Disclaimer: This is some serious rap nerd shit. Now on with our scheduled programming. 

For a guy that’s achieved as much as LL Cool J has, he’s mentioned very little these days. I suppose he (along with Will Smith?) kinda served as the bridge between both ‘Golden Eras’ of rap (classic 80s shit and the Dre/Wu-Tang/Nas/Biggie generation). From a critical perspective, Mr. Smith has had his ups and downs, but he managed a pretty nifty trick in staying relevant for over 20 years and 13 albums.

But I’m not here to praise his entire career. We’ll save that one for another day (or maybe never – no one else seems to want eulogize the man’s rap career in 2011 – perhaps because they all did that shit every time he dropped a slightly wack single). I’d like to bring your attention to LL’s 6th album – ‘Mr. Smith‘. Its neither his best work (‘Mama Said Knock You Out‘ or ‘Radio‘) nor his worst (a few contenders there), but it was and remains well-regarded and is of particular interest to me right now.

While listening to ‘Mr. Smith‘ for the umpteenth time, it occurred to me that no there’s probably no better template for the ‘Critical Acclaimed, Yet Commercial As Fuck Rap Album‘ than this one. More often than not, either one of The Notorious B.I.G.‘s first two albums is awarded this distinction, but given Biggie’s proficiency with this rap shit, Puffy‘s overwhelming presence and length (album running time) concerns about both albums (both are often accused of having filler and in addition, ‘Life After Death’ is a double album), I’d suggest that a different candidate deserves examination.
Mr. Smith‘ is that candidate. There’s a good chance that ‘Mr. Smith’ was inspired by ‘Ready To Die‘, but LL started working on this in 1994 (around the same time Biggie dropped) and it only shares one producer (Easy Mo Bee – on one song) with Biggie’s debut. Plus, the argument isn’t about which came first or is more influential – that answer is clear. All I’m proposing is that LL’s ‘Mr. Smith‘ is the ideal template for selling out and maintaining some cred without hitting perfection – because let’s face it, we haven’t heard perfection in a minute. Or at least, I haven’t.
Let’s take a look/listen. LL basically hits ALL the marks on this album. Anything you’d expect from an artist vying for commercial domination while maintaining some shred of critical adoration is on this project. To wit:
  • Three bonafide HITS: ‘Doin’ It‘, ‘Hey Lover’ (clearly the inspiration for one of Drake‘s new ‘cry rap’ anthems) and ‘Loungin‘ (which got a Total feature on the remix). All three were a little too far on the “song for the ladies” side of the equation, but they’re all solid and most guys probably didn’t find them too pandery (that’s not a word – I know).
  • The project was anchored by one solid (and at the time, up and coming) production team with an ear for what worked in the market back then: The Trackmasters (Poke and Tone – a.k.a., The niggas that hung out with Nas one time and convinced him to abandon his army jacket). They covered half of the tracks on the album and that lent a cohesive sound to the whole affair. The other 7 tracks were only spread out across 4 producers who also adhered to the sonics on display.
  • One underground monster: ‘I Shot Ya‘. That beat was/is murderous and LL had the good damned sense to remix that shit with an all-star cast (he always had a knack for that shit – see ‘4,3,2,1’ as well) consisting of Keith Murray, Foxy Brown, Prodigy & Fat Joe. I imagine that this song (along with the album tracks) made it okay for men to be seen with the CD case.
  • Finally, LL had a variety of ideas scattered throughout the 15 tracks which also happened to be immaculately sequenced.

I may be a little biased, but everything just works on this album – despite the fact that 90% of the sales were probably women (insert Kanye shrug). All that said, I’d still hold off on labeling ‘Mr. Smith’ a classic – but it’s pretty darned close and I wouldn’t be mad at anyone who took the plunge on that descriptor.

Go ask your mom, sister or female significant other for her copy of this shit (or download it – that might be easier) and give it a listen. When you’re done, you can come back and call me a cunt or fuckhead (or any insult of your choice – just don’t call me ‘Tron) in the comment section. I promise.

Oh and PAUSE this entire post. Can’t be too careful about that shit when you’re dealing with LL Cool J. That’s what a career filled with sartorial mishaps and a refusal to invest in basic chapstick will get you around these parts of the internets.

