James Todd Smith, known to the world as LL Cool J, is a hip-hop icon. His career has spanned three decades and produced over a dozen albums. The native of Hollis, Queens has been nominated for nine Grammys and won two and has numerous chart-topping songs to his credit.
Hip-Hop has a short memory, so it’s easy to forget just how much an artist has given us over time. So here are 15 LL Cool J songs everyone should hear in no particular order.
15. Hey Lover f/ Boyz II Men (1995)
The first single from his studio album “Mr. Smith,” “Hey Lover” won LL a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance. The track samples Michael Jackson’s “Lady of My Life” and was produced by the Trackmasters. LL offered up another rap ballad that would take over the charts and continue his image as the ladies man in Hip-Hop. There is no denying the influence he would have on hearts everywhere putting Boyz II Men as a feature. That’s just playing dirty LL.
14. Fatty Girl f/ Ludacris and Keith Murray (remix) (2001)
LL Cool J got together in with Ludacris and Keith Murray to make one of the most popular Hip-Hop/Dance tracks of 2001. This single was featured on FUBU’s The Good Life compilation album and the Fat Albert inspired funk from The Trackmasters helped immortalize the word “badonkadonk” in hip-hop’s lexicon.
13. Doin It f/ LeShaun (1996)
The second single from LL’s “Mr Smith” is still one of his most memorable songs. It was the first time we’d heard LL go back-and-forth with a woman on record and Brooklyn MC LeShaun matched him blow-for…um..blow. The chants of “Go Brooklyn” sprinkled over pieces of Grace Jones’s “My Jamaican Guy” and with a mix like that, LL was doin it well with this hit.
12. I Shot Ya f/ Keith Murray(1996)
LL plays well with others (except in the cast of “4,3,2,1″) and knows how to draw a good crowd. Lyn Collins’ “Put It On The Line” was the perfect sample for this track that had LL causing some coincidental drama with this track putting his words on the line. Tupac even thought the song was a diss directed at him, but there was no real evidence LL was really taking any shots.
11. Jack The Ripper (1987)
There was no denying that the album art for Kool Moe Dee’s “How Ya Like Me Now” was a direct diss to LL with a jeep crushing a red Kangol hat that was known to be LL’s signature style. He wasn’t about to sit back and take the hit and responded with the diss track “Jack The Ripper.” With a sample from The Soul Searcher’s “Ashley’s Roachclip,” LL spit one of his most infamous diss lines, “How ya like me now? I’m getting busier. I’m double platinum, I’m watching you get dizzier.”
10. I Can’t Live Without My Radio (1985)
The lead song from his debut album, “Radio”, set the stage for the then 28-year-old rapper from Queens. Produced by Rick Rubin, “Radio” was a sparse production that filled the empty space between beats with bravado and swagger. This ode to a boom box, struck the hearts of hip hop heads everywhere who held the same love and affection for their own mobile sound system.
9. Mama Said Knock You Out (1991)
After the somewhat forgettable release of “Walking With A Panther,” fans were a little concerned about LL’s career choices. But it wouldn’t take too long for the Queens rapper to release of “Mama Said Knock You Out.” The title track samples Sly & The Family Stone and it’s hard to think that LL was talking about comebacks only six years after coming on the scene but fickle fans and critics were set straight.
8. Jingling Baby (remix) (1990)
This was the last single from third album “Walking With A Panther”, and although the album didn’t exactly have audiences taking a walk with any kind of panther, Marley Marl remixed this track and delivered a solid single. The track won Best Rap Solo Performance at The Grammy Awards and made its way up to number 32 on the Hot R&B/ Hip-Hop Songs.
7. I’m Bad (1987)
This song was the first single from LL’s sophomore album, 1987’s “Bigger and Deffer.” Riding a menacing bassline courtesy of “Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse” and dramatic sounds from “Theme From S.W.A.T,” LL took his declaration of bravado to the next level and made everyone wonder where they could get Cool J Cookies.
6. Loungin’ f/ Total (remix) (1996)
Uncle L released a lot of memorable singles from his “Mr. Smith” album, the last to be added to that list was his track “Loungin’”. Trackmasters remixed the track which featured Total. The single sampled Al B. Sure!’s “Nite and Day” and had LL loungin’ about at the top of the Billboard charts.
5. Ill Bomb f/ Funkmaster Flex and Big Kap (2000)
First appearing on Funkmaster Flex and Big Kap’s “The Tunnel” compilation, LL also released it as a bonus track on his eighth studio album “G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time).” But don’t let that fool you. It remains one of the strongest songs in LL’s catalog. The DJ Scratch produced song sampled David Porter’s “I’m Afraid The Masquerade Is Over” and was another reminder that LL Cool J was just as comfortable in the grimy clubs as the red carpets of Hollywood.
4. Rock The Bells (1986)
The original version of this song was 7 minutes and 11 seconds of every kind of bell Rick Rubin could get his hands on. This resulted in the released version not having a single bell heard throughout the track. It was the third single off of his Radio album in 1986 and would ultimately become an iconic Hip-Hop classic.
3. I Need Love (1987)
The second from LL Cool J’s second studio album “Bigger and Deffer” is considered by most to be a first for hip-hop. Over The LA Posse’s emotive instrumental James Todd Smith introduced his hardcore peers to the gentler side of rap and words like “unfurl.” Ladies found a Hip-Hop song they could listen to with their man and the song lit up the charts.
2. Boomin System (1990)
After coming into the game with a boom box strapped to his back Uncle L let us know that hip-hop had gone mobile. “Boomin System” celebrated the ridiculous auspicious kicker systems rattling trunks from coast-to-coast. Piggybacking on En Vogue’s use of James Brown’s “The Payback” in their hit “Hold On” L made it really easy for DJs to slide this right into their mixes. We all had a collective chuckle as LL’s speak and spell of “C-O-O-L-I-N F-R-O-N-T-I-N” means he’s chill in..
1.Around The Way Girl (1990)
Over a seductive mash-up the Mary Jane Girls “All Night Long” played at double speed and Kenny Burke’s “Risin To The Top” LL reminded us why the ladies loved him and why he loved them back. The native of Queens let every girl standing at a bus stop sucking on a lollipop know that she was top in his book. Lisa, Angela, Pamela, Renee became the most popular baby names of the decade (in the ‘hood at least) and they all grew up to fight on reality TV shows. We kid. We kid.