The hipsters got hipped to L.L. Cool J, the seventeen-year-old from Queens, New York, when his insistent “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” rocked the movie Krush Groove. Banging and clapping and squealing with hiphop rhythms, the song is a forceful defense of those gargantuan cassette players that torment subway riders: both a funny and a defiant theme. “Walking down the street to the hardcore beat/While my JVC vibrates the concrete,” goes the uncompromising rap, a little slice of inner-city life.
Like Run-D.M.C. and Whodini, the best of the latter-day rappers, L.L. Cool J keeps the orchestration minimal, the words clever and the beat enormous. The record really booms. Though it may be most original in the rap ballads “I Want You” and “I Can Give You More,” in which puppy love is given a pounding, it’s the sassier, dance-worthy songs that make this record such an irresistible party. “Rock the Bells,” a mighty boasting rap, offers a huge donging bass line interrupted by chiming guitar notes, marrying heavy metal and hip-hop like “King of Rock.”
Though L.L. Cool J steers clear of most of the braggadocio that used to be the point of rapping, he hits the mark with a good put-down in “You Can’t Dance.” “Why are you so stiff?/Is it something that your mother did?” he chides. “Maybe you grew up around can’t-dance people/When you were a can’t-dance kid.” L.L. Cool J offers more than tough attitude: he’s a good songwriter (who just can’t sing). There’s a whole cast of characters alongside the can’t-dance loser, including “the largest liar ever created/You and Pinocchio are probably related” (from “That’s a Lie”) and “Dear Yvette,” who’s the “mascot of the senior boys’ locker room” and the opposite of the hard-to-get Roxanne, last year’s favorite rap girlfriend.
Least successful is an a cappella rap called “El Shabazz” that just sounds like some goofing off at the end of a recording session. It’s a vocal imitation of Doug E. Fresh, a very original artist whose twelve-inch single “The Show,” on Reality Records, is a must buy for anybody interested in rap music — and anybody interested in hearing someone a cool kid like L.L. Cool J would try to emulate.