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 un-firm 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!).
“1-9-to tha‘ breaka‘-1-9-9-5, Jamal represent and keep it live”…Damn, I wish I would have never listened to “Last Chance, No Breaks” while working out this morning! Here I am, sitting with my clients discussing their goals for their financial future and all I have going through my head all day has been the above lyric from Jamal’s (Mally G) “Keep It Live” from his solo 1995 release on Rowdy Records entitled “Last Chance, No Breaks”. My wife mentioned to me the other night that if my clients knew what kind of life I lived after the suit comes off that they’d never invest with me…..hmmm, she’s probably right. I mean, we do reside in Arkansas after all…where the state colors are Camouflage & Hunter Orange! Anyway, mostly everyone knows that Jamal was one half of Illegal along with Mr. Malik who also released a self titled album that featured some production from Def Squad affiliate and Jamal “overseer” Erick Sermon.
Now, as far as “Last Chance, No Breaks” is concerned….I really liked this album back in 1995 & every once in a while I revert back to a few tracks from the album, particularly “Insane Creation” f. Redman (Jesus, Easy Mo Bee killed that beat….did he drop some ish during the Golden Era or what?) and the original version of “Fades Em’ All” (produced by Redman & Rockwilder, hmmm..always thought it was Erick Sermon?). For once in my life I prefer an original to a Pete Rock remix!!! (”Fades Em’ All”). There are a few notable missteps on “Last Chance…” , the Mike Dean (Geto Boys) productions “Da Come Up” & “Don’t Trust No” fail miserably as Jamal’s attempt to “broaden his horizons” sounds best over soundscapes from his Def Squad cohorts. Surprisingly, Erick Sermon only produced two cuts that are found here, “Situation” and the ever so popular 90’s phrase “Keep It Real”. It’s good to see that Mally G is still around, as he makes an appearance on Keith Murray’s most recent flop “Rap-Murr-Phobia”.
The better half (at least, production-wise) of the legendary duo, EPMD, dropped a helluva’ follow-up to what was an already impressive debut, “No Pressure”. An album that you’re sure to listen to from start to finish, “Double Or Nothing” was littered with rolling basslines and Erick’s signature funk displayed on each EPMD release prior to this album. Don’t get me wrong, not EVERY song is great, but there’s not a whole lotta’ filler on the album either. Of course, Erick’s signature lisp is in full effect, as well are the influences of fellow Def Squad members Keith Murray & Redman. The three team up on the booming “Sound Off”, meshing together quite nicely….as expected. Redman appeared on quite a few tracks on “Double Or Nothing” with his brashness and punchlines for days in tow. However, the spotlight shined on Erick alone on cuts like “Move On” and “Focus” were he cut down all fake MC’s and “wannabe” gangtas at the knees. I’ve always loved this lyric from Erick: “Just because you made a hit record/don’t make you a star in one year/Let’s get things clear”.
I really posted this one up tonite on the strength of one track I can’t get out of my head to save my life. “Welcome” f. Keith Murray & Aaron Hall (yes, fresh off his GUY fame) has been on repeat for the last two days in the Ipizzy. Hell, I couldn’t recite one line but the hook is pure simplified dopeness to me. Plus the beat is CRAZY. While this album didn’t light a match to his releases w/Parish and I’ve heard some even say his solo debut, there are still highlights in abundance. “Bombdigi” was the first single released off of “Double or Nothing” and at the time of it’s release was gettin’ mad play in the Alpine….BTW, remember the Fosgate Punch Amps?? Anyway, most of the production sounds hella’ similar to Redman’s “Muddy Waters” which Sermon also produced. Pick this up and put it in your headphones and just vibe off of “Welcome” before you proceed with the rest of the album and keep a neckbrace nearby.
This morning, while thinking of a few words that would best describe Tha Liks’ performance on the trio’s phenomenal sophomore effort “Coast II Coast” a few uncharacteristic terms came to mind that one wouldn’t usually tag the drunken trio of Tash, J-Ro & E-Swift with. “Growth”, “Maturity”, “Polished”, are words that best describe these West Coast mainstays on this 1995 release on Loud Records. Not bad for a trio that I can recall being labeled “the closest thing that Hip Hop has to the Marx Brothers”. While Tha Liks’ debut “21 & Over” is a sure fire album packed with plenty of 40 tossin’ and punnani chasin’ lyrics and 10 solid cuts to get nearly any party rockin’, “Coast II Coast” still found Tash, Swift & J-Ro as the comedians and quality emcees they gained notoriety for, but the album also most importantly contained just enough “variation” musically to keep things more than interesting. Admittedly, I did feel a bit cheated with the first single release from the album “DAAAM” as it was probably the weakest production on the album, but tracks such as the Diamond D produced closer “The Next Level” (the “Enter The Dragon” sample is sick!) and E-Swift’s pulsating bounce on “2014″ more than made up for any of my dissatisfaction. The album opens with “WLIX” a flavorful production from a then little known producer who went by the name of Madlib that also features fellow members of the Lootpack….damn, judging by the uniqueness of the beat we should have known what direction Madlib was heading in! Severely underrated, Tha Liks didn’t stray too far away from their original formula displayed on “21 & Over” but delivered an ill long-play that was advanced not only stylistically but sonically as well.