February 25, 2010

My Gut Reaction: LL Cool J - The DEFinition (August 31, 2004)

Trudging my way through the catalog of James Todd Smith is taking me a bit longer than I thought, especially since my motivation to do so has been hampered by how poorly Exit 13 and Todd Smith sounded, but I plan on continuing to fight on, as I find these reviews funny, and ultimately, that's all that matters.

The pseudo-thugged out look that LL Cool J exhibits on the album cover for The DEFinition would lead one to believe that the man has finally given in to the pressures of providing consistently decent hip hop music and has instead decided to start beating the shit out of people for fun and/or profit.  Instead, this may well be the blingiest Cool James album I've listened to yet: over half of the album is produced by former hitmaker Timbaland (who may be questioning the loyalty of his own fans right now, given how well Shock Value II is currently doing in stores), and the rest is handled by a mishmash of folks, all of whom try their damnedest to get the ladies to shake their respective asses on the floor.

That's right, folks: this is LL Cool J's club album.

Confusing matters even more if the album's very title.  The DEFinition is named as such to draw attention to LL's status as one of the guys who essentially built Def Jam Records from the ground up.  He's the old-timer who shows up to work every day, does nothing but complain about how things have changed and how his coffee is too hot, and hits on the female staff for the fuck of it, but yet he's also the guy who has released the most solo albums on Def Jam: The DEFinition was his tenth overall (and his ninth solo album if you don't count the All World greatest hits package, which I don't).  Considering that Def Jam wasn't exactly started up just so their roster of artists could receive consistent club play (it just kind of happened that way), I have no clue why James Todd would choose this project to call himself Def Jam Employee of the Month.  (It might have worked a bit better for Exit 13.)

The DEFinition went on to move over five hundred thousand units, so there have to be people out there that actually own this one.  The first single, "Headsprung", is vintage Timbaland from a time when he didn't hate rap music so goddamn much (unlike today, when he will refuse to work with a rapper unless his first name is Shawn and his last name rhymes with "smarter"), and it's bouncy sound is enough to get the women on the floor, so I guess, for one song at least, Timbo fulfilled the mission statement that LL Cool J drafted for this album.

So how did everyone else do?

Not surprisingly, The DEFinition kicks off with its biggest asset. What is surprising is how well this track actually works. It failed to make a massive impact when it was first released to radio around my way; I think it was played approximately one and a half times. However, a few years removed from its conception, “Headsprung” sounds far more entertaining than what passes for club piffle in 2010. Cool James rides Timmy's instrumental like a roller coaster, hitting all of the typical peaks and valleys a club song attracts (read: some of these lyrics are pure crap), but the package still works as a whole. I'm troubled by the fact that The DEFinition is front-loaded with this song, though: this does not bode well for the rest of my article.

Wow, it sure didn't take long for The DEFinition to wade into uncharted waters with the consistency of utter bullshit. LL's tired come-ons aren't as bad as they are in his later work, but they are matched on here by an equally lackluster Timbo beat that fits him about as well as as a toddler's first pair of Chuck Taylor's would. Jay-Z might have been able to salvage this instrumental (he wouldn't have twisted it into a good song, mind you, but he could have Tim Gunn-ed it), but LL is left to sink in the quicksand. If this is indicative of Timbaland's production work on the rest of the album, I may as well throw in the towel right now.

LL Cool J is “still a teen pop idol, like Hanson”? The hell? Our host for this evening isn't even living in the same fucking millennium as the rest of us, and yet he expects us to enjoy his music? Anyway, I'm not sure if Ladies Love's well-documented issues with Hova were in full effect at this point, but he recruits R. Kelly to sing and co-produce (alongside, of all people, motherfucking Teddy Riley, who seems to have had no input whatsoever) a track that comes across as a contribution to the Kells and Hov The Best Of Both Worlds project that Shawn might have rejected. James also spits verses that seem to have nothing to do with the actual song, but I may have missed something simply because I was fucking bored.

If you listened to, say, “Mama Said Knock You Out” and then immediately followed that up with “Move Somethin'”, you would be skeptical to believe that they were both performed by the same artist. It's not as if rappers aren't allowed to update their sound for the times: hell, they do it all the time, especially the more tenured rappers in the industry who struggle with the concept of relevancy in today's youth-driven market. But LL Cool J literally sounds as if he was secretly replaced with decaf. The club-ready insipid lyrics could have been spit by my ten-year-old cousin with just about the same degree of intensity. Clearly, for Cool James it isn't about the music anymore: he simply refuses to fade into the background quietly. N.O. Joe's Timbaland-esque clone of an instrumental also doesn't help matters any.

LL Cool J is entitled to his love raps: admittedly, the man does them better than most (or at least he used to). But this track is dead on arrival, thanks to the insistence of producer 7 Aurelius on building the beat around his own fucking vocals, which are so distorted through Auto-Tune that they may as well have been performed by Stephen Hawking. Oh well, at least this ranks amongst the shorter offerings on The DEFinition. For the record, James Todd Smith plays along admirably, but he has nothing to work with on this second single, so the track still sucks.

