Album Reviews: Todd Smith by LL Cool JThe twelfth offering from Uncle L not only is his first self-titled release (Todd Smith), but also his first offering through Tha Carter Administration. This alone should make this release from the 20-year vet more highly anticipated than his last couple of releases. His first offering since 2004's The DEFinition offers an interesting mix of music for lovers, a couple of harder street cuts ("It's LL and Santana," "What You Want") and even a gospel track ("We're Gonna Make It," featuring Mary Mary).
While LL's songwriting ability is as strong as ever, and production from the likes of Jermaine Dupri, Trackmasters Poke & Tone, and Scott Storch compliment the album's three very different facets, the major problem is that the artists accompanying him on these R&B-heavy cuts often make LL seem like the guest rather than the lead. The second problem is that the formula of having a gospel cut, a cut for the streets, and the rest for the ladies, while effective, provides nothing new and lacks the intensity of the work that he is best remembered for.
One of the most interesting lyrics on Todd Smith comes from "We're Gonna Make It," in which LL asserts that there is a need for "less faker rappers and more real pastors." While this line is open to interpretation, it seems like he may be taking a shot at a certain hip-hop reverend that helped him get into this game nearly two decades ago. Even if this line isn't directed towards anyone, the song reflects that his comfort zone lies elsewhere.
The key to LL's longevity is his marketing appeal. LL has latched onto the "sex sells" ideology to remain a staple in this industry for so long. His transition from hip-hop maestro to a guy who essentially raps on R&B tracks has suited him well, because he has such a knack for creating music women love. On tracks like "Ooh Wee" and "Freeze," LL has created a whole new sound for the grown and sexy. With guest appearances from Jamie Foxx, Ginuwine, 112, Mary J. Blige, Mary Mary, Ne-Yo and Lyfe, there shouldn't be much of a debate that this is really an R&B album, and that Mr. J. Todd Smith has become rap's first real heir to Isaac Hayes.
Proving that his allegiance is more in the R&B arena than hip-hop, LL includes a remix of fellow Def Jam artist Ne-Yo's smash hit, "So Sick," mashed up with Michael Jackson's "Human Nature." It's fitting that Poke & Tone also included a sample of Gang Starr's "You Know My Steez" on this R&B remix, as it declares LL's steelo is to be one of the best in the pop/R&B genre and no longer the hip-hop powerhouse he once was. - Jason Kordich
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