February 26, 2018

My Gut Reaction: LL Cool J - Authentic (April 30, 2013)

Lip Sync Battle’s James Todd Smith, who performs under the alias “LL Cool J” so as to avoid both process servers and his in-laws, has been an institution within our chosen genre damn near since its inception, and he’s made his mark over the course of his thirty-five year career. He’s been nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he’s the first rapper to be honored at the Kennedy Center Honors, he’s been nominated for multiple acting awards (including an Emmy and a bunch of NAACP Image awards), he’s hosted the Grammy awards ceremony five years in a row, and he even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. None of this would have been possible without rap, a fact he is fully cognizant of, and he periodically returns to the game in between acting jobs to sharpen his skills, put on some of the new blood, and to generally remind everyone of his first love, which is a tangible product that can be purchased in the form of thirteen studio albums and two greatest hits collections.

Yep, we’re going back to the LL Cool J reverse chronological review well today.

2013 saw the release of Cool James’ thirteenth album, Authentic (formerly Authentic Hip Hop). It is the first project he’s ever released without the financial backing of his former label home, Def Jam Records, who, as we all know, has seemed to move on to follow the trends set by the young bucks that all have “Lil’” in their rap names for some reason, as opposed to creating them. Instead, LL dropped Authentic on 429 Records, a label that specializes in rock music from the likes of (*checks list on Wikipedia*) Smash Mouth, Everclear, and Meat Loaf? Probably not the best move for a guy who wants to prove he’s still relevant, right? But I digress: maybe they bought him another house or something.

Authentic was preceded by two singles, neither of which made the final cut of the project, which happens a lot more these days than ever before: artists are forced to test the waters before a label will invest the funds required to finance and promote a full-length project, and LL Cool J’s no independent artist. You won’t see the man throw up a Bandcamp page anytime soon. That’s not his style: I’m sure he’d rather quit the game altogether than be forced to continue to sell himself. The man has the catalog and the trail of dead bodies in his wake to back up his career: for a dude who specializes in the love rap, he’s gotten into his fair share of battles, and besides, he’s still the same guy from Queens, so.

Authentic features an all-star guest list filled with names you normally wouldn’t see on a rap project and also Snoop Dogg (another guy who has transcended the hip hop game and is now a part of pop culture, although he dips back into music far more often than our host): I have to assume he paid all of these guys out of his own pocket, because there’s no way he convinced the label to pony up that kind of dough. Production is limited to mostly two entities: something called a Jaylien, and a second crew I’ll reveal in the body of the actual review, because it’s kind of a surprise and definitely aims for the same feeling of nostalgia LL Cool J is attempting.

You may not have realized Authentic ever dropped, because as far as I can tell, nobody purchased this album. Don’t feel bad for James, though: he’s got plenty of money, tons of acting work being thrown his way, and he’s already made plans for his next full-length, tentatively titled G.O.A.T. 2 (you know, because even rappers love making sequels now), which was supposed to have been released in 2015, but isn’t yet finished, according to our host.

Enjoy this one!

The line, “Hand on my nuts, that’s product placement,” is kind of funny, but not when it’s a part of a chorus that is repeated no less than three times. Anyway, Ladies Love goes the “comeback rap album entrance music” route, enlisting the Trackmasters (!) to help score his return, and it’s a mixed bag. Lyrically, LL Cool J is still a force to be reckoned with when he has something to say or at least a target picked out. “Bath Salt” has no such alignment: it’s so confused as to what it wants to be that it censors the word “ass” while letting “bastard” and “nuts” fly, which, while the latter two aren’t curses, you still can’t say them on the radio. Our host sounds okay-ish, but the hook is trash, and no amount of pretending that it’s all in tribute to Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” will win anybody over. This… should be a fun review.

Wait, what? Let’s see that again.

That guest list is LL Cool J pulling his dick out and slamming it onto a conference room table during a meeting with his board of directors. One could say that about the rest of Authentic, really: “Bath Salt” is the only track on the album that doesn’t have a guest feature.  Jaylien’s production underneath this love rap isn’t that bad: it brings Cool James into the modern era, at least, and he sounds decent enough performing over it. Fitz & The Tantrums, a group I kind of like but will admit to only knowing the singles (I will say if you like their shit, you should track down the French version of their “Out of My League”, as it sounds pretty good), are wasted on a generic hook: at least Eddie Van Halen’s guitar shredding at the three-quarter mark sounded fresh (for a rap song, anyway). In short: it was okay, but nowhere close to LL’s “I Need Love”, a song whose lyrics our host includes on “Not Leaving You Tonight” as a part of the background at one point, thereby forcing the comparison.

A cursory glance at the tracklisting to Authentic shows that a good majority of these songs will be love raps, so it’s clear which demographic LL Cool James was trying to reach out to. “New Love” is mostly a decent track for what it is, though: our host rides the Trackmasters beat well, and said Trackmasters beat shows a progression from their 1980’s-sampling hits from the 1990’s and early 2000’s.The only false note on this ode to “New Love” is Charlie Wilson from the Gap Band, who normally sounds great, but he feels shoehorned in as an afterthought, his crooning never matching the music’s intensity as he generally sounds like a studio musician for hire. Ah well.

