Friday, October 17, 2008

LL Cool J - Exit 13

One of the first things that struck me about the new LL Cool J album, Exit 13, was the fact that he didn’t appear on the album cover… A seemingly minor fact, but over the span of the last 24 years and 13 albums, LL has appeared on almost every album - posing, looking tuff, giving the ladies the eye. I was actually surprised that Cool James’ pretty face wasn’t featured prominently, not even on the back cover. No, instead he’s relegated to the inside of the insert, appearing alongside a mélange of badly Photoshopped images from his last 12 albums: a random panther, a classic D battery-sucking boombox, and some more mysterious objects that are harder to attach to a classic LL album (a weight bench? Street signs?). Generally the album cover seems to be a mess of metaphors and symbolism about LL Cool J, a ham-fisted attempt to sell the album through the fact that LL the rapper has been around forever (the album’s subtitle “8760 Miles & Counting” refers to the number of days, not counting leap years, in 24 years) rather than any real reason to care about the James Todd Smith of today.
Upon learning the background of the album, one begins to realize that Exit 13’s cover is more than just a hastily thrown together adventure, but may actually be symbolic of the schizophrenic nature in which the album was recorded. Originally produced by 50 Cent, the album was delayed for two years by bickering and the eventual ouster of 50 - the final product only retains two songs from the original sessions, with the rest being re-recorded or re-tooled by a hodge-podge of different producers. Apparently this process turned bitter, as LL has publicly announced that Exit will be his last album for Def Jam, the label he’s been with since age 16 and that once offered him the position of president. You can put all the tough-guy imagery you want on the outside, but the mess surrounding the recording bodes ill for the album’s contents…
Unfortunately, the outside has corrupted the inside like mold growing on an overripe fruit. Coherence has always a problem in hip-hop, with very few artists have the cojones to pare down an album or the vision to produce something with even a semblance of a unified theme. Exit 13 suffers from both problems - 19 tracks clocking in at over an hour produced by upwards of ten different people, resulting in an album as scatterbrained as the cover. Remarkably, there are only a few genuinely horrible stinkers, and at least a couple songs that could be considered good if they weren’t surrounded by piles of festering junk. After dumping 50 Cent, LL chose to put his production money into the hands of a group of relative unknowns, a few mediocre also-rans, and former super-producers (Marley Marl!) Amongst the relative unknowns are a few Top-40/R&B producers (like Ryan Leslie), a species that LL has had success with before (as on the hugely successful Mr. Smith,) but who as a group aren’t exactly known for their groundbreaking work. Mr. Leslie’s tracks sound like LL Cool J rapping over the “Rap” demo setting on a cheap 80’s keyboard - a popular sound today indeed, but it has become as tired as LL sounds rapping over it. Throughout the song “Fall in Love” the man who once boasted about his battle rap skills lazily rhymes an endless series of lines with the word “thighs” over a weak Casio beat that sounds equally juvenile and dated. The problems don’t stop there, unfortunately; many tracks sound dated, “Cry” features LL not rhyming, but simply ending each of his phrases with “girl,” “Mr. President” would have been more topical two years ago than a few months before Bush leaves office, and “Feel My Heart Beat” seems to have sampled 50 Cent more than it “features” him…
Despite all of this, there are a few tracks that stand out: the DJ Scratch-helmed “Rocking with the G.O.A.T.” is actually a lively, well-produced track, and LL seems genuinely excited to be involved - rhyming fast and hard, spitting disses and double entendre like the man who once crushed pink cookies. “American Girl” features a choir and marching band and has LL writing lines about women that actually sound like they’re coming from a grown man and not straight from a lonely 13 year old. Unfortunately these stand out tracks are few and far between, and they highlight the fact that given a good track and the right theme, LL could have made a great album, but instead stuck us with a scattershot effort rooted too deeply in the insanity of the music business and not in the depths of the psyche of Mr. Smith.


1 comment:

The Truth said...

Your review is garbage and most of you're missing some facts on how the album came to be.

nice try