10, the tenth album from James Todd Smith, also served as his tenth major label excuse to flex his muscles on an album cover. He wasn't contractually allowed to do this on all of his own albums, however: as such, he made sure to appear on the artwork for Metallica's The Black Album and the soundtrack to Predator.
With this release, LL Cool J was officially marked as the first artist in Def Jam Records history that managed to drop ten consecutive albums (one of which was a greatest hits package, named All World) without getting dropped; as this just doesn't happen on major labels these days, it's become blatantly obvious that this "fledgling actor" (as Faux News likes to refer to him) has some sexually explicit and questionable photographs of Def Jam executives hidden in a FUBU shoebox in his upstairs closet. That's the only way that I can explain why Cool James has been allowed to keep his spot at the label he helped build, when other hip hop veterans that came up with him now struggle to pick up overtime hours at Carl's Jr.
For 10, LL looked to The Neptunes, the hot producers of the moment, to help craft his sound and reach the female audience in a way he never had before: overtly. They handled five tracks, shaping the overall feel of 10, and apparently they did such a good job that they later secured jobs handling the bulk of other album projects. (LL's next album, The DEFinition, was mainly handled by Timbaland, Pharrell and Chad's Virginia neighbor who was also massively popular at the time. They would later pair up and essentially "make" Justin Timberlake as a solo superstar, although Andy Samberg and the rest of The Lonely Island may have something to say about that.)
10 was released to mild-to-tepid reviews from music critics who had long since moved on from LL's lip-licking pop rap, but in an effort to capitalize on a hit song from Jennifer Lopez on which he made a cameo, 10 was re-released with the very same collaboration tacked on at the end, in an effort to trick consumers into picking this album up instead of whatever the hell J-Lo had out at the time. Although, if this sales tactic actually drew attention away from J-Lo's project, then I applaud the jackasses at Def Jam for beating a dead horse by throwing money at it.
Yeah, that metaphor was pretty weak. Give me a break: I'm kind of tired.
1. INTRO (FEAT FREE & RICH NICE)
I can see that Cool James felt the need to include a tedious rap album intro on his “tenth” album (which is really his ninth). On here, he explains to guest star Free (the former host of 106 & Park, where this intro appears to have been lifted from, and an acquaintance of Canibus, curiously) that 10 effectively marks the end of his original contract with Def Jam Records (even though he signed an extension prior to 10 being recorded). I wholeheartedly agree that a single rap artists releasing ten albums with the same label is a commendable feat, especially in this unstable hip hop climate. Does this mean that LL will pull out all the stops to entertain the fans that have stuck around all these years? Or will Cool James coast on his looks and secure beats from the flavor of the moment in an effort to appeal to the half of the world's population that actually buys albums? I think you two already know the answer to that.
2. BORN TO LOVE YOU
LL starts the track off by stating his full legal name. That's never a good sign. The lyrics, which pander to the “independent” woman who has become hugely popular in hip hop as of late (because rappers are now often unable to afford to pay for everything on a date after using their entire record advance to pay for their entourage), don't even match the chorus, thereby negating the existence of this very track. The Trackmasters beat also sounds like the Trackmasters doing a poor imitation of the Trackmasters, if that makes any sense. I'm not looking forward to the rest of 10. Side note: wouldn't truly independent women simply fuck the rapper or R&B singer in question and then leave his ass, since they have lives to lead, work to complete, and better shit to do?
3. LUV U BETTER (FEAT PHARRELL WILLIAMS & MARC DORSEY)
This was the first single from 10 (because the bonus track does not count), handled in an uncharacteristic manner by The Neptunes, and although I ignored this upon its original release (even in my past life as a collector of all things Pharrell and Chad, I thought the beat was boring, so I paid “Luv U Better” no mind), I was pleasantly surprised today. LL's plea to make things right in a relationship that has grown complacent in has surprising depth for a radio single (which may help explain why this wasn't a huge hit). At least this song proves that LL still has it in him to write a good song. Who knew?
