1985, Music

Radio (1985) by LL Cool J

Early albums in the history of a genre always sound primitive in retrospect. But, for someone like me, who listens to a lot of old music, they don’t always sound dated. For me, this is true of genres I really like. I understand how primitive early rock and roll, or folk rock, or psychedelia, or prog rock, or punk (etc) sounds, but I can still appreciate it because I know the context. I have a lot harder time doing that with music where I don’t know the history as well or if they don’t like that genre. That’s because, when I don’t like the genre, I have far less knowledge or incentive to care about the innovations. This is particularly true of hip hop, where I don’t know the history very well and, well, I don’t particularly like it.

So this record sounds super old school me. Like way more old school than even LL’s music of the early ’90s (which sounded somewhat old school to me when I first heard it). Everything sounds dated to me, a little like Run DMC or the Fat Boys or whatever. Having heard later LL., it’s a b it of shock. Of course, it makes sense.

The production is super ’80s hip hop: drum machines and not much else – the odd sample and scratch. (It’s kind of funny the DJ is credited given how little he seems to do on some tracks.) It’s super bare-bones and super stiff. Honestly, listening to it, it’s incredible to me that Rubin is the legend he is now. On this record it regularly feels like he doesn’t understand swing. (Though that varies from track to track.)

LL is funny, as you would expect. But his delivery feels even more old school here than later in his career. To the extent that I appreciate or even get “flow”, I much, much, much prefer ’90s rappers (and on) to the early guys – they sound so damn awkward now. LL isn’t quite as bad as some of them, but it still feels like a rap delivery revolution is a long, long way away.

But I understand that, in 1985, this is what hip hop sounded like. And as a document of hip hop in 1985 I kind of have to assume it’s good. LL’s lyrics are considerably better than some of the earliest rappers and some of his contemporaries. And, at the very least, the sparse production forces you to listen to him in a way that a more produced record would not. So, though I don’t really know what to do with this, I have to assume it’s good, right?


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