A couple weeks ago, we had one of the closest “This or That” we’ve ever had. When I started debating in my head which Alkaholiks liked better, it was difficult, very difficult. It was also one of the few that I couldn’t really predict the outcome before I started writing it. The last time I checked last Sunday night, it was tied up with about two hours left. The final result ended up being 57-54 in favor of the sophomore effort, Coast II Coast won out in the end.
This week, we feature one of my original all-time favorites. Yes, I haven’t bought an album from his since 1995, but at one time, he epitomized what an MC was. Full of “piss and vinegar” and the swagger before it was a word, LL Cool J came onto the scene with both guns blazing as the poster boy for the new Def Jam label in 1985. He appeared on Krush Groovin’ decked out in his soon to be trademarked Kangol hat, a thick gold rope, complete with his cocky persona, Cool J was well on his way to be a superstar and a legend in the hip hop game.
While some could argue with putting in LL’s first album, Radio, into this mix, I’m going to bypass it. For me personally, it was an album that I went back to after being totally hypnotized by Bigger & Deffer. I’ll still probably throw Radio up in the mix of votes, since after all it was the introduction to LL for the world and both singles, “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” and “I Need a Beat” are classics in my book. I’ll also probably put Walking With A Panther in the votes as well. I loved the album, and still do to this day. If I had to rank out my favorite LL albums, it would be third, right after the two albums we are going to cover today. But LL caught a shit load of flack for the album. When hip hop was changing, becoming more lyrical, more passionate and more socially challenging, where Walking With A Panther is straight up beats and arrogant rhymes. So what two albums are we going to cover? Shouldn’t it be obvious?
My initial introduction to hip hop was through Run DMC and their Raising Hell LP. From there, I can’t really recall the precise order. LA DreamTeam was in there somewhere, so was the Beasties and the Fat Boys. But the album that got the most play from me at the time was LL Cool J’s “Bigger and Deffer” album. I really can’t remember my introduction to LL Cool J, but my then best friend had something to do with it, but I don’t remember the specifics. I played the album non stop. I had my tape, that I borrowed from someone and never returned, and I would pop it into my walkman just about anytime I went outside or did anything. I had the words down, and it’s an album I can still spit rhyme for rhyme.
If you were into hip hop at the time, you knew what the “Calling all cars, calling all cars….”, over the radio meant, it was time for “Bad” to drop. Back in these days, I was all about the lyrics and I knew “Bad” like I knew the back of my hand. LL displayed the “baddest b-boy image” perfectly on the song. It’s nothing that was going to make you better person after listening to it, but it was simply what hip hop was meant to be. Hip Hop started out in the parks, with MCs eventually trying to out do each other. It was all about competition and who could say the flyest rhymes. That’s what LL is all bout on “Bad” and most of the Bigger & Deffer album.
I’ll take a musclebound man and put his face in the sand
Not the last Mafioso I’m a MC cop
Make you say, “Go L.L. and do the wop”
If you think you can outrhyme me, yeah boy I bet
Cause I ain’t met a motherfucker who can do that yet
Trendsetter I’m better my rhymes are good
I got a gourmet plate that says I wish you would
And when rap begin then I gotta join in and
Before my rhyme is over you know I’m a win
Cool J has arrived so you better make way
Ask anybody in the crowd they say the kid don’t play!
Sparring competition that’s my hobby and job
I don’t wear a disguise because I don’t own the mob
Got a pinpoint rap that makes you feel trapped
So many girls on my jock I think my phone here is tapped
It’s not that L was just cocky, he could also back it up. Yes, the lyrics aren’t complex for today’s standards, but this was before Rakim really stepped things up to the next level. And it wasn’t just LL’s lyrics that made him one of the elite hip hop artists at this time, it was the energy he packed into his rhymes. You only needed to witness/hear tracks like “Get Down”, “.357 Break It On Down”, or the incredibly infectious “Go Cut Creator Go”. I used to rock out to “Go Cut Creator Go” in the mirror, much like previous generations would rock out to the Chuck Berry sample it takes its riff from.
Just about every song on Bigger & Deffer would be my favorite for a certain amount of time. I used to like the tempo change and minor delivery change found on “The Breakthrough” and the track still remains one of my favorites from the album. For a kid in the eighth grade who had yet to hear 2 Live Crew or Too Short, “Bristol Hotel” and “Kandy” were both on the risque tip, and of course “My Rhyme Ain’t Done” is the predecessor to all the Andrew Dice Clay wanna be x-rated fairy tales that would become a rage in the early 90′s. For me, the album basically ended at “Ahh, Let’s Get Ill”, which again packed as much energy as a electric plant. I can remember laying in bed with my headphones on, imagining I was LL rockin’ the stage. Ahh, those were the days.
Bigger and Deffer isn’t without it’s flaws, and it’s these flaws that probably keep it from being largely regarded as a “classic”. There was nothing more that I hated than the hip hop love song and LL was the early king of this. Anytime “I Need Love” came on Yo! MTV Raps, I would quickly mute it or change the channel. I can handle it a little more in my older years, but it’s still not anything I get crazy over. “The Doo Wop” is rather pointless as well. After listening to it once or twice, you really had no interest in ever listening to it again. Despite these downfalls, and the fact that it hasn’t really aged as gracefully as one would hope, Bigger & Deffer will forever remain one of the main reasons I got into hip hop.
Mama Said Knock You Out
It’s hard to believe this album is going to be 20 years old next year. It doesn’t seem that long ago I was a senior in high school, jamming Mama Said Knock You Out on the way to school in my little Jetta. My friends weren’t as hardcore into hip hop as I was, but they were on board whenever I shoved Mama Said… into the tape deck. L said “Don’t call it a comeback”, but that’s exactly what it was, a comeback.
