Album Reviews: The DEFinition by LL Cool J3.5 stars out of 5
LL Cool J's staged a comeback or two before. People were already writing him off in 1990 when he stunned everyone with Mama Said Knock You Out, and he'd supposedly lost his touch when his 1995 Mr. Smith put him back at the top of the charts. Now it's 2004 and the conventional wisdom on LL is that rap's original bad boy has gone soft. After all, when was the last time he had a hit that wasn't a by-the-numbers baller ballad?
Well, the "LL" still stands for "Ladies Love," so it's no surprise that his latest album has its fair share of bedroom tracks, including one great one, the spacey, seductive "Can't Explain It." But what makes The DEFinition by far LL Cool J's best album since the aforementioned Mr. Smith is the edge he's rediscovered on bass-heavy party tracks like "Apple Cobbler," "Move Somethin'" and especially the monstrous lead single "Headsprung," which makes the most of a smokin' hot hook courtesy of Timbaland (who produced six of the disc's 11 tracks). Nothing else on the album comes close to "Headsprung"'s power, but LL's flow is in top form throughout and there are some entertaining highlights, including a smart, funny ode to boozing ("Every Sip") and the brazenly old-school "Feel the Beat," on which LL revels in his old-timer status over some lo-fi beat boxing ("in '86 I balled liked that").
The DEFinition is not without its stumbles, including a surprisingly tepid R. Kelly collaboration ("I'm About to Get Her"). But this lean, mean comeback should serve as a reminder to today's hordes of young MCs that you don't need a lot of skits, guest raps and foul-mouthed posturing to make a great hip-hop record. The original bad boy is back. - Andy Hermann
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