Review Summary: An ancient fossil of hip-hop music.
The year was 1984, when two ambitious young men: Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin, created their own music label and after releasing a handful of singles(one of them being LL’s “I Need a Beat”) they landed a distribution deal with Columbia Records and so began the most important record label of the hip-hop genre. The took a huge chance by signing a 16 year-old young man by the name of James Todd Smith. Little did they know that this signing would lay the foundation for hip-hop as we know it.
LL Cool J, an acronym for Ladies Love Cool James, started his career at a time when Run DMC was virtually the only hip-hop act going and actually penned their song “Can You Rock It Like This” when he was still 16 years old. His debut for Def Jam was released when he was 17 and although it was filled win fun, lighthearted rhymes, his lyricism was still a notch above Run DMC.
LL’s charisma is immediately evident from the beginning of the album and his pseudo battle-rhymes on “You Can’t Dance” are ridiculous yet oddly amusing and on and “That’s a Lie,” Russell Simmons boasts about crazy riches only to have LL respond with: “See, you're the largest liar that was ever created, you and Pinocchio are brotherly related.”
The ballads “I Can Give You More” and “I Want You” give you a glimpse of where LL was heading, throughout his career he has done many similar songs and had great success with this style. Maybe the most well-known track off this album is the outstanding “Rock the Bells” with the oft-sampled opening line “LL Cool J is hard as hell!”
Only a Jazzy Jay remix of LL’s first single “I Need a Beat” is on this album but it’s outstanding nevertheless. LL’s confident delivery make his rhymes sound better than they are and his personality gives life to the playful boasts.
On the back cover the words “REDUCED” by Rick Rubin should give the listener an idea of what to expect production-wise, made with little more than a drum machine and some turntables, this is the epitome of minimalist production. If you’ve ever heard the expressions “bare bones,” “stripped down” or “skeletal” when taking about production, “Radio” fits those description perfectly, with only DJ Cut Creator’s scratches to break up the sound of the drums and a few short, indistinguishable samples, this truly is hip-hop production at it’s most basic level. There is a certain beauty to the production’s simplicity but it is incredibly simple, so much so that it was dated within a couple of years.
As it turns out, the people involved with this album would go on to many bigger and better things. LL Cool J would go on to be one of the best, most successful MCs and have the longest career in the history of the genre. Russell Simmons would become one of the most successful music moguls as his Def Jam label would explode in the next few years. Rick Rubin would go on to produce the Beastie Boys’ debut before creating Def American Records and producing a number of metal and rock albums. At the end of the liner notes it reads: “Management: Sean “Puffy” Combs Bad Boy Management” I wonder what ever happened to that guy.
Rock the Bells
I Need a Beat
I Can’t Live Without My Radio