4. PARADISE (FEAT AMERIE)
This may have been a single as well. I've always felt bad for Amerie: even though she's had a couple of really good songs (“One Thing” still rocks shit, by the way), she was never able to translate those minor successes and her overall cuteness into anything in the United States aside from her brief tenure as the go-to girl for an R&B hook on a rap song (see: Nas, Royce da 5'9”). “Paradise” (which sucks, by the way) uses the same Keni Burke “Risin' To The Top” sample Pete Rock and CL Smooth flipped for their “Take You There”, a far superior song (and one which also brings forth the feeling of being on a tropical island: I suppose there is just something about this sample that encourages daydreams of vacations that haven't yet occurred) that LL has to have heard of in the past: why do rappers even bother rocking familiar samples when comparisons are inevitable?
5. FA HA
Once the real beat (handled by DJ S&S) kicked in, my interest perked up significantly. And then the annoying (and annoyingly inconsistent) loud sound bite “Ha!” incorporated itself into said beat, and “Fa Ha” lost me. Which is a shame: the beat bubbles just underneath the surface while LL spits some actual thoughtful lyrics about a woman and the streets (both represented by “her”; sometimes both are referred to within a single bar). It's too bad the producer felt that he needed to make “Fa Ha” sound like a shitty song instead of putting in some elbow grease. Sigh.
6. NIGGY NUTS
When I first read the title, I figured that I would have to censor it out, but then I realized that this is just LL's version of Redman's “It's the diggy diggy Doc, y'all”. I haven't quite figured out how Cool James used a Neptunes-laced misfire to refer to his genitalia without incurring the wrath of the Parental Advisory sticker, but maybe the PMRC tried to listen to this shit and shut it off before the hook came in because there is nothing appealing about this song in the least bit. Kind of like how the rest of the hip hop audience will feel, I believe.
7. AMAZIN' (FEAT KANDICE LOVE)
LL kicks his first verse over yet another dull Neptunes soundscape (at this very moment, it's hard for me to grasp how that production team became so goddamn popular), and then basically cedes the track to special guest Kandice Love, who proceeds to take over with some inconsequential feel-good lyrics intended to make love sound “Amazin'”, but instead turning it into something that's a “maybe”. James even tries to sneak back onto the song to kick a second verse, but that shit doesn't even matter: this battle was lost the moment the 'record' button was pressed.
8. CLOCKIN' G'S
This is more representative of the kind of Neptunes beat that I actually like. To his credit, Cool James drops an effective monologue describing the synapses popping off in the mind of a guy obsessed with material possessions (including women). Okay, that description made this sound smarter than it really is: this song is about getting money and what to do with it afterward. In other words, it's a joint for the clubs. It isn't rocket science, but LL rides the beat well, so this ended up being not that bad.
See, it's not just Lil' Wayne and Snoop: all rappers love writing songs called “Lollipop”. The candy confection is just very popular, and it lends itself well to being a euphemism for your dick. The beat (by Eric Nicks and Zukhan Bey, the latter of which also produced “P-Poppin'” by Ludacris and the former of which vanished off of the planet after this shit tanked) is so sickly sweet that you'll walk away from this song thisclose to being in a diabetic coma, which is never a good thing. I can't believe I'm writing the next sentence, so let me take a deep breath first. Okay. I'm ready now. I'd rather listen to Wayne's song on an endless loop than this shit, and that song is also fucking terrible. I know, I feel dirty, too.
10. AFTER SCHOOL (FEAT P. DIDDY)
I've heard rap songs before where the artists involved confuse listing the characteristics of various promiscuous women (who are always named; otherwise, other rappers may think that you're making all this shit up) with actual song lyrics, but this is among the worst. Cool James and Puff Daddy manage to take an old-school concept and, instead, make all old-school hip hop sound like a waste of your fucking valuable time. There is no need for anybody else to ever suffer through this shit, and I include LL and Diddy in that assessment, as I am not a vengeful or masochistic person. I would, however, subject Curtis Jackson and U-God to this, because I would consider that as an act of charity, and I can deduct that from my taxes.
