LL Cool J, Mama Said Knock You Out (1990)
In 1990, the hip-hop cognoscenti were quick to credit one man with resurrecting LL Cool J’s career – legendary producer Marley Marl. The Queens-bred hitman’s fingerprints are all over Mama Said Knock You Out, from the brawling title track to the proto-jiggy remix of “Jingling Baby.” Marl’s knack for looping dusty old-school tracks lent LL Cool J’s fourth effort a raw, spontaneous energy missing from his disappointing third album, the platinum Walking With A Panther. Years later, Marley Marl’s compositions have aged well like a fine wine, even if their new jack swinging 100-plus beats per minute sound a little dated. Meanwhile, LL Cool J’s performances have stood the test of time. Witty, occasionally humorous and always on point, James Smith earns his self-proclaimed title as “the greatest rapper in the history of rap itself,” ripping apart rivals Kool Moe Dee, MC Hammer, and Ice-T on “To Da Break of Dawn.” He offers up quirky, anecdotal rhymes on “Cheesy Rat Blues,” assuming the role of an herb that “can’t afford a tissue to shed a tear,” and luxuriates in thinly veiled sexual metaphors on “Milky Cereal.” Of course, Ladies Love Cool James also earned the wrath of hardcore rap fans for commercial tracks like “Around the Way Girl,” his biggest single from Mama Said Knock You Out. Thankfully, its cheesy synthesizer funk is barely replicated, while Marley Marl’s resurrection of James Brown’s “The Big Payback” on “The Boomin’ System” serves as Mama’s gold standard. How ironic that it’s now common practice for rap artists to feature at least one love (or lust) song on their album for urban radio consumption. Def Jam Recordings, with manufacturing by Columbia Records.