The last time we heard from Ladies Love Cool James was in 1993 where he could be found screaming on mostly, mediocre instrumentals on his fifth release, 14 Shots To The Dome (you can read my thoughts on all fourteen of those shots right here). The album was a bit uneven, but it would still go on to earn the Hollis Queens emcee a gold plaque, which for most rappers would be a win, but when you’re a hip-hop superstar like LL Cool J, whose first four albums all went platinum, not so much. Never the less, Uncle L would return in 1995 to release his sixth album, Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith would be LL’s first album since Walking With A Panther to not include a Marley Marl produced track, as LL would rely heavily on the Trackmasters to produce the bulk of the load. Mr. Smith would produce three platinum selling singles (all which would reach the top ten on the Billboard Top 100) and return LL to double platinum status, even though the critics gave it mediocre reviews upon its release.
It’s been awhile since I listened to Mr. Smith, but there’s no way it could be as bad as its predecessor.
The Intro (Skit) – The album opens with subtly dramatic chords playing and what sounds like footsteps and chirping birds in the background. Then the Trackmasters bring in the western whistle from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly theme, followed by LL taking a long pull from a cigarette (I’m envisioning a Marlboro) and saying “I can’t believe you didn’t know”, before he bursts into his boisterous and semi-obnoxious laugh. I have no idea what the hell just happened or what the purpose of this skit was.
Make It Hot – The Trackmasters build this slick backdrop around a loop from DeBarge’s “I Like It”, as LL warms up for the evening spittin’ some ole smooth fly shit, and he invites a couple of uncredited ladies to harmonize the hook and add some sexy adlibs (I’m pretty sure it’s Terri & Monica, but we’ll get to them a little later). After the dramatic build up on the intro, I was expecting something with a little more energy, but this was pleasant enough.
Hip Hop – LL keeps the mellow vibes coming, as the Trackmasters lace our host with another laidback silky groove that he uses to reminisce, pay respect to some of the names that helped shape hip-hop, and expresses his love, devotion and appreciation for the genre that molded him into the man he is today. Remember the short-lived late eighties female r&b group, The Gyrlz? Well, when they broke-up, two of the members formed the duet, Terri & Monica, and Terri drops by on this one to sing the hook. I’m sure most of you don’t give a shit about that, but I thought it was a random fun piece of trivia, plus I promised earlier that I would, and I’m a man of my word…sometimes. Anyhoo…this song was pretty dope, and I can definitely appreciate L’s sentiment.
Hey Lover – This was the lead single from Mr. Smith. LL plays a man that’s supposed to have a simple crush on a woman who barely knows he exists, but the more you listen to his story the more he sounds like an obsessed stalker. I mean, how else can you explain his knowledge of her man’s booze and blunt consumption, or him watching her as she stands at the bus stop everyday? Things get even worse during the third verse when he confesses to following said woman to the mall and watches her make a call on a payphone (remember those things?) that leaves him fantasying that he’s on the other end of the call telling her to come over, which leads to him daydreaming that he’s having sex with her, followed by a bunch of poetic bullshit about “pleasure unparalleled”, “ocean of love”, “currents of pure bliss” and “undying passion”. The Trackmasters build a sexy melancholic backdrop around a quick snippet from MJ’s “The Lady In My Life” to complement our host’s lusty lyrics, and he wisely invites Boyz II Men to sing the hook and add smooth adlibs to ensure this single would sell a shit load of copies, while helping the album’s bottom line. Even with LL’s sappy and partially creepy bars, I still enjoyed this one. Mostly for the instrumental and Boyz II Men’s crooning.
Doin It – This was Mr. Smith’s second single. Uncle L invites LeShaun to join him for this raunchy duet, as the two take turns throwing provocative bars back and forth, boasting about what they’re going to do to one another once they get their hands on each other. LeShaun’s sexy delivery (she raps the whole song in an orgasm tone) and alluring hook, accompanied by Rashad Smith’s seductive instrumental is sure to hold your attention and possibly leave you a little sexually aroused. So don’t be embarrassed if you got a stiffy listening to this one (ecspecially if you watched the video). I’m sure you’re not alone.
Life As… – Easy Mo Bee gets his only production credit of the evening, as he provides a funky mid-tempo bop for Cool James to flex all over, as he shows and proves that he still has a few rounds of lyrical ammo left in his rhyme gun. This was dope, even the silly hook worked.
