LL Cool J rendered himself as the “G.O.A.T.” long before the term got loosely tossed around on the internet. In his prime, the idea was hard to argue. He demolished verses, opponents, and serenaded the panties off women. The best of both worlds coincided to turn LL into a superstar with a discography that’s hard to rival.
With 13 albums under LL’s belt, slimming down to the essential LL Cool J songs gets tough. He’s done it all: storytelling records, aggressive lyrical onslaughts, crossover hits…and he’s been blazing trails ever since Krush Groove hit theaters. We narrowed a catalog of 100s of songs down to 10. This is The Primer.
1. “I Need Love”
LL Cool J’s influence on the culture adds plenty of weight to his G.O.A.T. argument. “I Need Love” came out in a time where every rapper wanted to be hard. Instead of following suit, Cool J stared at the back of the wall and let his conscious call. If you started rapping the beginning of the song to a crowd of people, I’m certain they’d be able to keep it going.
2. “Mama Said Knock You Out”
Critics declared LL Cool J as someone who lost his foothold in the game by 1991. Then his grandmother gave him the inspiration to drop a haymaker in “Mama Said Knock You Out.” It not only silenced the people against it, the single went Gold and won a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance in 1992. Not for nothing, lyrically this is also one of L’s hardest-hitting songs.
3. “Hey Lover”
While LL could kick up the perfect storm, he could also take the opposite approach and spit poetics on wax. Boyz 2 Men croon as the song follows Mr. Smith’s crush who happens to be in a relationship. LL plots to steal her from a man who drinks and smokes too much, tongues her down with vanilla ice cream, and daydreams about life with his new boo. Who know Uncle L was such a smooth home-wrecker?
4. “Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag”
Where were you when you realized what the title meant? LL’s reference is brilliant as he’s using pink cookies for a woman’s private area, a plastic bag for condoms, and “being crushed by buildings,” well, you get it by now. “Pink Cookies…” also served a duel purpose as he dropped a lot of clever bars about his fellow MCs: Ice Cube, A Tribe Called Quest, Salt and Pepa, and more. The song was dope but thank goodness “Pink Cookies” never really caught on as slang.
5. “Rock the Bells”
“Why do you like Cool J?”
“It ain’t Rock-N-Roll”
One of the earliest representations of LL Cool J’s potential, “Rock the Bells,” enforced the chemistry between artist and DJ. Cut Creator felt like an integral part of the song with his perfectly-placed scratches and several shout-outs. Their energy level matched throughout the entire song and his pioneering braggadocios gave a raucous lesson on how to tear down the mic.
6. “I’m Bad”
Ah, hip-hop has evolved so much since its early days. Nobody in 2016 would rap, “no rapper can rap quite like I can/ I’ll take a muscle-bound man and put his face in the sand.” Nobody could get away with it, either. LL did. That was impressive back then, and it still doesn’t sound half-bad over three decades later.
7. “Around the Way Girl”
“Around The Way Girl” gained success due to its timing and execution. Lines like “I want a girl with extensions in her hair/ bamboo earrings, at least two pairs” nested in rap’s consciousness as soon as they hit airwaves. The song also saw LL stand apart from his peers. Women became easy targets for degradation in hip-hop by the time this hit released. Now LL’s no saint, but let’s not undersell his ability to go against the grain. He proved it’s possible to appreciate a woman’s beauty and independence and climb the charts at the same time.
8. “Doin’ It”
“I represent Queens, she was raised out in Brooklyn.” Up until 1995, there weren’t too many highly-sexual back and forth records. So LL Cool J, yet again, broke down another wall. He found a singer by the name of LeShaun with a salacious voice meant to satisfy the ears of millions next to him. Neither artist left much to the imagination and that’s probably why it’s one of LL’s biggest songs.
9. “I Shot Ya (Remix)”
Being an already established name, LL Cool J went and recruited some fresh blood for the remix to “I Shot Ya.” Have you ever heard the phrase “Illuminati want my mind, soul and my body?” Prodigy originated it here. Keith Murray, Fat Joe, and Foxy Brown all sounded hungry which left LL with a short verse at the end. He came with the fury, ready to rap battle anyone who doubted his skills, and had to remind us he “crushed Moe Dee, Hammer and Ice-T’s girl.”
Regarded as another classic posse cut, “4321” is remembered as the moment when LL Cool J engaged himself in beef with newcomer Canibus. Let’s not rehash the story since it’s been told over and over. Instead, appreciate how each MC brought their A-game. Much like “I Shot Ya (Remix),” Uncle L used the idea of saving the best for last and came through with a monstrous verse. The record’s moral shows LL became a bad man once he traded his kangol for a wave cap.
This is an updated version of an article that ran in August of 2016