September 11, 2010

My Gut Reaction: LL Cool J - G.O.A.T. (Featuring James T. Smith, The Greatest Of All Time) (September 5, 2000)

In 2000, James Todd Smith found himself at a crossroads.  His last album, 1997's Phenomenon, was all but forgotten within the murky waters that constitute hip hop beef (his legendary battle with young scrapper Canibus, which people to this day claim he lost but when you look at the career of Canibus it becomes very fucking obvious that LL Cool J won that fight, began on that very project).  Instead of catering to the ladies that followed his acting career and his many love songs, Ladies Love needed to reinvent himself to remain relevant in hip hop. 

In the three years that it took him to finally record and release his eighth solo album, the ridiculously titled G.O.A.T. (Featuring James T. Smith, The Greatest Of All Time) (which I will refer to as G.O.A.T. from this point forward just because I can), he successfully made a case for his continued rap career.  He began to refer to himself as the Greatest Of All Time (hence the acronym in the album title), he destroyed Canibus in the unreleased "The Ripper Strikes Back", which was a response to Germaine's "Second Round K.O.", a beef that I plan on diving into whenever I finally get to Phenomenon.  (Much less known is his response record to Wyclef Jean, "Rasta Impostor", which was all sorts of terrible.  Seriously, unless you're Lauryn Hill, why bother dissing Wyclef?  It's like yelling at a retarded puppy.)  He starred in the Oliver Stone film Any Given Sunday, where he promptly started to hate the shit out of co-star Jamie Foxx.  (Just like with Wyclef, the beef with Jamie Foxx has since been squashed.)  And he recorded a song called "Ill Bomb", which shocked the hell out of everyone in hip hop because it proved that LL Cool James could actually hang with the new kids, and what's more, he could buy them liquor, too!  That makes him cool, right?

G.O.A.T. was LL Cool J's first album to debut in the number one slot of the Billboard 200.  Although it certainly has its share of songs for the ladies, LL went out of his way to appeal to the streets.  He visited inmates on Rikers Island for inspiration, he secured beats from producers such as DJ Scratch and Adam F., and he even swung a sackful of kittens around an A&P just to prove he could.  And he regained his ability to hold a grudge: G.O.A.T. contains numerous potshots at the aforementioned Canibus and Jamie Foxx, although to be fair, he clearly bested both of them and was now just showing the fuck off.

G.O.A.T. is also notable as being the final album I can write a Gut Reaction post to in LL's catalog.  I stopped caring about where his career was going after Phenomenon, so I naturally moved on to other wastes of my money (*cough* Wu-Tang b-teamers *cough*).  So will I finally be surprised with an LL Cool James project?  Probably not, but let's continue anyway.

Over the same Mad Lads sample (from “Gone, The Promises of Yesterday”) that Cappadonna and Ghostface Killah used for “'97 Mentality”, Cool James establishes the rules for the album: as he is an incredible rap artist (the greatest of all time, perhaps?), you will enjoy what amounts to his comeback to hip hop relevancy, goddammit, regardless of how you feel about his love raps. LL throws in much more profanity than I remember hearing during the previous three write-ups combined (Exit 13 is excluded from this comparison), and I have to say that the men does make a credible case for us believing in his mic skills again. This was actually pretty fucking good.

Unlike this shit, which is pretty fucking tedious. I've never seen a rapper fall off so quickly; during the empty space between the intro and “Imagine That”, LL Cool James somehow lost the plot and decided to stick with the status quo, as he uses his sex rap as currency to pay for his performance-enhancing drugs. Rockwilder, who was a hot producer in hip hop at this time for some indiscernible reason, provides an instrumental full of blips and beeps that fail to form into anything resembling music, and James Todd uses the chorus to brag that he can disrespect a woman (specifically LeShaun, who last appeared on LL's hit “Doin' It”) and still get that ass later. Well, that's appealing. I've already lost faith in G.O.A.T.

Ja Rule could vanish off of the face of the Earth and everyone would go about their daily lives without interruption, including Ja's mother and his children, so I won't even bother taking a potshot at his terribly inconsequential chorus. Instead, I'll focus on our host, who attacks Canibus with such ferocious tenacity (at one point even claiming that he was conspiring with Wyclef to set up the young upstart for failure) that it makes little sense that LL essentially admits to losing the battle because he wasn't willing to stoop to Germaine's level. Huh? I like to hear a focused LL rant, so this wasn't bad, but his actual response record, “The Ripper Strikes Back”, which was never officially released on any album but can easily be found online, accurately and methodically tore Canibus a new one, so I don't understand his sudden turn for the humble, unless he was just trying to prove a point. You won, LL: give it up already.

