It took me a while, but here is the second installment of LL Cool J's discography in reverse, 2006's Todd Smith.
Judging by the album cover, it's blatantly obvious that Todd Smith, named after the man's middle and last names, is intended for an audience that is not made up of straight males. While Cool James is clearly no stranger to the concept of the love rap, he is one of the only rappers who feels that those particular tracks in his catalog are the only ones that define his career.
LL Cool J has infamously blamed Def Jam Records, his recording home since the beginning of time, and his then-boss Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter for not promoting Todd Smith properly, actions which he truly believes resulted in its failure to find an audience. This is where the paths of LL Cool J, who has lived in his own world for quite a while now, ever since he was Debbie Allen's housekeeper, and every other major label rapper intersect: LL refuses to take any of the blame for Todd Smith not performing well on the charts. Naturally, he even threatened to release a sequel: that project eventually became Exit 13, his final Def Jam album. This runs contradictory to his actor persona: while appearing on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, James Todd Smith once remarked that he was sorry about Rollerball, because it sucked.
Todd Smith is notable as being the disc in his catalog on which LL Cool J is unable to play by himself for longer than two minutes at a time. Every motherfucking song features a guest star, save for one, which is usually a sign of a rapper who is unsure of his or her own ability to carry an album.
You can imagine that I'm not really looking forward to this shit.
1. IT'S LL AND SANTANA (FEAT JUELZ SANTANA)
For starters, this isn't LL's twelfth album, unless he's counting that unreleased project that recently hit the Interweb in 2009: greatest hits compilations such as All World don't fucking count. The title is also one of the least creative in hip hop history: Juelz Santana (of Dip Set, for those of you who care; I know I don't) isn't anything special, and while Cool James has sounded worse, this Shea Taylor-produced ditty is only barely preferable to a rap album intro. Already Todd Smith has pissed me off. That can't be good.
2. CONTROL YOURSELF (FEAT JENNIFER LOPEZ)
This track was originally going to feature Fergie of the Black Eyed Sellouts, but apparently her asking price is much higher than that of Out Of Sight's Jennifer Lopez, which must have been a huge blow to J-Lo's ego. That's why the Jermaine Dupri-produced “Control Yourself” became an inadvertent reunion for LL and U-Turn's Jennifer Lopez: they had a previous mild radio hit a few years back with “All I Have” back in 2002. This was the first single, but I never heard it on radio stations around my way, and chances are pretty good that you didn't, either, as this wasn't very popular. The electro-sampled beat isn't very well suited for the subject matter (the song is about hitting on chicks), which is why Common did a much better job with his similar “Universal Mind Control”.
3. FAVORITE FLAVOR (FEAT MARY J. BLIGE)
What the fuck is this shit? Cool James may be better known for his female-skewing demographic than his battle rhymes these days, but his best songs crafted specifically for the ladies are clearly in the past. This is just fucking weak; I truly hope Mary J. Blige wasn't blackmailed into singing such a terrible chorus.
4. FREEZE (FEAT LYFE JENNINGS)
It hurts my heart that there is probably one woman out there in the world who counts this pathetic piffle as one of their favorite slow jams. Oh wait, no it doesn't: nobody actually bought Todd Smith, so I'm willing to bet that approximately 99.9% of the world's population has no idea that this track even exists, and I'm including myself in that number. James tries to rationalize promiscuity while yearning for love, while Lyfe Jennings turns in yet another uninspired performance (see: Raekwon's “Catalina”).
5. BEST DRESS (FEAT JAMIE FOXX)
Instrumentals such as this one lead me to believe that The Neptunes (more so Pharrell than Chad, truthfully) have completely run out of ideas, as this beat is incredibly boring. I suppose it's a big deal that LL Cool J and Jamie Foxx are working together, as they had a well-publicized altercation on the set of Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday, but the end result is so contrived (as are most songs which feature LL trying to steal another man's girlfriend or wife) that you're left not giving much of a fuck.
6. PRESERVE THE SEXY (FEAT TEAIRRA MARI)
Former Roc-A-Fella Records artist Teairra Mari helps make “Preserve The Sexy” one of the unsexiest rap songs in recent memory. I guess it doesn't help that LL comes off as a creepy old man: instead of playing a random love interest, Teairra Mari plays, well, herself, and Cool James tries to woo her specifically, even going so far as to tell her that she doesn't need to spend any of her album advance money, as he will take care of her every need. Which leads me to believe that LL Cool J wants to fuck Teairra Mari (which isn't that big of a deal, as she's kind of cute), but that thought lends itself to an undercurrent that preserves the icky.
