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Pop - Released January 1, 1996 | Def Jam Recordings

All World: Greatest Hits is an excellent compilation of LL Cool J's greatest hits, featuring 16 of his biggest and best singles, including "I Can't Live Without My Radio," "Rock the Bells," "I'm Bad," "I Need Love," "Going Back to Cali," "Jingling Baby," "The Boomin' System," "Mama Said Knock You Out," "Around the Way Girl," and "Hey Lover." It's the definitive retrospective of one of the greatest rappers to ever record, and if you doubt the truth of that statement, just take a listen to this collection. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released August 27, 1990 | LL Cool J.

Increasingly dismissed by hip-hop fans as an old-school relic and a slick pop sellout, LL Cool J rang in the '90s with Mama Said Knock You Out, a hard-edged artistic renaissance that became his biggest-selling album ever. Part of the credit is due to producer Marley Marl, whose thumping, bass-heavy sound helps LL reclaim the aggression of his early days. Mama Said Knock You Out isn't quite as hard as Radio, instead striking a balance between attitude and accessibility. But its greater variety and more layered arrangements make it LL's most listenable album, as well as keeping it in line with more contemporary sensibilities. Marl's productions on the slower tracks are smooth and soulful, but still funky; as a result, the ladies'-man side of LL's persona is the most convincing it's ever been, and his ballads don't feel sappy for arguably the first time on record. Even apart from the sympathetic musical settings, LL is at his most lyrically acrobatic, and the testosterone-fueled anthems are delivered with a force not often heard since his debut. The album's hits are a microcosm of its range -- "The Boomin' System" is a nod to bass-loving b-boys with car stereos; "Around the Way Girl" is a lush, winning ballad; and the title cut is one of the most blistering statements of purpose in hip-hop. It leaves no doubt that Mama Said Knock You Out was intended to be a tour de force, to regain LL Cool J's credibility while proving that he was still one of rap's most singular talents. It succeeded mightily, making him an across-the-board superstar and cementing his status as a rap icon beyond any doubt. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released November 20, 1995 | LL Cool J.

On the strength of the slow-burning Boyz II Men duet "Hey Lover," LL Cool J returned to the top of the charts with Mr. Smith, meaning the album is somewhat of a comeback for the veteran rapper. LL Cool J's skills had never deserted him, but his previous album, 14 Shots to the Dome, was an exercise in hardcore that only worked in fits and spurts. There are a couple of hard moments on Mr. Smith, but the album is at its most successful when he concentrates on his seductive, romantic side. LL has gotten a bit dirtier since the teenage days of "I Need Love," but he never steps over into the explicit, lewd come-ons of R. Kelly, preferring to suggest everything with a series of double entendres, metaphors, and analogies. Mr. Smith isn't a perfect record -- there are too many slack moments for it to qualify as one of his best -- but it proves that LL Cool J remained vital a decade after his debut. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 1985 | Mercury Records

Run-D.M.C. was the first rap act to produce cohesive, fully realized albums, and LL Cool J was the first to follow in their footsteps. LL was a mere 17 years old when he recorded his classic debut album Radio, a brash, exuberant celebration of booming beats and B-boy attitude that launched not only the longest career in hip-hop, but also Rick Rubin's seminal Def Jam label. Rubin's back-cover credit ("Reduced by Rick Rubin") is an entirely apt description of his bare-bones production style. Radio is just as stripped-down and boisterously aggressive as any Run-D.M.C. album, sometimes even more so; the instrumentation is basically just a cranked-up beatbox, punctuated by DJ scratching. There are occasional brief samples, but few do anything more than emphasize a downbeat. The result is rap at its most skeletal, with a hard-hitting, street-level aggression that perfectly matches LL's cocksure teenage energy. Even the two ballads barely sound like ballads, since they're driven by the same slamming beats. Though they might sound a little squared-off to modern ears, LL's deft lyrics set new standards for MCs at the time; his clever disses and outrageous but playful boasts still hold up poetically. Although even LL himself would go on to more intricate rhyming, it isn't really necessary on such a loud, thumping adrenaline rush of a record. Radio was both an expansion of rap's artistic possibilities and a commercial success (for its time), helping attract new multiracial audiences to the music. While it may take a few listens for modern ears to adjust to the minimalist production, the fact that it hews so closely to rap's basic musical foundation means that it still possesses a surprisingly fresh energy, and isn't nearly as dated as many efforts that followed it (including, ironically, some of LL's own). © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released November 21, 1995 | Def Jam Recordings

