Release Date: Apr 30, 2013
Record label: 429 Records
Genre(s): Rap, East Coast Rap, Pop-Rap
"Authentic"? What jive. LL Cool J is rap's longest-running act, and it's his pop savvy, his indifference to orthodoxy, his easygoing star power that've kept him going. On Authentic, LL's first LP not released by Def Jam, the guest list is a testament to open-mindedness and crossover ambitions: Snoop Dogg, Travis Barker, Chuck D, Charlie Wilson, Eddie Van Halen, Earth, Wind and Fire, Monica, Seal, Brad Paisley.
LL Cool J :: AuthenticS-Bro/429 RecordsAuthor: Steve 'Flash' Juon"When you say that I'm the best, remember I said it first!" The swagger James Todd Smith has on "Authentic" is the same he's had since the 1980's, when neither LL Cool J nor hip-hop could live without his "Radio. " If the original Yankee Stadium was "The House That Ruth Built," then Def Jam Recordings is and always will be "The House That LL Built" given he made the first full length album the label released. In the years and albums that followed his combination of pugilistic swagger and female friendly ballads made him accessible to a large demographic, one that only grew larger through movie and TV appearances.
Do the ladies still love cool J? His shredded torso still bedecks the covers of glossy magazines, he hosted this year's Grammys, and more recently he kept bloggers in business by joining Brad Paisley on “Accidental Racist,” the timing of which was hardly accidental. Authentic exudes a comeback confidence that smacks of Dr. Dre in 2000, especially in LL's curiously self-conscious moments: “Honestly, I was scared to come back/It was ugly not knowin' how the game would react/They said, 'My old gym teacher ain't supposed to rap.'” Not every line is sharp, but too much self-awareness would torpedo a mainstream hip-hop artist.
Authentic serves as LL Cool J’s first album in five years as well as his first sans a Def Jam backing. In between his continued role as Special Agent Sam Hannah on “NCIS: Los Angeles” and a second consecutive year hosting the Grammy’s, one of Hip Hop’s earliest pop-stars seems intent on reminding the entertainment industry how he first entered the spotlight nearly 30 years ago. A young LL originally broke ground with his signature blend of tough-guy bravado and whispering loverboyness in the late ‘80s, transitioning into the dual role of rapper-actor in the early ‘90s.
When LL Cool J dubs his 2013 effort Authentic, the veteran rapper is referring to an album that's authentically LL Cool J circa 2013, and not one that's authentically hip-hop. That's important to remember as the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink effort overflows with guests from every genre, like Public Enemy's Chuck D, blink-182's Travis Barker, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, and electro-rocker Z-Trip. That busy jumble of names is not only on the same album, but on the same track, as in "Whaddup," a pop-protest number that's admirable enough, and one that sounds more natural than "Accidental Racist," LL's much-maligned duet with Brad Paisley.
Exit 13, LL Cool J’s 2008 album that signaled the end of LL’s long, storied career at Def Jam, was not a well-planned album by any stretch of the imagination (even the title loses its bite once you realize it’s actually his 12th album) but it was a fine way to end a career. LL’s performance on the microphone proved he’d long since lost what made the Ladies Love Cool James. The scattered production, mostly from mismatches and no-names, proved the only concept behind the album was as simple as a product on a shelf.
On “Bath Salt,” LL Cool J raps, “Never try to sound like a rapper I raised” and that’s precisely why most of his first record in five years works. LL knows he’s from a different generation and he owns his age and legacy here. On the fine “Closer,” he says defiantly, “LL, grown man/ couldn’t give a damn if young boy’s a fan.” Thirty years in, LL still spins taut couplets as often as he licks his lips and delivers them with nimble style.
Everything LL Cool J has done since starring in 1995 NBC sitcom In The House has been shamelessly try-hard, making the title of his latest effort particularly amusing. Right down to his cringe-worthy Grammy hosting, LL has brazenly watered down his image by pandering to his NCIS-watching, Fifty Shades-loving fan base. The moronic We Came To Party starts by spoofing a cheesy, song-opening voice-over, but then on Waiting On You, he actually does a cheesy, song-opening voice-over.