Radio

LL Cool J

Def Jam, 1985

http://www.myspace.com/llcoolj

REVIEW BY: Jedediah Pressgrove

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/04/2009

L.L. Cool J was seventeen when Radio was released. It was a hit. Despite the album’s success, you might be surprised when you listen to it. Strip away as much as you can from the genre of rap, and you’re left with what this album offers: big beats and big delivery from the emcee. When I first heard this album, I was fascinated by its simplicity (a line on the back of the album even says “Reduced by Rick Rubin”). But as I explored the ten tracks, sometimes it seemed like I didn’t have much to listen to. The album is historically important, but I am glad rap has transcended this sound in multiple ways.

Still, it’s difficult not to appreciate what L.L. accomplished as a teenager. Among other achievements, Radio features the first rap ballads, “I Can Give You More” and “I Want You.” Just don’t expect anything resembling traditional ballads or even contemporary rap ballads like Lil Wayne’s “Comfortable.” “I Can Give You More” in particular has a beat that you would not associate with tenderness, and its truncated piano riff is creepy. Lyrically, L.L. favors confidence over sweetness: “You’re the goddess of light, the queen of seduction / You won’t get used if you follow my instructions / Just grab my hand, feel the sweat on my palm / Make love to a man and not a cheap Don Juan.” my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

On other songs, L.L. is a funny trash-talker. “You Can’t Dance” is L.L.’s critique of a “homeboy” who doesn’t know how to move: “You live in a Can’t Dance house / Went out with a Can’t Dance car / Your doofy Can’t Dance father / Got drunk in a Can’t Dance bar.” In “Dear Yvette,” he roasts a promiscuous girl from his high school: “I’m glad you ain’t my sister – then again if you was / I’d have to treat you like you was my distant cuz.” Later in the song, you learn that L.L. is more or less baffled at how Yvette could allow her reputation to be that horrible. This particular diss song is backed only by a beat: no samples, no solos, nothing else.

The few samples on the album are brief and could not be described as melodic; rather, they accentuate the rhythm of the songs. Hell, I had no idea “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” by Yes was sampled on “That’s A Lie” until I read about it.

Rubin’s production – uh, reduction – doesn’t hide anything. The beats are humongous and clear, and any small detail, such as a handclap, is instantly noticeable. “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” the opening track, demonstrates this characteristic of the album very well.

Radio can be quite enjoyable, but I had to keep history and L.L.’s age in mind. That’s not to say you have to go easy on the album to enjoy it, but it is different than any rap I’ve heard. What L.L. and Rubin managed to do with so little demands respect. You’re not going to count samples or guest appearances. This is raw shit.

Rating: B+

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© 2009 Jedediah Pressgrove and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Def Jam, and is used for informational purposes only.