11. THROW YA L'S UP
James Todd Smith's attempt to appease the guys whose girlfriends or wives are forcing them to listen to 10. On here, LL pretends that he's still as aggressive behind the mic as he was when he battled Canibus, which is also referred to in LL lore as “the last time he was relevant”. The problem is that this track isn't the least bit convincing: you'll probably walk away from this thinking that LL Cool J is one of the most overrated emcees in the game, and you wouldn't be that far from the truth. Oh, and you'll also probably end up annoyed with your girlfriend or wife, and you'll want to fuck her best friend out of some baseless need for revenge. I urge you to realize the consequences of those actions first, and instead use your girl's love of all things LL to set up some three-way action. You'll be happier in the long run.
12. U SHOULD
Cool James spends the entire track telling your girl how happy he can make her, while the hook, acting as the voice of reason, simply repeats the refrain “You should know how to treat your girl, playboy”, directly to the listener. However, I'm confused. How many guys who aren't music critics will actually sit through this shit and hear that message? Or maybe that was the point: this way, you can't say that LL didn't try to warn you when he swoops in and bangs your girl six ways from Sunday. Clever, James. Very clever.
13. 10 MILLION STARS
It's a bit too late to call it a comeback, Ladies Love. As one of the few rap veterans in the game who still manages to keep himself in the public eye (primarily due to his second life as an actor), LL deserves a valid shot at continuing his hip hop legacy. The first step would be to secure far better producers than those that populate 10. With assistance such as what he ended up with, there's no way that LL can win, regardless of how ill his lyrics actually are. (For the record, LL Cool J sounds pretty awful on here. I was just writing all of that to (a) make a valid point, and (b) fill the empty space.)
14. MIRROR MIRROR
15. BIG MAMA (UNCONDITIONAL LOVE) (FEAT DRU HILL)
LL dedicates this song to my grandmother, which, honestly, has been a long time coming: who else would have offered to drive his dog to the vet after she trapped herself in the chain-link fence separating our properties while his own grandmother was out playing bingo, eating an early bird special, and doing whatever else old people do? For this ode to his own “big mama” (not Martin Lawrence, thank God), LL Cool J resurrects the tattered corpses of the R&B group Dru Hill, who all faded into obscurity after Sisqo famously sang the praises of thongs. This was cheesy, but it was still a decent way to end the album, if only because LL actually sounds heartfelt. Oh, if only this were truly the end...
The following bonus track appears at the end of 10, added on by record label executives to capitalize on “synergy”, which is always a bad reason to do anything remotely associated with music.
16. ALL I HAVE (JENNIFER LOPEZ FEAT LL COOL J)
Appalling in so many ways. That is all. No, wait, I have more: Fuck this shit. This was a hit song at one point? What the fucking fuck is fucking wrong with you, America? Between this and Twilight, young women seem to have truly horrific taste in everything.
THE LAST WORD: I naturally assumed that, by working through LL Cool J's discography in reverse chronological order, I would start off with some garbage and find better material as I progressed. As it is, 10 is simply a terrible album, one which makes The DEFinition sound like Liquid Swords. Cool James has lost the ability to surround himself with quality producers, choosing instead to simply hire the most expensive at the time (The Neptunes cost a pretty penny), but rappers should have learned by now that throwing money at the problem doesn't solve said problem. LL Cool J simply has nothing much to say, and he hides this omission by claiming that his songs are for the female audience. Women listen to lyrics too, you know, and they will eventually discover that recycled love songs and fake thug posturing when you're a cast member on NCIS: Los Angeles don't automatically make you an artist they should continue to follow. There is nothing on 10 that screams to be heard: including one of two halfway decent tracks only serves to trick consumers into purchasing inferior products. Also, I suppose there was a somewhat valid reason to include J-Lo's “All I Have” on 10, but how is including her name on the back of an LL Cool J CD going to convince hip hop heads to buy this shit? There is no need for you two to even pretend to care about this shit.
Catch up on the rest of the James Todd Smith Experience by clicking here.