At least Ladies Love still has a sense of humor, as he kicks off “We Came To Party” teasing yet another love rap before laughing at the audience and switching to this Jaylien-produced beat instead. Which is fine: you don’t bring in Fatman Scoop unless you need someone to shout catchphrases over loud club beats anyway. (Can you imagine his yelling over a love rap? He would be responsible for the death of so many erections. I could be wrong, though: if you can only cum when you hear repeated chants during rap songs, let us know in the comments.) The instrumental features elements designed to remind listeners of LL’s debut album Radio, and, to his credit, our host’s delivery at least tries to equal the aggression he showcased as a teen, which was a nice touch. He also addresses haters by saying, “I’m enjoying your blog,” and I’m now one hundred percent convinced he’s been following my reverse-chronological album series on him and am now motivated to write more. Snoop Dogg also shows up briefly, but his contribution is pretty lean and not worth talking about. Our host sounded engaged, at least.

James Todd Smith is not fucking around with the guest features on Authentic, connecting with fellow Space Jam soundtrack veteran Seal on “Give Me Love”, which is a cautionary tale about the consequences of choosing the wrong set to claim. Just kidding: it’s yet another love rap. Jaylien’s instrumental is poppy and monotonous, as is Seal’s vocal contribution, but there are hints of scratching underneath the music, which wasn’t unwelcome. I have to assume at this point that LL Cool J just assumed that his starring role on NCIS: Los Angeles had all but eliminated the hip hop head demographic from his audience? And what the fuck was with that “Dear Diary” outro? This was weak-ass shit.

So much meh crammed onto one audio track, which is a shame, given the guest list, which has to be a product of LL Cool J making solid business connections at pre- and post-Grammy mixers.

Okay, Cool James is just trolling us now: Bootsy Collins and Snoop Dogg on the same track, and yet “Bartender Please” doesn’t sound funky? The hell? Calvin returns to Authentic to drop a better verse than he did on “We Came To Party”, although he still sucks: he’s fully capable of destroying the microphone even today, but he hasn’t needed to do so for the better part of two decades now, so why would that suddenly change now? Hip hop’s second-favorite drummer Travis Barker plays the skins live on here, while Bootsy offers up some brief vocals, and none of those ingredients can save this song from itself. LL also seemed like he was feigning interest the entire time. Sigh.

Features one-third of the Prophets of Rage, some more live drum work from Travis Barker, and deejay Z-Trip kissing LL’s ass by scratching in some of his classic vocals. This Frankenstein’s Monster of a song is a mess, and not just because Chuck D is wholly wasted on the hook by reciting some of his own lyrics from Public Enemy tracks: Cool James does his best to sound sort-of work, but convinces nobody, least of all himself, so “Whaddup” ends up a loud bathroom break. But hey, at least Authentic isn’t all love songs! (Somehow this was selected to be the first actual single from the project, which, what the fuck?)

God damn it, James! It’s as though the planet had run out of the natural resource called “love”, and LL Cool J was the only man that could help with replenishment. At least I’m sure that’s a pitch LL will now try to sell to a major studio, which, if you’re really reading this blog, I’m happy to help you develop in exchange for a producer credit. “Between The Sheetz” is more of a sex rap, given its title, abut it still counts, and hopefully the audience for this type of stuff still exists for our host. The SoundZ beat isn’t terrible for what it is: I must give them credit for not sampling the Isley Brothers classic “Between The Sheets”, which would have been the obvious choice. Our host keeps referring to himself as “James T.” throughout the track, which I suppose could work out as a new loverman persona should he need one for contractual purposes. Anyway.

There is a finite number of words in the English language, and yet there are far too many songs called “Closer”. This Trackmasters production is pop-radio friendly piffle where LL Cool James admits that he doesn’t give a shit about his male audience: he makes music for women to dance to while they’re… cleaning their house? Double down on the sexism much, James T.? The message switches to a mixture of “I do what I want” and “You should listen to what you like, I don’t care,” which makes no sense when your song is titled “Closer”, but, you know, this track blows anyway, so. But kudos for pulling Monica away from her family long enough to record a useless contribution.

Our host meets up with his “Accidental Racist” collaborator Brad Paisley for another country-rap hybrid, this one thankfully sounding more poppy that country and avoiding the BuzzFeed-level hot takes of the well-intentioned-but-poorly-executed “Accidental Racist”. Paisley’s hook isn’t bad, but his appearance is a bit distracting: perhaps his contract required his vocals to be pitched louder so that he wouldn’t be lost in Jaylien’s generic instrumental. Our host also appears, but it really doesn’t matter. Nothing matters anymore.

