You can sh*t on James Todd Smith all you want, but LL Cool J is the man. With a list of accomplishments that is somewhat staggering, it’s often puzzling to me that LL’s current stature in Hip Hop is on unfirm grounds. Sure, his last few albums have been less than impressive (that may be an understatement) and “Mr. Smith’s” predecessor “14 Shots To The Dome” didn’t help matters either, but good thing for LL, prior to the release of 1995′s “Mr. Smith” he gained quite a buzz with his “heeshy…blowtishus” verse on the monumental remix of Craig Mack’s “Flava In Ya’ Ear”. The end result was very favorable for LL as many Hip Hop heads who wondered if LL still had a little left in the tank could rest assured that “Mr. Smith” would continue where “Mama Said Knock You Out” left off. “Mr. Smith” showcased two sides of Uncle L, the first was the usual lip-licking, whisperin’ in ya’ ear LL that blessed tracks like “Doin’ It” and the cheesy, yet irresistible “Hey Lover” that featured R & B mainstays Boyz II Men on the hook (don’t front, you know you dug that shit too!). The other persona is the battle-ready, in-your-face LL that rhymed with reckless abandon. The best illustration of this particular LL is found on the “I Shot Ya’” remix which also featured verbal jabs courtesy of Keith Murray, Fat Joe, Prodigy & Foxy Brown (classic during their “heyday”, but how would that lineup fare today?), where Uncle L spit vicious lines like: “What the fu*k/ I thought I conquered the world/crushed Moe Dee, Hammer & Ice T’s curl”….damn! So, in a sense, with “Mr. Smith” we got the best of both worlds with LL Cool J, without any contradiction whatsoever. The lover and the fighter, “I Need Love” & “Mama Said Knock You Out”, or a mixture of both such as “Pink Cookies….”. “Mr. Smith” is that album that seamlessly blended all the elements that made LL so successful, together for a polished product that was indeed his best work since “Mama…”. On the beats, Poke and Tone (Trackmasterz) do a credible job of compiling commercial beats tinged with enough bump to keep the hardcore heads happy. All in all, a fine piece of work from a legend, and a much needed follow up to the sub-par ”14 Shots To The Dome. C’mon ya’ll give LL his due props (including me!).
Man, I should kick myself square in the ass for leaving “Soul Food” off of my “Top 100″ list, I don’t know how I overlooked this classic which….along with Kast’s “SoutherPlayalistic….” opened the floodgates for soo many artists South of the Mason Dixon. Upon first listen to “Soul Food” the dominant emcees, Cee-Lo and Big Gipp are placed on Front Street, their sheer personalities are the clear-cut definition of “originality”. I was first introduced to this Atlanta foursome via Outkast’s debut on “Git Up, Git Out” which was followed soon thereafter by Goodie Mob’s very successful and unique first single “Cell Therapy” (dun..du, dun, dun, dun). Fueled by gospel piano riffs, each of the emcees conveyed their individual take on the New World Order that was occurring at the time in ATL’s communities. On the flipside of “Cell Therapy” they may have “one-upped” themselves with the B-Side banger “Soul Food”. Inspired by the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” the track is a clever take on the conspiracy of fast food and collard greens. Thank God, that “Soul Food” dropped prior to the indie-documentary “Supersize Me” ….sh*t, Cee-Lo would have had a field day with that! The only minor beef that I had with the album in general was Cee-Lo’s “preacher-in-training” dialogue and his lengthy verses that sometimes took many listens to decipher. In the end, “Soul Food” was a nourishment for the spirit and Hip Hop in general. Goodie Mob’s thought provoking lyricism intertwined with the dope production courtesy of Organized Noize was a fresh sound that awoke Hip Hop’s dead in 1995. Loaded with social commentary from the South and a positive message aimed at the Black youth, “Soul Food” played with such a rhythmic consistency that many “conscious” albums before this outstanding debut lacked.
It’ll only take you a few minutes into “Till Death Do Us..” to figure out that something is noticeably different from the previous Geto Boys’ LPs. Big Mike, former member of fellow Rap-A-Lot group the Convicts was a welcome addition to the controversial crew, stepping into to fill the void caused by Willie D’s sudden departure. Good thing too, because Mike was definitely more lyrically “capable” than Willie, at times on the LP his flow is right up there with that of the legendary Scarface. From the start of the album, Rap-A-Lot owner James Smith displays a noticeable discontent with the DEA, the IRS “and other wicked people in high places”, and decides to take it upon himself on the album’s lengthy intro. The “intro” seems misplaced, however, the rest of the album gains a head of steam quickly with the bass filled compositions of “G.E.T.O” and yet another “fu*k the police” anthem, “Crooked Officer”. On the production tip, it’s hard to categorize the Geto Boys’ sound as “East or West”. They have always produced music that had a stamp and originality of their own which has always made the Geto Boys’ sound very easy to distinguish. Once again, the album’s high points are delivered in the form of Scarface’s lyrical antics, and who could forget Bushwick Bill’s crazy, Chuckie-totting ass “eating out your eyeballs” lyric? You’ve gotta’ give it up to the Geto Boys, one of the first group’s whom you had to love….no matter where you were from, or where you were at.