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LL Cool J



Hip-hop is notorious for short-lived careers, but LL Cool J is the inevitable exception that proves the rule. Releasing his first hit, "I Can't Live Without My Radio," in 1985 when he was just 17 years old, LL initially was a hard-hitting, streetwise b-boy with spare beats and ballistic rhymes. He quickly developed an alternate style, a romantic lover's rap epitomized by his mainstream breakthrough single, "I Need Love." LL's first two albums, Radio and Bigger and Deffer, made him a star, and in 1990 he shot to the top of the charts with Mama Said Knock You Out, which established him as a genuine musical superstar. By the mid-'90s, he had starred in his own television sitcom, appeared in several films, and racked up two of his biggest singles with "Hey Lover" and "Doin' It." In short, he had proven that rappers could have long-term careers. Of course, that didn't seem likely when he came storming out of Queens, New York, when he was 16 years old. LL Cool J (born James Todd Smith; his stage name is an acronym for "Ladies Love Cool James") had already been rapping since the age of nine. Two years later, his grandfather -- he had been living with his grandparents since his parents divorced when he was four -- gave him a DJ system and he began making tapes at home. Eventually, he sent these demo tapes to record companies, attracting the interest of Def Jam, a fledgling label run by New York University students Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. Def Jam signed LL and released his debut, "I Need a Beat," as their first single in 1984. The record sold over 100,000 copies, establishing both the label and the rapper. LL dropped out of high school and recorded his debut album, Radio. Released in 1985, Radio was a major hit and it earned considerable praise for how it shaped raps into recognizable pop-song structures. On the strength of "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and "Rock the Bells," the album went platinum in 1986. The following year, his second album, Bigger and Deffer, shot to number three due to the ballad "I Need Love," which became one of the first pop-rap crossover hits. LL's knack for making hip-hop as accessible as pop was one of his greatest talents, yet it was also a weakness, since it opened him up to accusations of being a sellout. Taken from the Less Than Zero soundtrack, 1988's "Goin' Back to Cali" walked the line with ease, but 1989's Walking with a Panther was not greeted warmly by most hip-hop fans. Although it was a Top Ten hit and spawned the gold single "I'm That Type of Guy," the album was perceived as a pop sell-out effort, and on a supporting concert at the Apollo, he was booed. LL didn't take the criticism lying down -- he struck back with 1990's Mama Said Knock You Out, the hardest record he ever made. LL supported the album with a legendary, live acoustic performance on MTV Unplugged, and on the strength of the Top Ten R&B singles "The Boomin' System" and "Around the Way Girl" (number nine, pop) as well as the hit title track, Mama Said Knock You Out became his biggest-selling album, establishing him as a pop star in addition to a rap superstar. He soon landed roles in the films The Hard Way (1991) and Toys (1992), and he also performed at Bill Clinton's presidential inauguration in 1993. Mama Said Knock You Out kept him so busy that he didn't deliver the follow-up, 14 Shots to the Dome, until the spring of 1993. Boasting a harder gangsta rap edge, 14 Shots initially sold well, debuting in the Top Ten, but it was an unfocused effort that generated no significant hit singles. Consequently, it stalled at gold status and hurt his reputation considerably. Following the failure of 14 Shots to the Dome, LL began starring in the NBC sitcom In the House. He returned to recording in 1995, releasing Mr. Smith toward the end of the year. Unexpectedly, Mr. Smith became a huge hit, going double platinum and launching two of his biggest hits, with the Boyz II Men duet "Hey Lover" and "Doin' It." At the end of 1996, he released the greatest-hits album All World, while Phenomenon appeared one year later. G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time), released in 2000, reached the top of the album charts, and 2002's 10 featured one of his biggest hits in years, "Luv U Better." With the help of producer Timbaland, he unleashed the tough DEFinition album in 2004 as his James Todd Smith clothing line was hitting the malls. "Control Myself," a hit single featuring Jennifer Lopez, prefaced 2006's Todd Smith album. His 2008 effort Exit 13 would be his last album for Def Jam as the rapper found work as a primetime television star, landing a starring role on CBS' NCIS: Los Angeles. In 2013 he returned to recording, first making news with the track "Accidental Racist," his much-maligned duet with country star Brad Paisley. Another Paisley duet landed on LL's 2013 album Authentic, a star-studded effort with Eddie Van Halen, Snoop Dogg, and Charlie Wilson also appearing as guests. