1990’s Mama Said Knock You Out was both a commercial and critical success for LL Cool J, as he was able to appeal to the heads and the ladies to the tune of over 2 million records sold. He was already a bona fide rap star before its release, but Mama would take his star status to a different stratosphere, and open up the door for a pretty successful acting career as well. With such a monster album under his belt it would be hard for Cool James to top that, but he would try with his 5th release, 14 Shots To The Dome.
For 14 Shots To The Dome, LL would bring back the architect for Mama Said Knock You Out, Marley Marl, to produce half the album, and recruit west coast producers Bobcat and QD III to handle the other half. 14 Shots To The Dome did manage to earn LL a gold plaque (which for most rappers would be considered a success, but not for LL, whose previous 4 albums all sold platinum or better), but was met with underwhelming reception.
Let’s give 14 Shots To The Dome a listen and see if that underwhelming reception was warranted.
How I’m Comin ‘– This was the lead single from 14 Shots. Over an underwhelming Marley Marl backdrop (that sounds like he may have been trying to ape his own work on “Mama Said Knock You Out”) LL tries to convince the listener that he’s a thug force to be reckoned with, and drops some pretty terrible rhymes in the process (“you can call me r&b, only if it stands for rough brother…word to my grandmother”, “stick the steal in your mouth…buck, buck, buck, buck, buck, lights out!”, and there’s “here’s a hit you wish you had, a hit that makes you mad, a hit that makes you slap your dad” are just a few examples). I never liked this song, and twenty plus years later it sounds even worst.
Buckin’ Em Down – Our host continues his quest to prove to the listener that he’s a hardcore gun-toting emcee (*yawn*). I would have never guessed that QDIII produce this instrumental. I’m used to his backdrops being clean smooth grooves, but this one has a rugged feel to it. This song isn’t as bad as “How I’m Comin'”, but it’s still pretty weak.
Stand By Your Man – This was the fourth single, and it’s basically 14 Shots‘ version of “Around The Way Girl”, only not any good. Marley hooks up a super generic low energy instrumental for LL who goes from being a thug on the first two songs to a sensitive understanding gentleman that uses this song to list the qualities he requires in his woman. Nothing could make me like this instrumental, but LL’s rhymes might have gone over better had he calmed down and spit it with more of an “Around The Way Girl” approach, instead of screaming them like this was “Mama Said Knock You Out”. The remix (which has the same lyrics as this mix and is also produced by Marley Marl) has a slightly more interesting r&b flavored instrumental, but is still not great. Random factoid: “Stand By Your Man” was nominated for the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance, but lost to Dr. Dre’s “Let Me Ride”. Rightfully so.
A Little Somethin’ – Marley Marl loops up a portion of King Floyd’s “Groove Me” for the backdrop, and Uncle L uses it to
scream spew random rhymes, or as he calls it, do a little somethin’. Not a great song, but decent.
Pink Cookies In A Plastic Bag Getting Crushed By Buildings – This was the third single (and ironically, also the B-side to the “Back Seat” single) released from 14 Shots. Besides the song title, I’ve always found this song kind of weird. LL starts the song off by letting you know that the title is a metaphor for “making love” (or just having sex), which is kind of corny in and of itself. But things get even cornier when L begins to slip different rappers names into his rhymes as he tells the story about a chick he wants to smash, I mean, make love to. And Marley’s bland instrumental (yeah, I know he uses the same Emotions’ sample that Big Daddy Kane used for “Ain’t No Half Steppin”, but for some odd reason it doesn’t have the same energy as Kane’s record.) doesn’t add anything to what is already a weak concept and poorly executed song. Side note: The instrumental on the Easy Mo Bee remix (which was also used for the single) is actually really dope.
Straight From Queens – Marley hooks up a decent instrumental with a bouncy bass line and a slick horn loop. And LL’s in battle mode, as he tries out his new stutter style, that doesn’t quite work for me.
Funkadelic Relic – Our host recounts his introduction to hip-hop and takes us on a journey from the beginning of his career to where he was in 1993. Am I the only one that found it amusing that LL claims he was unhappy that “I’m That Type Of Guy” went pop? Dude, who you foolin’? . Even back in ’89 LL wasn’t a “pledge allegiance to the underground” type of rapper. Marley’s instrumental is pleasant, and the song winds up being pretty solid as well. It’s pretty interesting that LL could be considered a “hip-hop relic” at the tender age of 25.
All We Got Left Is The Beat – LL was never really known for being a socially conscious emcee, but he dabbles with it on this self-proclaimed “political groove”. Some of his content is decent, but some of his views are a little
off interesting (like when he refers to working class black women as…token blacks?). Bobcat gets credit for the decent instrumental, but this song is still easily forgettable.
(NFA) No Frontin’ Allowed – Mr. Funke and DoItAll, better known as Lords Of The Underground, make the only guest appearance on 14 Shots, as they each get a verse sandwiched in between Uncle L’s two verses. Each of the parties involved does a solid job on the mic, matching the energy of Marley’s dope instrumental.
Back Seat – This was the second single released from 14 Shots. QD III gets his second production credit of the evening for this laid back poppish instrumental (that some of you might remember as the instrumental used on Monica’s breakthrough debut hit “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One Of Dem Days)”, a few years later) that Ladies Love uses to seduce his prey and get dirty in the backseat of his jeep. Easily the biggest hit from 14 Shots, but I’ve never cared much for this one.
Soul Survivor – Yet another instrumental I had no idea that QD III was responsible for. Like “Buckin’ Em Down” this one has a much more rough feel then I’m use to hearing from young Quincy. I’m not really a fan of this one, either.
Ain’t No Stoppin’ This – Bobcat gets his second production credit of the evening, and this one is a lot better than what he gave us on “All We Got Left Is The Beat”. He creates a high energy backdrop that LL continues to scream all over and spit below average rhymes on.
Diggy Down – I actually like Bobcat’s instrumental (that uses elements from the same Quincy Jones record The Pharcyde sampled for “Passin’ Me By”) on this one. The problem with this one is the extremely old school flow and elementary rhyming scheme that LL adopts. It sounds like something DMC would have rhymed back in ’84. I’m dead serious.
Crossroads – LL’s voice begins to succumb to the screaming that he’s done throughout 14 Shots (and his four prior albums) by the end of this apocalyptic themed closer. Bobcat’s production work on this one is actually really nice, and I enjoyed the choir singing on the hook, even if it was slightly amusing to hear them sing about “gettin’ jacked”.
There is no doubt in my mind that Mama Said Knock You Out is LL’s magnum opus and the apex of his rap career (without hearing Exit 13 or Authentic, I’m still very confident in that statement). He may have shown flashes of greatness from time to time on later projects, and definitely continued to find crossover success on the charts with intentional pop r&b love records, but it was pretty much down hill from there. 14 Shots To The Domemarks the beginning of the end for LL’s hip-hop credibility, and finds the once groundbreaking emcee trying to find his place in the hardcore gangsta rap era that was the early nineties. Cool James shouts his way through fourteen tracks, spewing unbelievable thug rhetoric, sub par bars and manages to sneak in a few corny love/lust songs for good measure. Some of Marley Marl and Bobcat’s production is enjoyable, but unfortunately most of the 14 shots fired from LL’s gun are blanks.