I Shot Ya – This one is a semi-rebuttal to (and definitely inspired by) Biggie’s B-side street hit, “Who Shot Ya?”. The Trackmasters lace LL with the shiniest gully instrumental that I’ve ever heard, as our host attempts to tap into his “Mama Said Knock You Out” energy, while Keith Murray drops in to help hype up the hook. Uncle L does a decent enough job, but the Trackmasters grimy instrumental is the true star of this one.
Mr. Smith – The late Chyskillz get his only production credit of the night, hooking up a mellow bop with a little swing to it, as our host uses it to get into his “real emcee” shit. The hook was corn, but everything else worked.
No Airplay – This one starts with a skit that finds LL hosting the Mr. Smith party, where he’s passing around the microphone to random women to give their shoutouts. After that uselessness concludes, a raw soulful instrumental drops and LL spits, probably his sickest bars of the night, but unfortunately they censor the shit out of his verses (which is kind of ironic, considering the song title and all), making this one nearly impossible to listen to.
Loungin’ – This was the third single released from Mr. Smith, and like the first two singles, it’s aimed to appeal to our host’s heel wearing fanbase. LL goes into mack mode, spittin’ super direct lines at the ladies to get them out of their panties, and I’d be willing to bet that they actually worked (by the way, it’s pretty ill when you can tell a lady “Shorty, this here is bout as good as it gets”, and really mean that shit). Rashad Smith builds the infectious instrumental around an interpolation of Al B. Sure’s “Nite And Day” and turns it into an undeniable groove, while Terri & Monica drop by again to add some extra flavor, seasoning the track with their chill vocals on the hook. This one never gets old to me, and it makes for great summertime music.
Hollis To Hollywood – This one starts with LL rambling about metaphors and “metaphorical freaks” that he seems to feel are suddenly infiltrating hip-hop, which is absurd, since metaphors have been an integral part of an emcee’s rhymes from the beginning, but whatever. He then, in a round about way, announces that the theme of this song will be movies and chicks. It feels like L is trying to ape the formula he used for Mama Said Knock You Out’s “Milky Cereal” (a song that I really like), but his rhymes border on corny (i.e. “She let me dive deep like her panties is Waterworld) and the execution is weak. At least the Trackmasters’s instrumental (built around the same Isaac Hayes loop that Da Beatminerz used for Smith-N-Wessun’s “Stand Strong”) was enjoyable.
God Bless – This wasn’t great or terrible. Just average filler material.
Get Da Drop On ‘Em – And more filler material.
Prelude (Skit) – The Trackmasters bring back the quietly dramatic music from the intro and LL asks the listener a question, all to set up Mr. Smith’s grand finale…
I Shot Ya (Remix) – Our host brings back the instrumental from the original and makes this a cipher affair, inviting Keith Murray (who appeared on the hook of the original), Prodigy of Mobb Deep (which I always found interesting, considering the beef he and Murray had around this time), Fat Joe and Foxy Brown to join in on the fun. Everybody serves up quality bars, but LL makes sure not to be out done by his guests, closing this one out with an impressive verse that’s light years better than anything he spit on the original (Was it really necessary for him to dis Moe Dee, Hammer and Ice-T again?). This was a dope cipher session, and a great way to close out the album.
After his dismal last outing, LL does a pretty solid job of regrouping and regaining his footing on Mr. Smith. Cool James leaves the screaming and yelling in ’93 and locks into a confident, cool and refined flow and delivery, as he nicely balances the album with songs clearly aimed to please the ladies and joints to satisfy and prove to the real heads that he’s still got it. The Trackmasters and company create a cohesive soundscape for Uncle L, mixing respectable r&b-tinged instrumentals with pure hip-hop bops. Mr. Smith does come with a few mediocre moments, but the bulk of it works, making for an overall entertaining listen from one of the best to ever do it.
Love this album! I remember begging my mom to buy it for me years ago.
Regarding “Loungin”: I don’t recall this album version being released as the single. The one released sampled a Bernard Wright track found on All World. Nice review!
Nice breakdown on this album! Next to Run-DMC, LL was almost just as responsible for my immersion into the rap world in the 80’s. I played the hell out of my “Bigger and Deffer” cassette. Played a lot of “Radio” and “Walking With a Panther” too. I liked 80’s LL better than 90’s LL, but I have to give him credit for the way evolved in the 90’s and he did have enough solid songs in the 90’s to really help cement his legacy as one of the all-time greats. Just give the man an hour plus a pen and a pad!