Obviously, Cool James realized that he didn't have a self-titled record in his back catalog, and decided to rectify that omission. I loved it when DJ Premier used “I Put A Spell On You” (from Screamin' Jay Hawkins) as a platform for The Notorious B.I.G. to kick doors an anonymous door while brandishing a firearm. Vada Nobles's take on the same source material, though, is fucking horrible, so much so that even if LL Cool J sounded decent (which he doesn't), you would need to skip this shit in order to avoid the inevitable migraine headache. What the fuck was this shit supposed to be, Mr. Smith? Huh?

British producer Adam F. gives LL Cool J his own version of Q-Tip's “Vivrant Thing”, and to his credit, this was actually fairly entertaining, except for whenever the poorly-conceived hook kicked in. But this was still catchy enough that I'm surprised Def Jam didn't push this onto multiple media platforms. It's not LL's best song by any means, but he's done a lot worse, both before and since.

I would normally comment that this skit (which, apparently, leads straight into the next track) is unnecessary, but guest star Redman's stoner assertion that “your mom plays guitar for D'Angelo” somehow qualifies as an insult was fucking hilarious. Oh, Reggie, you got me again!

LL Cool J and his friends attempt to recapture the magic from their previous collaboration, Phenomenon's “4,3,2,1”, conveniently forgetting about the fact that “4,3,2,1” actually started the battle between LL and Canibus to begin with. (Germaine is, of course, missing in action.) James even convinced the Trackmasters to provide the beat, but the problem is that this song blows. The performances are lively enough, but the instrumental is very weak, the quartet adopt New Jersey HBO mob slang for a chorus that is apropos to nothing, and it's obvious that all four artists behind the mic were more interested in the easy paycheck than having to actually come up with something new. However, as I have already forgotten about this song (as I'm sure both of you have also already done), I'm not very bothered by this development.

LL Cool James shouldn't have to resort to vocal gimmicks (such as punching in the last two syllables of every bar) to sell a song, but here we are. I was nonplussed by everything on here, save for our host's claim that another major label was trying to woo him away from Def Jam. My money's on No Limit. Then again, I also believe that the Washington Generals are due.

You know what you're getting into whenever you see the Carl Thomas brand affixed to any rap song: generic piffle. If only Carl would occasionally sing some gangsta shit a la Nate Dogg, we might still give a fuck about his career. I also just realized that I can't remember one goddamn thing about this song, so I'm not sure how I've written such a long paragraph.

LL tackles a Ty Fyffe beat that sounds as though it would have been better suited for a crime tale from The Lox. Of course, Cool James can't talk about stealing shit, as nobody would ever believe that the guy who has his own CBS hourlong police procedural is also a criminal mastermind, so he adopts an alternate tactic: he raps about himself. Selective censorship is always intriguing to me: I'm pretty sure the word “hell” is backmasked, but the word “fuck” is not, so that was different. This wasn't bad, though, for what it is.

LL Cool J has phone sex with former F.O.H. (Friend of Hova) Amil, all while his girlfriend is...out? In the next room? Sitting on his lap? Who the fuck cares? With Teairra Mari on Todd Smith's “Preserve The Sexy” and now this, I find it disturbing that LL wants to fuck chicks who were once signed to Roc-A-Fella Records exclusively. DJ Scratch's beat wasn't bad, bit it wasn't meant to play in the background during a corny sex rap. I seem to remember Cool James giving the readers of Vibe his sexual tips in an issue, and he mentioned the shower curtain and baby oil trick also discussed on here. So he's even reusing his own material. Oh well. Maybe I didn't care for this song because I've never found Amil remotely attractive. She's no Teairra Mari, that's for sure.

Meh. This shit is also five-and-a-half minutes long, so double meh.

What the fuck is up with the long-ass songs on G.O.A.T.? Does Ladies Love really think he has that much to say? Clearly he does: on “Homicide”, he uses DJ Scratch's instrumental to spin a few yarns describing life in the streets and comparing the hood to the tragic events of Columbine (although LL is quick to mention multiple times that he isn't trying to act disrespectful toward the victims of that tragedy). I wonder if the story about “Bunz” during the first verse was intended to be a direct attack on Jamie Foxx, as that was his character's name in Booty Call. Shit, I can't believe I actually remembered that bit of trivia.