This song was fucking awful. That's all I got.

Somehow, LL draws a correlation between the music industry and the Iraq war, which isn't impressive in the least bit: I imagine that there are many soldiers overseas who would be pissed off that Cool James dismissed their plight and struggle without so much as a flick of his wrist.  LL uses this N.O. Joe beat to spit random bars that have nothing to do with babies shaking anything at all, but at least he (finally!) admits on the hook that he only makes music for the ladies now. Well, that's a relief: I was about to be offended by the ridiculousness of The DEFinition thus far, but I'm not even a part of the target demographic!  My favorite part of this track was when it segued into the next one abruptly.

You can't explain what, Cool James? All you talk about on this song is fucking, even referencing a 69 at one point (albeit in a relatively creative manner, I must admit). This track isn't mysterious in the least bit: you wrote a song about sex for the female audience to swoon over. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a woman out t here that named this as her favorite LL song, if only because she enjoyed masturbating to it. The female vocals, meant to be soothing and hot but coming across as shrill instead, are entirely unnecessary, but for what this is, I've heard much worse.

This was the B-side to the “Headsprung” 12-inch single: I even heard it on the radio exactly one time. Tim Mosely turns in a simplistic beat with an old-school feel, while LL sounds energized for the first time since...well, let's just say that he's been sleepwalking throughout most of The DEFinition. As a result, this track was alright. I don't understand LL's tactic for avoiding crank calls, which he details on this track: whenever someone mentions that their “cell [phone] is disconnected”, that usually means that they couldn't afford to pay the bill, which isn't something that one would brag about with confidence. Still, not bad.

I'm all for rap songs that devote the entirety of their subject matter to the beauty of the female ass, but the oversimplification that takes place on here is a bit disturbing, as LL and Timmy refer to an unnamed female's ample bottom as an “Apple Cobbler” and request for it to be “deep fried” (I don't even want to know what the fuck that's supposed to mean), but not before referring to her “apple pie” as well, which either means the vagina or the asshole, depending on your preference. (Given the biggest joke in American Pie, I think they're talking about pussy.) This was weird, but the beat was decent enough, I suppose. Oh, I just realized that “deep fried” may be code for the unnamed female in question to drop it low on the dance floor, now that I think about it. Well, that makes me feel a lot better.

Dame Grease's beat gives this song an energy that would have made more sense had Cool James started off The DEFinition with it, as opposed to tacking it on at the very end. LL sounds okay enough with his random “I'm richer and generally better than you” braggadocio (and isn't that what rap music is all about?), but why would he wait until the very end to try and impress the audience?

THE LAST WORD: The DEFinition suffers from an acute awareness of what it's trying to be: a pop-rap album geared toward the kind of ladies that you would love to hook up with at the club (or the type of women that you may generally either want to be or want to talk shit about, if you happen to be female). LL Cool J tries to stack the deck by working alongside Timbaland for a good portion of the proceedings, but that partnership, intended to guarantee radio airplay, only results in two decent tracks, and the rest of The DEFinition is far more boring by comparison. This never comes across as a cohesive album: the eleven songs featured here don't mesh together as much as they are unnaturally forced, like mating your dog with your cat. As such, LL's collection of singles fails because it lacks the extra effort needed to grab the attention of the audience: James Todd Smith is simply coasting on his looks and the automatic goodwill he generates due to his status as a legitimate hip hop icon. This wasn't as awful as Todd Smith, but there's still no reason for you two to go out of your way to listen to a song like “Headsprung”.


Catch up on the LL Cool J discography by clicking here.


  1. "LL Cool J literally sounds as if he was secretly replaced with decaf."


  2. wow. i'm shocked to see that NO Joe -of Rap-a-Lot fame- has produced 2 songs for the album. can't picture LL laying vocals on a NO Joe beat.

  3. why are you listening to this , ll has not done a good album since 1990

  4. agree, dont understand the 3 ll cool j that you've done instead of doing his firsts albums

  5. LL's last good album was in 1995. Phenomenon was good at one or two spot, GOAT was just average or above it at best and after that everything he made sucked.

  6. max, come on get to the DITC album reviews!! review Showbiz & AG

  7. oli - I explained it when I wrote about Exit 13. I go in order for nearly everyone, so I decided to go about it differently for Cool James.

    Thanks for reading!

  8. yo max, why don't you review some exciting, new shit like flying lotus, or even well regarded older shit like binary star? instead of rehashing the wu tang discography or documenting career trainwrecks you could be turning cats onto some ill shit.

  9. Why you would want to even listen to LL Cool J is beyond me, unless your gay or a girl

  10. As much as I appreciate these piss take album reviews I would certainly like to see you fulfilling the purpose of your blog by pointing people in the direction of worthy causes as opposed to reminding us of albums that very few hip hop fans (rightfully) gave a fuck about.

  11. guru had a heart attack