You know what? Upon further review, this shit is a fucking classic…

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Comments on: "Revisiting The Classic Commercial Rap Album Template" (17)

  1. U RITE GUD:HAHA:THAT WAS A DOPE READ:LL IS CRIMINALLY SLEPT ON:’DOIN IT’ WAS A DOPE RECORD:A FREAK ANTHEM:&:DESCRIBED IN ONE BAR THE RELATIONSHIP TREND BETWEEN QUEENS NIGGA:&:BK BROADS:’HEY LOVER’ WAS A DOPE RECORD TOO;BACK THEN BOYZ II MEN WAS A GUARANTEED HIT:BUT:JAMES TODD WAS LYRICAL:&:THEY DIDNT MAKE HIS SHIT CORNEY:OR:OUTSHINE HIM:THAT SONG WAS AN HONEST COLLABORATION:’I SHOT YA’ REMIX MADE NIGGAS FORGET ABOUT THE ORIGINAL RECORD AS A REMIX SHOULD:PRODIGY HAD THE BEST VERSE HANDS DOWN:&:QUITE POSSIBLY THE EARLIEST ILLUMINATI REFERENCE IN RAP:KEITH MURRAY DID HIS INSPECTAH DECK LEAD OFF THING:EVERYBODY INCLUDING LL INITIALLY THOUGHT FOXXY WAS A BOY:&;FAT JOE CAME OFF:THE FACT THAT HE EVEN MANAGED TO GET KEITH:&:PRODIGY ON THE SAME SONG AT THAT TIME SAYS A LOT ABOUT THE RESPECT LEVELS NIGGAS HAD FOR SON…THEN

  2. You know what? Upon further review, this shit is a fucking classic…

    **************************
    Im glad you came to your senses!

    Mr Smith >>

    Hollis To Hollywood >>
    Hey Lover >>
    Who Shot Ya >>

  3. THE FACT THAT HE EVEN MANAGED TO GET KEITH:&:PRODIGY ON THE SAME SONG AT THAT TIME SAYS A LOT ABOUT THE RESPECT LEVELS NIGGAS HAD FOR SON…THEN

    DOIN IT’ WAS A DOPE RECORD:A FREAK ANTHEM:&:DESCRIBED IN ONE BAR THE RELATIONSHIP TREND BETWEEN QUEENS NIGGA:&:BK BROADS:

    ========================

    this is true

  4. Im glad you came to your senses!

    ^^^

    You know what? I was on some sheep shit when I declared otherwise. I was listening to it and reading the reviews from that era. The critics didn’t love it back then, but it held up really well over time. Might be his 3rd best album.

    LL deserves more props.

  5. Mr Smith is timeless music. Still sounds fresh to me!!

  6. Big_seth said:

    Yea, I think the only reason LL gets shitted on so much is because he became very formulaic.

    and this was during a time when that was unacceptable. Unlike now where it is expected.

  7. I think the only reason LL gets shitted on so much is because he became very formulaic.

    ^^^

    …indeed.

    And ‘Mr. Smith’ is the formula for all these new niggas. Take notes Beige Nigga Cole…

  8. gramMasta said:

    * late pass *

    Grammasta, you wack too. All you do is laugh at what Harlem say, you don’t even say shit.

    ^ this nigga xlnc reaching (n)

  9. AmpGeez a.k.a. Chief Heavy said:

    Why’d they backmask all the curses on a song called “No Airplay”?

  10. Great post Deen, very witty and completely correct. I was thinking about a similar thing the other day, that although it’s great to get early leaks on the Internet of what’s to come on a new album, I miss the days when you had to wait for the next single on tv and after 2 months and 3-4 hits/videos, you’re excited for the album release.. The Game’s The Documentary is an example of this and could be considered a rap album template of how it used/should be done.

  11. I miss the days when you had to wait for the next single on tv and after 2 months and 3-4 hits/videos, you’re excited for the album release..

    ===========================
    Word…nostalgia >>>

  12. NovemberEnd said:

    LL gets shitted on for making making 4 albums too many…and subsequently his music & image getting softer than baby shit w/ every passing album

    Nigga was oiled up in music videos under waterfalls and shit

    even bitches weren’t co-signing that

    >>>> homo-eroticism

  13. EnglandRepresent said:

    LL was good by me back in the day. Licking his lips whilst being oiled up in his videos meant me not wanting to check for those joints though.

    ‘Drop a Bomb on ‘Em’ – LL classic.

  14. Unfortunately I was a child during the Golden Era so I didn’t get to enjoy Hip Hop to the fullest, but even in 2011, LL Cool J still gets my respect everytime I watch the “Bad” video, he was all over that stage performing his heart out, just for a video? LL >>>

  15. Excellency said:

    Anybody know if Samsung are good for computing? I’ve been looking and comparing online for a couple hours but I’m stuck for choice. I’ve been advised to stay away from Acer, Toshiba and Packard Bell. Does Samsung fall in to that category or are they good like Dell and Sony?

  16. Great post. I enjoyed reading this.

  17. mobbdeen said:

    *daps hl*

    ===========

    @excellency

    Can’t speak to their computing, but I’m loyal to Samsung phones. If the computing is anything like the phones, then go for it. Apologies if that was useless…

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