7. WHAT YOU WANT (FEAT FREEWAY)
Although LL Cool J has an intense dislike for his former label boss Jay-Z, he has no problem working alongside one of his former flunkies, Freeway, on a track that jacks the sensibility of Hova's “Face/Off” (even the beats sound similar). I'm left wishing this were more interesting, but LL actually sounds energized behind the mic for the first time on Todd Smith, and while Beardy has provided better performances, his excitement regarding rhyming alongside a hip hop legend is palpable.
8. I'VE CHANGED (FEAT RYAN TOBY)
Cool James loses his cool trying to win back the heart of an ex, who has clearly moved on with her life. I found Ryan Toby (from City High! Remember him? Yeah, me neither; to be honest, all thoughts of that failed trio are dominated by Claudette Ortiz) and his hook to be trite, but the Trackmasters beat and LL's conviction actually sound pretty good together, like peanut butter and jelly. If he were prone to crafting more tracks such as this, instead of concentrating on rehashing “I Need Love” for the umpteenth time, then the man could still have a viable career in hip hop. But noooo: heaven forbid he break away from fucking tradition.
9. OOH WEE (FEAT GINUWINE)
Ginuwine has always proved to be all kinds of useless whenever he isn't accompanied by Timbaland behind the boards, and this song is no exception. Cool James adopts a hushed, conversational tone to perform yet another love rap: this guy talks about love so often that he comes across as a buff hippie. Scott Storch's beat is an afterthought, and the title implies a track that is far more exciting than what I'm actually listening to (unless I missed it, I didn't hear the phrase “ooh wee” even a single time). Which begs the question, why am I still listening to this?
10. #1 FAN
“#1 Fan” is the only song on Todd Smith that doesn't feature a guest star, but that doesn't mean that he's alone: that just means the woman who provides backing vocals wasn't a big enough name to demand that her name appear on the back cover. One would hope that, without the need to please the fans of a guest star, LL would let loose and try to win his own fans back, but that isn't the case: in fact, his lone presence on here seems to make the track even worse. At least he could share some of the blame with his guests on the other songs, but this track, which is all about fucking your fans, is all LL's to shoulder. His goofy attempts at mangling the Spanish language (because his so-called number one fan has to be Latina, naturally) are also very difficult to take seriously. No wonder nobody bought this album, James!
11. DOWN THE AISLE (FEAT 112)
This is one of the last songs that R&B group 112 performed together, and I'm not even convinced that all four members even appear on here. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, LL Cool J brings the ladies another love rap, this time proclaiming that he's ready to marry you and start the rest of his life with you. LL Cool J is a hip hop legend: he should be able to commission better beats than this shit.
12. WE'RE GONNA MAKE IT (FEAT MARY MARY)
This song sounds like LL's attempt at a Killah Priest “One Step”-type track, combined with the best of Hova (again). To be honest, Cool James lost me when he said “I tried to told ya”; the writer in me shook violently when I had to write that statement out for this post. Lyrically, though, LL provides the most interesting verses on all of Todd Smith on this very song; on another album, that statement would count for something.
The following is considered a bonus tracks on U.S. pressings of Todd Smith.
13. SO SICK (REMIX) (NE-YO FEAT LL COOL J)
This is mainly a bonus track because “So Sick” is Ne-Yo's song and not Uncle L's, but this remix, over a different beat that manages to combine boom-bap, annoying hip hop sound bites as samples, and Michael Jackson's “Human Nature”, is actually really fucking entertaining, much more so than the original song, in my opinion. Even LL sounds refreshed on here, as if he just woke up from a twelve-hour nap: perhaps he should limit himself to only cameo appearances in the future, so as not to squander his gift.
THE LAST WORD: Although there is a late surge in quality tacked on to the very end of the album (in the form of the bonus track), Todd Smith is bullshit, even for its intended audience. This was truly a waste of the plastic that was produced to house the songs within. LL Cool J comes across as a rapper who truly believes he has nothing left to prove, so instead of even bothering, he surrounds himself with multiple guests in the hope of appealing to every possible person who even casually follows hip hop, even though damn near every song on Todd Smith is carefully calculated to appeal to the female half of the world's population. That isn't an inherently wrongheaded move on LL's part: women do purchase the majority of music. But it is hard to believe that any female would swoon at LL's dated pickup lines: he sounds like the old guy at the club who won't stop checking out your girlfriend's ass. And this should go without saying, but Todd Smith was also a waste of my valuable time. At least Exit 13 was a step in the right direction for LL Cool J, but had it not been for this shit, he wouldn't have needed to try so fucking hard in the first place. Avoid this at all costs.
LL Cool J – Exit 13