There aren’t a lot of songs produced by both the Trackmasters and Eddie Van Halen out there: this is probably the only one that will ever exist. Double L channels a guy who’s listened to Queen’s “We Are The Champions” once and didn’t quite catch all of the lyrics, claiming to be the greatest while making absurd stray observations, such as wondering why Pope Benedict really quit his post. I don’t know why our host even bothered to curse just to edit it out later: you could have just rewritten the verses before recording, bro. Anyway, this shit was bad and I’m happy it’s over.

Target offered an exclusive version of Authentic that featured several bonus tracks. I don’t have that one, and I wouldn’t tell you even if I did, but there was one song included that I felt warranted a mention.

What the mother fuck? “Remember Me” is a rare instance of a retail-exclusive track that you two may actually want to listen to, thanks to its production from motherfucking Marley Marl, and I have to say, the beat is really goddamn good: it’s a nice flashback “for the culture” (as is expressed at the very beginning), but modern enough for “Remember Me” to catch the younger listener’s ear. Cool James takes the track unto more serious territory, as he talks about racial inequality and societal woes, subject matter that doesn’t translate well over an instrumental that sounds equipped for a party atmosphere, but he comes across well. And I highly recommend that you two track this one down, even with the guest vocals from Alicia Myers that were entirely unnecessary and yet unobtrusive. Most likely it was pushed to Target because it doesn’t really fit the rest of Authentic, or maybe LL was worried that the Trackmasters and Jaylien would get jealous, but fuck those guys, it’s Marley fucking Marl.

Another song of note, what follows was the original first single from what was then called Authentic Hip Hop, which doubled as a way to remind listeners that LL Cool J was still a thing that existed.

Far too sexist and out-of-character for our host to ever actually include on any proper album. You can read the song title and figure out what this shit is about, but just in case you’ve been off the grid: LL Cool J likes fucking hos, and some of those hos like him for his money. Some of the lines are kind of goofy, but most of this is our host trying to love ‘em and leave ‘em, and he doesn’t sound genuine, possibly because of his lifetime of love raps to the contrary. Cool James has since called “Ratchet” a fun throwaway, but the man was too old to record shit like this back in 2012, and the damage was done. This was terrible.

THE LAST WORD: So here’s the deal: Authentic isn’t to be considered authentic hip hop in most fashions (unless one counts “Remember Me”), which is likely why the title was truncated. The beats are much more polished than most heads will prefer, and lyrically LL Cool J is focused on the ladies in the audience, so this very much wasn’t made for a good half of his potential demographic. But this isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever heard: James Todd continues to come up with clever ways to make his woman feel loved, and when the occasion calls for it, he can still beat your ass to a pulp, whether it’s behind the mic or in real life, like that dumbass who dared break into his home. (The latter trait isn't exhibited on Authentic, by the way: I'm still thinking of his surprise cameo on the remix to Action Bronson's "Strictly For My Jeeps".) For a guy who really doesn’t need this rap shit anymore (he has nothing to prove anymore, and his primary source of income is far more stable now), he doesn’t sound half bad, and I’m sure he could destroy another rapper’s career if he absolutely needed to. But for now, Authentic is akin to a victory lap, and the songs contained within won’t stick to your ribs, although quite a bit of this is perfectly pleasant (keep in mind that some of this is fucking garbage, though). The production carries the album: the Trackmasters unsurprisingly come up with some catchy shit (this was something they did with regularity back in the 1990s and 2000s, in case you’ve blocked all of that from your memory), and the tracks produced by Jaylien include more modern touches that help advance the cause. In short, I now kind of want to continue this LL Cool J writing project, which is more than I can say for Fat Joe, but let’s see how I feel next time around. (Coming next in the man’s catalog, unless he surprise-drops another album before I can get to it, is 14 Shots To The Dome, so prepare yourselves.)


The LL Cool J project is back on! Catch up on previous entries here.


  1. I must say: I’m so glad you pointed out Remember Me. I remember first tracking down that song five years ago and dammit, this is the type of music we need to hear from figures like Todd.

    1. Seconded, even though I think we all just got lucky that "Remember Me" is as good as it is.

  2. My girlfriend was watching the Kennedy Center Honors with her parents and apparently her mom said "I didn't know LL Cool J used to be a rapper!" I guess I can imagine people saying the same thing about Ice Cube at this point.

    I'm glad that your backwards project is finally bringing you to the period where LL didn't suck.

    1. I think you're wrong about Cube, only because he seems to go out of his way to remind everyone he raps. He was an executive producer of Straight Outta Compton and had a hand in getting his own son hired to play him, after all. But I can absolutely see that public perception for Mr. Smith.

  3. LL is one of those rappers who I completely forget the music of (mainly because he doesn't continue to keep his name in hip hop news, as you mentioned), then get really nostalgic about and spend the rest of the day blasting I'm Bad. I can't wait until you get to the start

  4. that's one of the most eclectic guest lists I've ever seen for an album of any genre