1990, Music

Mama Said Knock You Out (1990) by LL Cool J

Before he was an actor, LL Cool J always struck me as a rapper with less weight. I don’t really know if I heard much of his music beyond the title track here, but the moment I learned what LL Cool J stood for, I smirked and I couldn’t take him seriously. (Not that this mattered, as I didn’t listen to hip hop.) I’ve seen him in enough movies at this point that I stopped finding his name funny but I still don’t really know what to think of him.

Unlike most hip hop albums of this length (i.e. most ’90s hip hop albums) this one doesn’t have a lot of filler. And, thank science, it has basically zero skits. (Wow, that’s amazing.) Maybe the skit became a thing later but it’s so refreshing to just have tracks. And most of them are memorable enough that I don’t really feel the length of the record, which is a compliment.

I can’t say I loved his delivery the first time I heard it but it is growing on me. It no longer sounds super old to my ears and whatever it was that was irking me about his flow on those first few tracks I’ve now forgotten.

The record feels pretty commercial – there are hooks galore and the production is more complicated than some but still clean and clear enough to not get in the way of the hooks and the lyrics. (To be critical about it: it is isn’t very interesting.) At least one of the samples used as a hook I find extremely annoying (“Jingling Baby”) but other people seem to disagree.

Sometimes he makes me laugh and his machismo is easier to take than some of his other contemporaries. (In part because he at least looks like he can back it up, whether or not he can.) And “Cheesy Rat Blues” really does fee like a bit of a landmark in terms of writing about characters who are not the most amazing ever.

It seems like it’s pretty good. But what do I know, right?


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