Speaking of Jamie Foxx, the end of LL's first verse on this unexpected string-laced banger is absolutely directed toward the man who would go on to win an Oscar for portraying Ray Charles as if his life was restricted to the confines of a Diet Pepsi commercial. Aside from the guest list, there isn't much about this DJ Scratch-produced song that screams out “West Coast”, and if you erased Jayo Felony's shitty performance entirely (I believe he was included as a part of Def Jam's Make A Wish program: Jayo wished that his fellow labelmates would finally pay some fucking attention to him, and Cool James got the call), this shit would actually sound even better. Fuck it, this song was pretty hot. X and Snoop mesh with LL as if they were peanut butter, jelly, and the small bag of potato chips that you can readily find at any sandwich shop.

Yet another Mobb Deep attempt (Havoc behind the boards, Cellblock P on the mic) to filter their sound through an artist who doesn't really fit their mold. Unlike Hav's work with Foxy Brown and Eminem, though, this song rings hollow. Did I just imply that Foxy Brown and Eminem are not only comparable as artists, but that they're also both better at their craft than LL Cool J? I did and I didn't. It is what it is.

16. THE G.O.A.T.
In this title track of sorts (since the actual title of the album doesn't include the “the”), Cool James decides to assert his dominance over all other farm animals by taking over the dance floor. The man has a point: your favorite rapper today probably does have all of LL's albums sitting somewhere on his shelf: Ladies Love has been in the rap game for eighty-six years running. But this self-imposed “greatest of all time” label is ridiculous, since all LL has under his belt is an impressive work ethic that resulted in thirteen major label albums, all with Def Jam: he hasn't done much to actually advance the art form. Except for choosing an acronym that causes him to constantly refer to himself as a goat. That's fucking awesome.

G.O.A.T. caps off the evening with a couple of bonus tracks.

During the “Intro”, Cool James mentioned that the genesis of G.O.A.T. came about when he dropped a song called “Ill Bomb” (which was originally featured on Funkmaster Flex & Big Kap's The Tunnel) and everybody realized that he was still pretty entertaining behind the mic (read: he didn't sound completely corny when he cursed). So it makes sense that he would include this Scratch-produced track as a bonus song an album that probably sold a bit more than Flex did. It helps that this shit still sounds pretty fresh today: I was one of those hip hop heads that had essentially written off LL before he unleashed this banger.

18. M.I.S.S. I (FEAT CASE)
Clearly left off of the final cut of G.O.A.T. for a reason. Don't feel bad for guest star Case, though: his career was already over at this point.

Overseas pressings of G.O.A.T. include additional bonus tracks as well, but I don't have any of those versions, so I'm just about done here.

THE LAST WORD: While G.O.A.T. is a step in the right direction for LL Cool J (I know, that statement sounds weird when you realize that I'm working through the man's catalog in reverse chronological order), his attempt to mix his standard love raps with an awkwardly aggressive tone mostly falls flat. On the hardcore tracks, he spits with a fire that I hadn't heard since “The Ripper Strikes Back”, tearing his nemeses Canibus and Jamie Foxx in half, but those moments are few and far between. The rest of the project is padded with substandard songs for the ladies, misguided attempts at social commentary, and general braggadocio regarding how he plans on using his skills as an actor to fuck your girlfriend in the back of your SUV while sticking you with the cleaning bill, as he does truly have that much game. The production work ranges wildly from great to piss-poor, and while Cool James sounds technically proficient over any beat, it's tough to find a reason for anybody to actually want to buy this album. Until next time, Mr. Smith.


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


  1. LL didn't end Canibus' career, a terrible ear for beats and being weird as hell did. And Canibus beat LL like a red-headed step child, it was one of the most lopsided beefs since Common & Ice Cube.

  2. Nice review, though I thought the other Canibus diss song was called "The Ripper Strikes Back".

  3. Lol @ this review, it made me laugh but it's very true and I agree with most of it.

    Aside from "Phenomenon" all LL releases you have to work your way through are actually decent at least.

  4. Patrick - Duly noted, and fixed. Although "Return Of The Ripper" will now probably end up as the title of a future, as yet unwritten LL Cool J dis rap.

  5. 'While G.O.A.T. is a step in the right direction for LL Cool J (I know, that statement sounds weird when you realize that I'm working through the man's catalog in reverse chronological order'
    Lol! Loving these reviews. Keep it up!

  6. This just in: Max still really doesn't like Canibus.

  7. Follow my new blog pleace, check ma profile... Beats, production ect.

  8. djbosscrewwreckaSeptember 12, 2010

    Second the comment from Vslyke, and I think joining the army didn't help Canibus' career much either.
    Fair enough if you don't like Canibus, but at that time of their beef, Canibus was hungrier, and better, than LL, and everything he said on "Second Round KO" was right.
    There's a reason people still say Canibus won that battle.

  9. LL Cool J is mediocre at best, glad Canibus destroyed his ass

  10. Maaax, post something new already!
    I need a fix! *scratches his arms*