Artist: LL Cool JTitle: Todd SmithRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: The Closer
What more can be said about the career of the original Hip-Hop Icon? LL Cool J has been an enduring presence in Hip-Hop for the duration of its mainstream history. Before the Tupacs, the B.I.G.s and the Jiggas ,and even before the Snoops, there was the Uncle. The Future of the funk. The very definition of trailblazing legend, LL has dropped many styles and flows over his years as the prince of rap from adolescence to grown man. Here on his 12th go round, you can see his growth and progress. Todd Smith (Island Def Jam), the new joint, features an LL focused on staying in his lane.
The album opens up with the driving Its LL and Santana, a pairing with one of the upcoming lions in the game, labelmate Juelz Santana. The point of the song is two-fold; to connect LL with todays generation of Hip-Hoppers and to introduce Juelz to a wider audience. The song features a driving beat but lacks the chemistry and strength of Cool Js earlier collaborations like Rampage with EPMD or 4,3,2,1 with Method Man, Redman, DMX and, ahem, Canibus .
Much of the album is produced by the famous Trakmasters duo. Unfortunately thats where the problem arises. A significant portion of the album feels dated. Favorite Flavor featuring Mary J. Blige feels mired in 1994. While that was a great year for Hip-Hop, its 12 years behind in evolution. Been there, done that. Also dragging the album down is the melancholy Freeze, which pairs Cool J with promising newcomer Lyfe Jennings. Jennings is underwhelming and the Uncles flow is formulaic for the too-slow beat. It doesnt take advantage of LLs energy and charisma at all. Thumbs down on that one.
All is not lost however. The album begins to pick up with the energetic What You Want featuring dynamic chemistry and an old school feel with Cool J spitting back-and-forth heat with Freeway with an old school rapid delivery. The album begins to change direction and gains steam with the dramatic and powerful Ive Changed which features a Song Cry-esque story of love lost and its-not-overism. New Comer Ryan Toby delivers an eerie performance reminiscent of a young Curtis Mayfield. This is easily the highlight of the album and LL at his storytelling finest with a sense of desperation and passion. Other highlights feature the Latin-tinged #1 Fan, the spiritually inspiring Were Gonna Make It, featuring Mary Mary, and the Planet Rock inspired and Jermaine Dupri-produced lead single Control Myself. The cherry on top is the Human Nature powered So-Sick Remix, which sounds like an early 90s Ron G mixtape blend.
All in all, LL manages to stay in the lane hes carved out. The muscle bound man is no longer getting his face in the sand, and the Mama inspired knockout artist is married with children and happily making that cheddar. Nothing wrong with that. Todd Smith is a solid disk and a welcome dose of love and upliftment in the present misogynist Hip-Hop environment. Just dont call it a comeback. Mature listeners only.