On the strength of the slow-burning Boyz II Men duet "Hey Lover," LL Cool J returned to the top of the charts with Mr. Smith, meaning the album is somewhat of a comeback for the veteran rapper. LL Cool J's skills had never deserted him, but his previous album, 14 Shots to the Dome, was an exercise in hardcore that only worked in fits and spurts. There are a couple of hard moments on Mr. Smith, but the album is at its most successful when he concentrates on his seductive, romantic side. LL has gotten a bit dirtier since the teenage days of "I Need Love," but he never steps over into the explicit, lewd come-ons of R. Kelly, preferring to suggest everything with a series of double entendres, metaphors, and analogies. Mr. Smith isn't a perfect record -- there are too many slack moments for it to qualify as one of his best -- but it proves that LL Cool J remained vital a decade after his debut. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released July 22, 1987 | Def Jam Recordings

LL Cool J rocketed to the top of the hip-hop world in 1985 with Radio, his astonishing debut, but he lost his footing a bit with Bigger and Deffer, his mildly disappointing follow-up that proved to be a commercial breakthrough all the same. It's a powerful album that gets underway with a bang, as LL raps, "No rapper can rap quite like I can," and makes his case throughout the album-opening "I'm Bad," a ferocious hardcore rap with a great DJ-scratched hook. While that song ranks among LL's best (and most popular) ever, Bigger and Deffer doesn't boast too many other standout moments, with the exception of "I Need Love." Its balladic tenderness comes as a late-album surprise, considering how ferocious LL sounds elsewhere here. Nonetheless, like it or loathe it, the song set the template for a number of such lovers raps that would bring LL much crossover success in the years to come. "I Need Love" aside, Bigger and Deffer is consistently solid, produced entirely by the L.A. Posse (Darryl Pierce, Dwayne Simon, and Bobby Erving) and filled with the sort of hard-hitting hip-hop that was Def Jam's staple at the time. But while the album is mostly solid, it does lack the creative spark that had made Radio such an invigorating release only a couple years prior (the absence of Rick Rubin here is unfortunate). In those couple years since LL had put out Radio, rap music had taken big strides. Now, in 1987, LL had to contend with the likes of Eric B. & Rakim, Kool Moe Dee, Public Enemy, and Boogie Down Productions, with others like EPMD, Big Daddy Kane, Ice-T, and N.W.A on the horizon. When put in such a context, Bigger and Deffer pales a bit; in the years since LL's Radio rocked the streets of New York, rap had taken leaps and bounds while LL hadn't. So it was no surprise when LL suddenly came under attack by his rivals and a few fans, sending him back to the drawing board for his next effort, the whopping 18-track Walking with a Panther (1989). © Jason Birchmeier /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released August 27, 1990 | LL Cool J.

Increasingly dismissed by hip-hop fans as an old-school relic and a slick pop sellout, LL Cool J rang in the '90s with Mama Said Knock You Out, a hard-edged artistic renaissance that became his biggest-selling album ever. Part of the credit is due to producer Marley Marl, whose thumping, bass-heavy sound helps LL reclaim the aggression of his early days. Mama Said Knock You Out isn't quite as hard as Radio, instead striking a balance between attitude and accessibility. But its greater variety and more layered arrangements make it LL's most listenable album, as well as keeping it in line with more contemporary sensibilities. Marl's productions on the slower tracks are smooth and soulful, but still funky; as a result, the ladies'-man side of LL's persona is the most convincing it's ever been, and his ballads don't feel sappy for arguably the first time on record. Even apart from the sympathetic musical settings, LL is at his most lyrically acrobatic, and the testosterone-fueled anthems are delivered with a force not often heard since his debut. The album's hits are a microcosm of its range -- "The Boomin' System" is a nod to bass-loving b-boys with car stereos; "Around the Way Girl" is a lush, winning ballad; and the title cut is one of the most blistering statements of purpose in hip-hop. It leaves no doubt that Mama Said Knock You Out was intended to be a tour de force, to regain LL Cool J's credibility while proving that he was still one of rap's most singular talents. It succeeded mightily, making him an across-the-board superstar and cementing his status as a rap icon beyond any doubt. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 1989 | Def Jam Recordings

