Review: LL Cool J, ‘Authentic’

LL Cool J, Authentic © 429

LL Cool J • Authentic • 429 Records • US Release Date: April 30, 2013

LL Cool J is a hip-hop veteran – let’s get that out of the way from the get-go. He has been one of the longer rappers in the game – he is a legend.  HOWEVER, since 2004’s gold-certified The DEFinition which bowed at no. 4 and spawned top 20 hit (the Timbaland produced “Headsprung”),  LL’s game has been…um…just mediocre. 2006 follow-up Todd Smith was driven by single “Control Myself” featuring Jennifer Lopez (peaked at no. 89), which debuted at no. 6 on the Billboard 200. Todd Smith managed to get itself to gold certification, somehow.  But let’s be real, “Control Myself” was one of the cornier singles of 2006 (I mean they made bee sounds for crying out loud!).

LL would return in September 2008 with Exit 13, which garnered the relatively clean MC a parental advisory sticker but more importantly, missed gold certification. Exit 13 would give Cool J another top 10 bow (no. 9), but the effort failed to ‘ignite’.  “Baby”, featuring The-Dream, didn’t help the effort’s cause, stalling at no. 52 on the Billboard Hot 100.  So basically, since 2004, arguably 2006 if you ignore “Control Myself”, things have been so-so for the veteran.

Authentic (which arrives through indie label 429 Records), tries to reignite the lost spark – reinvigorate LL. In fact, it tries too hard with too many guests, too many ballads, and sometimes forgettable rhymes.  Even so, LL Cool J has his moments and actually some good ideas – they just don’t amount to the excellence or the material that has established his legacy. Sure veteran artists have a hard time reaching the level of innovation and exceptionalness that made them a star, but LL still seems a tad shy of reaching say “Headsprung”, his most notable smash single – and yes, that was 2004.  But Authentic is what it is.  It attempts to show LL’s authenticity, but still falls into the pitfalls of post-icon status.

Bath Salt” opens with an intro, before shaping into hip-hop form.  LL Cool J make some solid moves here delivering an agile flow and an aggressive, catchy hook: “Hands up, hands up / hands up, slip it to the bath salt / (Push it) never ‘cuz I have to / (Push it) it’s because I’m a bastard / (Push it) and I got the game mastered / (Push it) ear drums, dealing with harassment / (Push it) went back to the basement / Hands on my nuts, that’s product placement / The game lost its flavor, I wonder where the taste went.” It’s not the ‘second coming’, but its initiates things solidly and enjoyably.

Not Leaving You” proceeds, featuring Fitz and the Tantrums and Eddie Van Halen.  LL Cool J’s willingness to reach across genres is notable – many rap artists don’t.  The results are OK with Fitz delivering solid hook vocals and Van Halen on autopilot on a timely, predictably placed guitar solo.  Good enough, “Not Leaving You” feels as if it is missing the ‘X’ factor – close to greatness, but just shy of achieving it.

New Love” featuring Charlie Wilson is another cut with good pieces, but also has its flaws. Among miscues is LL Cool J’s schmaltzy intro (“honk your horn as she’s walking by right now…”), which is just corny as albeit.  Even so, the cut has more of an east coast quality than those that preceded it, which is a plush.  Then comes the way over processed vocals of Charlie Wilson, who needs no processing at all. Ultimately, it feels with more guidance, “New Love” could’ve been better.

We Came To Party” arrives timely, featuring Snoop Dogg and Fatman Scoop.  Sure, all LL Cool J and Fatman Scoop really want to do is “party” and cause “destruction in the club…” but hey, it’s all good.  LL Cool J even confirms this on the first verse: “Ain’t no problem, I’m on it – oldest man in the club / also one of the richest, a hundred bottles of bub…” But all of us are relieved to have ‘Snoop Dogg’ back as opposed to Snoop Lion, right?

Give Me Love” has the right idea, but falls into the pitfalls of being too predictable. It’s also too long, even if it is about four and half minutes in length.  Seal sounds smooth and sings the hook well (“Give me love, I swear all I need is your heart / ooh baby…”), but you just find yourself longer for more than this no frills rap ballad.

Something About You (Love The World)” is a better cut, including guests Charlie Wilson, Melody Thornton, and Earth Wind & Fire.  How ever, LL Cool J’s love-oriented rhymes aren’t necessarily profound either (“Body language is how we communicate / I know it felt good, let it marinate…” or “I put my lips on every inch of your back / lookin’ good, I got plans for that…” ). Charlie Wilson breaks away from the over processing bug and Melody Thornton contributes some powerful vocals.  All in all, it sort of works… sort of.

Bartender Please” gets an old-school beat, thanks to the drumming of Travis Barker (of Blink-182).  Additionally, Barker’s is joined by guests Bootsy Collins and once more Snoop Dogg.  If nothing more the production work is funky and there are some thoughtful ‘ideas’. However, the ‘idea’ is too prolonged at 4:36.  Also some may take issue with Cool J’s proclamation: “Yeah this the same old script / LL Jordan, white riders on tip / Proving every rapper in the game can’t spit…” Yeah, I’m not so sure…

Whaddup” has potential, but the constant repetition of the title within the cut grows annoying, as expected.  Travis Barker again drums, Tom Morello comes in for a fine guitar solo, Z-Trip provides scratches, and Chuck D delivers the hook (“I got so much trouble on my mind / refuse to lose (I say whaddup?) it’s your ticket…”) One of the better cuts? Definitely.  Too much going on? Definitely.

Between The Sheetz” featuring Mickey Shiloh proves to be your archetypical contemporary R&B/ urban rap collaboration.  It’s not bad and Mickey Shiloh sounds fine, but it also doesn’t really catch the ear.  Shiloh’s hook is nice enough to listen to (nice vocal production in particular), but it isn’t really catchy.  “Closer” featuring Monica comes ‘closer’, but still doesn’t wow per say.  Like “Between The Sheetz”, the script is similar, which doesn’t necessary aid LL.

Penultimate cut “Live For You” proves to be the reciprocal duet from Brad Paisley (remember the little track heard ‘round the world in “Accidental Racist”).  While I don’t consider Paisley and LL Cool J to be a match made in heaven, Brad does get some guitars in the cut to give him some semblance of a comfort zone.  Closing cut “We’re The Greatest” once more brings in Eddie Van Halen who rocks it out.  LL Cool J matches Van Halen’s spirited guitar with his rhymes, which makes the closer one of the better showings of Authentic.

All said and done, Authentic just doesn’t stand as tall as better hip hop releases in 2013.  LL Cool J gives a good effort, but even the strongest cuts leave room for criticism of some kind.  It’s not absolutely horrid, but it also just misses being ‘average’.  Close enough, but still a few feet away.  But effort means something.

Favorites: “Bath Salt”; “We Came To Party”; “We’re The Greatest”


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