LL Cool J: G.O.A.T.: Greatest Of All Time

LL Cool J: G.O.A.T.: Greatest Of All Time

In the 15 years since his classic debut Radio, LL Cool J has acquired and discarded many personas in an attempt to keep up with the whims of the hip-hop marketplace. "I Need Love" introduced the tender lover-man behind the gruff B-boy, and since then he's been a booty-hungry freak, a materialistic Big Willie, a kid-friendly role model, an R&B hitmaker, and an icon perpetually willing to overstate his greatness (see album title). The Puff Daddy-sanctioned 1997 album Phenomenon attempted to reinvent the Queens native as a crossover-minded pop star, but the glossy, Puffy-produced tracks made far less of an impact than "4, 3, 2, 1," a gritty posse cut that sparked Cool J's career-reinvigorating feud with Canibus. Perhaps not surprisingly, G.O.A.T. finds the rapper abandoning his role-model persona in favor of harder-edged tracks aimed squarely at recapturing the former In The House star's street credibility. Alas, he isn't quite ready to give up his other contradictory personas, leading to such oddly surreal moments as the otherwise street-oriented, Canibus-bashing "Where I Belong," which ends with Cool J boasting of his MTV Video Vanguard lifetime-achievement award. G.O.A.T.'s potent but familiar lead single, "Imagine That," finds Cool J firmly in freak mode, cooing Penthouse Forum-ready sexual fantasies behind producer Rockwilder's trademark future-funk. From there, he re-teams with "4, 3, 2, 1" alumni Redman, Method Man, and DMX on the wickedly funny "Fuhgidabowdit" and recruits Carl Thomas to sing the hook on "This Is Us," which matches misogynist lyrics to languid, seductive production. Cool J's attempts to jump on the dated player bandwagon invariably ring false, and G.O.A.T. suffers from an unsure tone and a lack of thematic cohesion. Although a solid album by a gifted performer, it feels like the work of a rapper chasing trends instead of following his own path. That lack of vision makes the boast inherent in the title seem more hopelessly far-fetched than ever.

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