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LL Cool J: Phenomenon


LL Cool J

Album: Phenomenon
Label: Def Jam

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LL Cool J has enjoyed one of the most diverse and fascinating careers in hip-hop history: How many rappers have gotten to make seven high-profile records, enjoy hits spanning more than a decade, write a book, win two Grammys, star in their own kid-friendly sitcom, and play at political functions attended by the president—all while maintaining a respectable degree of street credibility? Through it all, LL Cool J has made great songs ("Mama Said Knock You Out," et al) and weak ones (virtually all of last year's overrated Mr. Smith), and his new Phenomenon is bound to extend his unbroken string of platinum records into the next decade. Meeting somewhere between the harder-than-hell raps of Mama Said Knock You Out and love-man sex talk of Mr. Smith, Phenomenon is packed with guest stars, from Busta Rhymes to Keith Sweat to members of New Edition. It's a well-conceived bid for continued commercial success, with conventional pop raps (the topical title track); profane, street-cred-enhancing material (the Busta Rhymes duet "Starsky & Hutch" and "4, 3, 2, 1," with guest rappers like Redman and Method Man); and a revelatory song about his abusive father ("Father"). Phenomenon lacks the balls-out knockout punch you'd find on early albums—why does LL Cool J seem to quote "I Need Love" on every release?—but you have to admire the Queens rapper's continued ability to make broadly appealing albums for a diverse range of hip-hop fans.