Released at a time when hip-hop's anxieties about crossover success were at a fever pitch, Walking With a Panther found LL Cool J trying to reinvent his sound while building on the commercial breakthrough of Bigger and Deffer. Even though the album succeeded on both counts, it did so in a way that didn't sit well with hip-hop purists, who began to call LL's credibility into question. Their fears about commercialism diluting the art form found a focal point in LL, the man who pioneered the rap ballad -- and there are in fact three ballads here, all of them pretty saccharine (and, tellingly, none of them singles). Apart from that, some of the concerns now seem like much ado about nothing, and there are numerous fine moments (and a few great singles) to be found on the album. It is true, though, that Walking With a Panther does end up slightly less than the sum of its parts. For one thing, it's simply too long; moreover, the force of his early recordings is missing, and there's occasionally a sense that his once-peerless technique on the mic is falling behind the times. Nonetheless, Walking With a Panther is still a fine outing on which LL proves himself a more-than-capable self-producer. The fuller, more fleshed-out sound helps keep his familiar b-boy boasts sounding fresh, and force or no force, he was in definite need of an update. On the singles -- "Going Back to Cali," "I'm That Type of Guy" (inexplicably left off All World), "Jingling Baby," and "Big Ole Butt" -- LL exudes an effortless cool; he's sly, assured, and in full command of a newfound sexual presence on record. So despite its flaws, Walking With a Panther still ranks as one of LL's stronger albums -- strong enough to make the weak moments all the more frustrating. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 1997 | Def Jam Recordings

Mr. Smith was the third comeback for LL Cool J, the third time he returned to commercial and creative strengths after being written off by many critics and fans. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that its follow-up, Phenomenon, finds LL coasting -- after all, after his two previous comeback albums, he allowed himself to slacken the pace a little bit and ride on his credentials. Fortunately, Phenomenon isn't nearly as weak as 14 Shots to the Dome or Bigger and Deffer, but it simply doesn't have the power of masterpieces like Radio and Mama Said Knock You Out. Essentially, it's a retread of Mr. Smith, offering the same laid-back soul jams and rolling party beats. There's a couple of killer singles, a few dogs, and a lot of filler -- more so than on Mr. Smith, in fact. Still, Phenomenon sounds good when it's playing, and even if it doesn't leave a lasting impression, it's a solid, professional effort that illustrates why LL is still in the game, 12 years after his first record. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 2000 | Def Jam Recordings

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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 2004 | Mercury Records

It's great to hear LL Cool J so unrestrained and so inspired on "Hush," one of the fantastic tracks on the more hit than miss The DEFinition. The track segues into the much lesser "I'm gonna do this to you, I'm gonna do that to you" Penthouse letter that's "Every Sip," but there's more here to bounce to than on 2002's mushy 10, and you can thank Timbaland for that. He's in the producer's chair for the banging kickoff single, "Headsprung," where LL meets the South with crunk beats and a slowed-down, syrup-sipper's chorus. He adds that Art of Noise-styled, mystic pan flute synth to "Can't Explain It" and a buzzing-in-your-ear melody to "Feel the Beat." LL responses to all these fresh sounds with vigor, spitting out the rhymes swiftly, and comes up with a couple things that make you go "dang!" without a trip or stumble. As good as Timbaland's beats are, it's 7 Aurelius who steals the show with his work on "Hush." It's more lovers' rap from LL, but Aurelius' beats and tricks should appeal to XY and XX chromosomes equally. Same goes for his team-up with R. Kelly, "I'm About to Get Her," making "Every Sip" the only romantic yawner. LL offers up "you rap for the thugs/I rap for the ladies" on the album, but there's some tough, near-"Mama Said Knock You Out"'s here, and from any hardcore thug's point of view, he's getting better at splitting the difference. © David Jeffries /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 1993 | Def Jam Recordings

It's not the tour de force of Mama Said Knock You Out, but 14 Shots to the Dome is a solid effort finding LL Cool J maturing gracefully and strongly, without selling out. 14 Shots may not have sold as well as Mama either, but at least half of the album ranks with his best work. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 2009 | Def Jam Recordings

2009's All World 2 duplicates four songs compiled on1996's All World: Greatest Hits. It’s an acceptable starting point if you don’t need the likes of “I Need a Beat,” “I’m Bad,” “Going Back to Cali,” “The Boomin’ System,” and “Mama Said Knock You Out.” If you already own the first All World, you’ll be getting a disc that adds 13 LL Cool J songs to your collection -- a mix of deep album cuts, minor hits, and major smashes released across the full span of Mr. Smith's career. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 1995 | Def Jam Recordings

