Radio marks the beginning of the musical career of James Todd Smith, also known to most of the world as LL Cool J (an acronym for Ladies Love Cool James). If you’ve never heard of this emcee you’re either a monk, or were born deaf and blind. While many associate Run-DMC’s Run-DMC as the first Def Jam release (when in fact Run-DMC has never released an album on the Def-Jam label), Radio is the first pillar laid to construct the hip-hop empire known as Def-Jam.
A young (he was sixteen upon the album’s release) and hungry LL takes care of the microphone, while Rick Rubin handles the production duties for the entirety of Radio. Radio was also rewarded a belated “Source 5 mic status” in 2002. I was only 7 years old when this album came out in 1985, and while I do remember the singles (i.e. “Rock The Bells” and “Radio”), this is my first time listening to Radio in its entirety, which might be a good thing, since nostalgia can sometimes stand in the way of an unbiased opinion.
Radio – Ah, just how I remember it… raw beat with a fresh, young and hungry LL yelling over it. Nice to see Cut Creator get some love with a scratching solo in the middle of the song (I just saw him on the Monique show the other night. You have to give Monique props for her support of old school music) Even though it felt like LL spit 20 verses this was still enjoyable.
You Can’t Dance – Mr. Rubin’s beat leaves a lot to be desired. Not even LL’s booming vocal and delivery could save this song.
Dear Yvette – An ode to Yvette, the neighborhood gardening tool. The “elevator pro” once got down on a motorcycle? Wow, what you got on that, Humpty? LL’s storytelling was pretty entertaining but unfortunately the instrumental was a mess.
I Can Give You More – The first attempt at a love rap from the young Mr. Smith. It might have worked if the beat didn’t sound like a Casio keyboard version of a Sherlock Holmes like jingle. Absolutely nothing about the track screams love or romance. On second thought, the instrumental sucks and so does everything else about this song. Later in his career, LL would master the art or the love rap (if you want to call it an art), while reaping from it financially and extending his rap career longer that it ever should have lasted.
Dangerous – Similar to “Jam Master Jay” from Run DMC’s debut, LL lyrically praises his legendary DJ Cut Creator. As his “record revolves, deejays dissolve”, love that line. Although the beat is very simple, lyrically LL shines through.
Three The Hard Way – This short interlude (also known as El Shabazz) is a hidden accapella freestyle, featuring LL and, El Shabazz (I think?). Other than recognizing a portion of the lyrics sampled on Gang Starr’s “Flip the Script” this was pretty useless.
Rock The Bells – You’ll recognize the intro which was later sampled in his mega hit “Momma Said Knock You Out”. This still sounds pretty good today.
I Need A Beat – LL sounds decent on the mic, but the instrumental manages to be overly simplistic and doing way too much, simultaneously.
That’s A Lie – We get a chance to hear a young Russell Simmons on this record. LL’s flow sounds sloppy and uninspired. This reeks of sounding like something Run DMC would have done, and that’s not a compliment.
You’ll Rock – LL sounds good behind the mic but the instrumental is boring. I’m starting to sound like a broken record.
I Want You – Once again Cool James makes an attempt at a love rap. While not as bad as his earlier attempt on “I Can Give You More”, it still doesn’t work. But if first you don’t succeed try and try again, I guess. Will he get it right on his next album? Stay tuned. Oh by the way, this was a terrible way to end the album.
Similar to Run DMC’s debut, the production on Radio leaves a lot to be desired. LL sounds as hungry as pastor coming off a 2 weeks fast, unfortunately the instrumentals gave him nothing to feast on. I have a feeling I’m going to struggle with a lot of these mid 80’s hip-hop albums as the production had yet to develop that umph that it would a few years down the line.
Did The Source Get It Right: I think I already answered that in the previous sentences. If The Source’s evaluation of Radio took place upon its release, I might understand a 5 mic rating, strictly based on what LL’s contemporaries had released up to this point. But to evaluate it fifteen years later and still consider it a masterpiece is absolutely insane. Not only is it not a classic, it’s not even LL’s best body of work.