Review: LL Cool J - Exit 13

Posted by Mack of Sound-Savvy On 8:45 PM

Artist: LL Cool J
Album: Exit 13
Release Date: 9.9.08

Hip-hop heads everywhere have been calling for the retirement of LL Cool J for some time now. Critics have said he's lost it, fans say he's not the same, and it appears that even record labels have lost hope for the man greatly responsible for building the Def Jam Dynasty -- including Def Jam (“I built an empire, they tried to kick me out in the rain”). After listening to LL's latest album, Exit 13 (his final project in his Def Jam contract), I’ve concluded that it's not for lack of talent that this CD isn't going to be a hit. It’s that other thing, the thing that really keeps you going after 20+ years; the thing that keeps loyal fans buying your music for all those years. It’s the thing that LL Cool J shares with aspiring artists, and the same reason those artists aspire after his success. Exit 13 has a surplus of hot beats, variety, and some pretty nice lyrical flow, but it’s his passion for the music that’s in short supply.

It’s Time For War opens the album quite appropriately with a history lesson that reintroduces the self-proclaimed G.O.A.T. and is one of the strongest tracks on the album. But on the next few tracks LL seems to succumb to industry trends, making some of the music very pop-infused. The lead single Baby featuring The Dream is an example of this – the lyrics seem overly simple and LL resorted to industry standards of “hotness” instead of his own ability on which he built his career. But then there are the classic heartfelt LL tracks like Cry, where he resurrects Lil’ Mo for the hook. Ryan Leslie adds some flavor to the hook and the beat on the metaphoric Like a Radio, which gives the ladies yet another reason to love Mr. Smith. Rockin with the G.O.A.T. (DJ Scratch) has some pretty nice lyrics and great production to it, as does Speedin On The Highway/Exit 13 (Suits & Ray Burghardt). The highlight of the album for me is the politically charged Mr. President featuring Wyclef Jean. It’s one of the best songs addressing the political state of affairs and speaking for the people. But then the album has it's corny-as-hell tracks, like the marching-band inspired American Girl, complete with marching cadence and a sample of the national anthem (no, not the black national anthem).

Sure LL's style isn't the same as it was in his prime, but neither is the music industry (specifically the rap game). With this album, LL has shown his ability to conform, not necessarily adapt, and in the process he loses a bit of the passion he shared with his fans for the music - the passion to make good music, not just for the sake of making a song or a hit record. While this album does have flow and style, it lacks the heart and soul that built LL’s career for over 2 decades. So I agree that it may be time for him to retire from the studio to the silver screen, but it’s only for fear that conformity might have LL singing on the next album, and that would NOT be cool Mr. Smith…


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