As I mentioned in the intro of this little write up, LL had a misstep when he dropped Walking With a Panther. Hip hop was changing every six months or so, and LL was so…. yesterday in his sounds and topics that were found on that album. Mix in some really shitty R&B rap songs (a sign of things to come) and a lot of people wrote off LL. So what did Uncle L do? He adapted. He hooked up with one of the best producers of the day in Marley Marl, who in turn updated LL’s sound. His last two albums were produced by the LA Posse for the most part, who I like a lot, but they weren’t up on the expanding sound found in hip hop at that time. Marley on the other hand was THE man at the time. Next, LL eased off the excessive braggadocio rhymes. I mean, yes, he was still telling all the sucka MCs that they weren’t shit, but he through in songs like “Cheesy Rat Blues”, “Power of God” and even dropped some social commentary on “Illegal Search”.
Around this time, Run DMC who were my original favorite hip hop artists, had started their downward spiral, so I considered LL my favorite. Fully aware of the backlash LL caught for Walking With a Panther, I knew he needed to really come with it on the new album. That summer, the first single, “The Boomin’ System” dropped on Yo! and this immediately kicked up the anticipation a notch for the new album.
The actual video was ho-hum, but you had to be fixin’ for the album after hearing Marley lace L with a funky beat. We also had a sneak preview of what to expect when Marley remixed “Jingling Baby”, which appeared in it’s original format on the Panther album. The song was a hit in many facets of the game. I personally didn’t mind the original all that much, but Marley brought new life to the track and really gave the listeners something to look forward to.
Soon after “The Boomin’ System” dropping, the album would drop and it was official, LL was back. Before the title track was even released as a single later that fall, I was all over the track. Talk about packing energy into a song, “Mama Said Knock You Out”, is full of the stuff. It was what any good entry song should be for anyone about to do battle, it was just simply a bad ass song.
Im gonna rock this land
Im gonna take this itty bitty world by storm
And Im just gettin warm
Just like muhummad ali they called him cassius
Watch me bash this beat like a skull
Cuz u know I had beef wit
Why do u riff with me, the maniac psycho
And when I pull out my jammy get ready cuz it might go
Blaaaaw, how ya like me now?
The river will not allow
U to get with, mr. smith, dont riff
Listen to my gear shift
Im blastin, outlastin
Kinda like shaft, so u could say Im shaftin
Old english filled my mind
And I came up with a funky rhyme
In some ways, he might have dumbed down his approach, but he more than made up for i
t in other aspects.
Going through the album the first time, I realized it was a much more diverse album than his previous album. Jumping into the second song, “Around The Way Girl”, it was the smooth R&B type thing LL was getting to be known for, but this track was actually decent, compared to the garbage R&B songs found on Panther. In fact, it was more than decent and can fairly put up there with the great female influenced jams of hip hop lore with “Electric Relaxation” and others. “Eat Em Up L, Chill” is another track that showcases LL’s diversity on the album. It’s fair to say that people overlook LL’s ability to switch up styles on a song and “Eat Em Up…” has Uncle L maxin’ to the fullest in a similar fashion as “Mr. Goodbar”.
LL didn’t lose steam though when it came to dropping outright bangers. Besides the title track, L brought the heat on the Rapmania recorded “Murdergram”, which just that, Cool J straight up murking fools. LL also had a few beefs to get off of his chest, and he did just that when he roasted MC Hammer, Ice T, and Kool Moe Dee on one track. Each got their own verse specially made up for them. The track first appeared on the House Party soundtrack, but it was full wrath was felt when the album dropped. You also had “Cheesy Rat Blues”, which had some people hating on it, but I’ve always loved the track. In my life, I’ve seen some people who I thought were my friends, but really never was so this track was one that I could always relate to.
Mama Said Knock You Out is an album that brought LL back to being relevant, if he wasn’t already. Featuring a healthy dose of just about everything and all over banging beats, LL was once again the man in charge. There were a couple songs that I wasn’t feeling all that much, with the album version of “6 Minutes of Pleasure” being somewhat drab (the remix is much, much better) and at the time, “The Power of God”, wasn’t really my thing (although I dig the song now). The weed carrier song, “Farmers Blvd”, had some decent verses from some of L’s homies, but for the most part, I would skip over this track, and still do. The beauty of this album though lies in the diversity found on it, something that the three previous LL albums didn’t have much of.
If you need any evidence on how much hip hop’s sound evolved in a short time, just check these two albums. In three short years, the sound found on Bigger & Deffer was remarkably different from that found on Mama Said Knock You Out. In the end, I think it will come down to those of us who grew up with Bigger & Deffer, and those that are younger who might be able to identify with the sounds found on Mama Said Knock You Out.
As for myself personally, I went back and forth one which album I would consider my favorite and even as I write this, I’m still not totally sold on my choice, but I’m going to go with nostalgia once again and pick Bigger & Deffer. I’ll concede the fact that Mama Said Knock You Out is probably the technically better album. But the songs on Bigger & Deffer just mean more to me. I have a strong suspicion that Mama Said…. is going to roll this week, but I’ve been wrong before (once I think…haha)
Dart Adams: I gotta go with “Bigger And Deffer” over “Mama Said Knock You Out”. No one expected that LL could deliver a monster LP like it. That album made LL Cool J as big as Run DMC and a legitimate superstar. He was on American Bandstand with that album. It was classic.
Kid Hum: I’d probably pick BAD cause it has more songs I like, but “Mama Said..” is my favorite Cool J song ever, hands down, for what its worth