing

Eve’s 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.

It’s interesting that 50

Cent would hook up with LL at this point in time, because career wise he’s

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 didn’t

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"