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Top Tracks

  1.   Track
  2.   Mama Said Knock You Out
  3.   Doin' It
  4.   Going Back to Cali
  5.   Around the Way Girl
  6.   I Need Love
  7.   Rock the Bells
  8.   I'm Bad
  9.   The Boomin' System
  10.   I Can't Live Without My Radio
  11.   I Need a Beat
  12.   Luv U Better
  13.   Hey Lover
  14.   I Shot Ya featuring Fat Joe
  15.   Back Seat
  16.   Phenomenon
  17.   4,3,2,1
  18.   Kanday
  19.   To Da Break of Dawn
  20.   Jingling Baby
  21.   I'm That Type of Guy
  22.   Big Ole Butt
  23.   Headsprung
  24.   Loungin'
  25.   It Gets No Rougher
  26.   You'll Rock
  27.   Dear Yvette
  28.   Go Cut Creator Go
  29.   Fuhgidabowdit
  30.   6 Minutes of Pleasure
  31.   Favorite Flavor
  32.   Mr. President
  33.   Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag Getting Crushed by Buildings
  34.   Bartender Please
  35.   Whaddup
  36.   My Rhyme Ain't Done
  37.   We're the Greatest
  38.   Mr. Good Bar
  39.   Candy
  40.   After School
  41.   Baby
  42.   Jack the Ripper
  43.   Nobody Can Freak You
  44.   Hush
  45.   1 in the Morning
  46.   U Can't F**k With Me
  47.   LL Cool J by Kandice Love
  48.   Hip Hop
  49.   Droppin' Em
  50.   Something About You (Love the World)
  51.   Feel My Heart Beat
  52.   Apple Cobbler
  53.   Get Down
  54.   Father
  55.   Papa Luv It
  56.   Live for You
  57.   New Love
  58.   Come and Party With Me
  59.   Like a Radio
  60.   Rocking with the G.O.A.T.
  61.   Old School New School
  62.   It's Time for War
  63.   What You Want
  64.   Feel the Beat
  65.   Imagine That
  66.   Clockin' G's
  67.   Paradise
  68.   Ill Bomb
  69.   The G.O.A.T.
  70.   This Is Us
  71.   Shut 'Em Down
  72.   Milky Cereal
  73.   Get da Drop on 'Em
  74.   Ahh, Let's Get Ill
  75.   Starsky and Hutch
  76.   Ain't Nobody
  77.   Diggy Down
  78.   How I'm Comin'
  79.   Change Your Ways
  80.   Def Jam in the Motherland
  81.   One Shot at Love
  82.   Clap Your Hands
  83.   On the Ill Tip
  84.   Skit
  85.   The Breakthrough
  86.   I Fall in Love
  87.   .357 - Break It on Down
  88.   Fast Peg
  89.   All I Have
  90.   You Already
  91.   We Came To Party
  92.   Between the Sheetz
  93.   We Came to Party
  94.   Not Leaving You Tonight
  95.   Take It by Joe
  96.   No More by Ne-Yo
  97.   NCIS (No Crew Is Superior)
  98.   Dear Hip Hop
  99.   We Rollin'
  100.   Speedin on Da Highway/Exit 13
  101.   American Girl
  102.   Ur Only a Customer
  103.   This Is Ring Tone M... by Grandmaster Caz
  104.   Cry
  105.   You Better Watch Me
  106.   Get Over Here featuring It's Ya Girl Nicolette
  107.   So Sick
  108.   #1 Fan
  109.   Ooh Wee
  110.   Preserve the Sexy
  111.   Control Myself
  112.   It's LL and Santana
  113.   We're Gonna Make It
  114.   Every Sip
  115.   Move Somethin'
  116.   I'm About to Get Her
  117.   Sneak Preview from LL Cool J's New Album G.O.A.T.
  118.   Luv You Better
  119.   U Should
  120.   Lollipop
  121.   Fa Ha
  122.   Smokin', Dopin'
  123.   Put Your Hands Up
  124.   Mirror Mirror
  125.   M.I.S.S. I
  126.   Queens Is
  127.   You and Me
  128.   Hello
  129.   Can't Think
  130.   Farmers
  131.   Take It Off
  132.   Back Where I Belong
  133.   Deepest Bluest (Shark's Fin)
  134.   Farmers Blvd. (Our Anthem)
  135.   Eat Em Up L Chill
  136.   Prelude
  137.   Hollis to Hollywood
  138.   Life as...
  139.   Intro
  140.   I Want You
  141.   That's a Lie
  142.   You Can't Dance
  143.   The Do Wop
  144.   The Bristol Hotel
  145.   Strictly Business
  146.   Wanna Get Paid
  147.   Hot, Hot, Hot
  148.   Another Dollar
  149.   (NFA) No Frontin' Allowed
  150.   All We Got Left Is the Beat
  151.   Straight from Queens
  152.   Stand by Your Man
  153.   Buckin' Em Down
  154.   Jealous