On the strength of the slow-burning Boyz II Men duet "Hey Lover," LL Cool J returned to the top of the charts with Mr. Smith, meaning the album is somewhat of a comeback for the veteran rapper. LL Cool J's skills had never deserted him, but his previous album, 14 Shots to the Dome, was an exercise in hardcore that only worked in fits and spurts. There are a couple of hard moments on Mr. Smith, but the album is at its most successful when he concentrates on his seductive, romantic side. LL has gotten a bit dirtier since the teenage days of "I Need Love," but he never steps over into the explicit, lewd come-ons of R. Kelly, preferring to suggest everything with a series of double entendres, metaphors, and analogies. Mr. Smith isn't a perfect record -- there are too many slack moments for it to qualify as one of his best -- but it proves that LL Cool J remained vital a decade after his debut. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released April 30, 2013 | Craft Recordings

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. Authentic gets its own Paisley team-up with "Live for You," a glossed-up, jukebox country redo of LL's "I Need Love," although when it comes to updates to Cool J's classics, the "Mama Said Knock You Out" return "We're the Greatest" is a better choice, with Eddie Van Halen wailing away as the rapper does a Mike Tyson impression, intentional or not. This variety hour on wax comes alive when characters like Bootsy Collins (making the party number "Bartender Please" sound Deee-Lite-ful), Snoop Dogg (on the club worthy "We Come to Party"), and Charlie Wilson (swaggerfest "New Love" wins just for the line "honk your horn if she's walking by right now") show up, but even so, the album doubles down on some of its best ideas, and Eddie, Snoop, Travis, and Uncle Charlie all return for lesser numbers. LL sounds rusty and a bit under-rehearsed as he belts out his iffy punch lines and motivational anthems, but he pours his heart into the pop numbers and sounds at home during the nostalgic throwbacks. Don't call it a comeback of any sort, but good intentions abound and in a primetime television star manner, the album's title remains true. © David Jeffries /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released October 14, 1997 | Def Jam Recordings

Mr. Smith was the third comeback for LL Cool J, the third time he returned to commercial and creative strengths after being written off by many critics and fans. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that its follow-up, Phenomenon, finds LL coasting -- after all, after his two previous comeback albums, he allowed himself to slacken the pace a little bit and ride on his credentials. Fortunately, Phenomenon isn't nearly as weak as 14 Shots to the Dome or Bigger and Deffer, but it simply doesn't have the power of masterpieces like Radio and Mama Said Knock You Out. Essentially, it's a retread of Mr. Smith, offering the same laid-back soul jams and rolling party beats. There's a couple of killer singles, a few dogs, and a lot of filler -- more so than on Mr. Smith, in fact. Still, Phenomenon sounds good when it's playing, and even if it doesn't leave a lasting impression, it's a solid, professional effort that illustrates why LL is still in the game, 12 years after his first record. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo

Hip-Hop/Rap - Released February 12, 2021 | UMG Recordings, Inc.

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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 2008 | Def Jam Recordings

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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released February 2, 2018 | Road Warrior

Hip-Hop/Rap - Released May 6, 2013 | 429 Records

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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. Authentic gets its own Paisley team-up with "Live for You," a glossed-up, jukebox country redo of LL's "I Need Love," although when it comes to updates to Cool J's classics, the "Mama Said Knock You Out" return "We're the Greatest" is a better choice, with Eddie Van Halen wailing away as the rapper does a Mike Tyson impression, intentional or not. This variety hour on wax comes alive when characters like Bootsy Collins (making the party number "Bartender Please" sound Deee-Lite-ful), Snoop Dogg (on the club worthy "We Come to Party"), and Charlie Wilson (swaggerfest "New Love" wins just for the line "honk your horn if she's walking by right now") show up, but even so, the album doubles down on some of its best ideas, and Eddie, Snoop, Travis, and Uncle Charlie all return for lesser numbers. LL sounds rusty and a bit under-rehearsed as he belts out his iffy punch lines and motivational anthems, but he pours his heart into the pop numbers and sounds at home during the nostalgic throwbacks. Don't call it a comeback of any sort, but good intentions abound and in a primetime television star manner, the album's title remains true. © David Jeffries /TiVo