It is not my intention to do CD reviews on my blog (that is for a future outlet), but I had to comment on the latest CD from Hip Hop legend LL Cool J (I know it runs a little long, but the great thing about a blog is I am not confined to a word count, but will be happy to do a revised version - I am a freelancer).
LL Cool J - "Exit 13" (Def Jam) rating **** out of *****
By now it should be common knowledge that it is not wise to count out LL Cool J. Still even as his physical appearance has continued to defy the harsh realities of middle age, his place in today's assembly line rap scene has come into question...again. Students of the true school have seen this movie before.
One need look no further than the year 1989 when "The Future of the Funk" was roundly criticized by his peers for the abundance of materialism in his rhymes. Where he can be now credited for incredible foresight, the lukewarm reception to "Walking With A Panther" set the stage for Uncle L's magnum opus 1990's "Mama Said Knock You Out". L tells the media "don't call it a comeback" as he indeed attacks the microphone with the ferocity of his earlier albums while offering scathing responses to his detractors on the title track and "Eat Em' Up L (Chill)".
One can also recall a young whippersnapper named Canibus, who in 1997 felt LL had lost enough credibility in the streets ("99 percent of your fans wear high heels") that he could take on the pride of Farmer's Boulevard. LL not only won the battle with Canibus, but returned proclaiming to be The Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T) in 2000, an album sporting one radio/video single ("Imagine That") and a bunch of street-oriented material that proved L was still hard as hell.
Fast forward to 2008. Disgruntled with the promotional efforts behind his 12th album Todd Smith and the direction of Def Jam under labelmate Jay-Z, LL proclaimed his 13th album would be his last under the house that Rick (Rubin) and Russ(ell Simmons) built, thus the title of the album. L minced no words when voicing his displeasure about the then-president Carter stirring speculation of another Jay-Z/Nas type of battle between legends. The battle never happened, but L aligned himself with 50 Cent, a man known to save a career or two. With the odds firmly stacked against him once more, LL responded like the free agent he is.
On Exit 13 performs like CC Sabathia after the trade to Milwaukee. The first thing that jumps out at the listener is the strain in LL's voice as the soaring opening track "It's Time For War" booms. The familiar tone that graced classics like "Radio" and "I'm Bad" resonates here and on "You Better Watch Me" where a rejuvenated Uncle L bellows "oh you wanna take it to the '90's?".
LL is indeed at his best when he melds the true school and the new school as witnessed in his choice of production (Marley Marl, the architect of "Mama Said", returns to produce two joints), and features. The winner here is the Grandmaster Caz featured "This Is Ringtone Murder", a stab at the plethora of rappers selling a hit single as a cell phone accessory while lacking the substance needed to sustain an entire album, where the Ripper returns with daggers like: "sounding like girls with your sweet sixteen...test big Elly come get your head sprung...". The highly-anticipated G-Unit union never materializes as 50 Cent only appears on the hook of the possible follow-up single "Can You Feel My Heartbeat". "Cry" is a send-up of the 2001 Ja Rule/Lil' Mo duet "I Cry" whose driving production and superior crooning from Lil' Mo could land a few radio spins.
The first half of the album is pleasantly surprising for the aforementioned reasons, however, as if Cool J feels he has proven his point to the naysayers, the album loses considerable steam after "Ringtone Murder". From the cheesy Bollywood soundtrack of "I Fall In Love" and predictable patriotic production of "American Girl", the filler material comes in bunches. L's final salvo is worthy as "Dear Hip Hop" is one of the better Hip Hop as a person tunes.
While 19 tracks prove to be too many for the G.O.A.T to handle, Todd Smith proves on the rap superhighway he doesn't need AAA (or AARP for that matter) and an early exit would be premature.