LL Cool J's "Sgt. Pepper": A Hip-Hop Must Have!!
Hype Currie | Detroit, Michigan United States | 07/24/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Mama Said Knock You Out was LL Cool J's fourth studio album. By the time of its release in late summer of 1990, it helped cement LL as a long-term force to be reckoned with in hip-hop. 1989's platinum+ seller "Walking with a Panther" was met with mixed reviews by hip-hop's urban audience. The criticisms were legion: `LL had become too commercial'. `He was clearly being upstaged by rival Kool Moe Dee'. `Hardcore acts like Ice-T and N.W.A. had a bigger street following'. `Political rappers like Public Enemy and KRS-One made LL look out of touch'. The list goes on. Fortunately, LL chose to partner with golden-age production maestro Marley Marl for a remix of the single "Jingling Baby", the success of which helped Def Jam to green-light the MSKYO sessions.
Normally, LL skipped a year between releases, but Panther was just barely over a year old when "The Boomin' System", MSKYO's first official single, was released. Essentially an ode to driving slow with your radio blasting, the single sampled the same James Brown bass riff as was used by En Vogue for their debut hit "Hold On" (the radio mix of "System" duplicated it note for note, while the album version tweaked it slightly). The LP's second single, "Around the Way Girl", was a tremendous urban radio hit, where LL gives props to all his female fans: "I want a girl with extensions in her hair/ bamboo earrings, at least two pair." On "Cheesy Rat Blues", LL pokes fun at his own image, imagining himself as a washed up rapper who finds himself pelted with "my old tapes" when he visits the shopping mall.
The title track is a thunderous announcement of LL's return to form: "Don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years/ I'm rocking my peers, puttin' suckers in fear/ making the tears rain down like a monsoon/ listen to the bass go boom!" On the whimsical "Milky Cereal", LL gives his romantic conquests breakfast-cereal names, hearkening back to "My Rhyme Ain't Done". "Illegal Search" (originally a b-side to the "Jingling Baby" remix) finds LL touching a political theme as he narrates a fictional police confrontation. It's a smoother, LL-style take on N.W.A.'s cop-trouble rants. LL manages to directly answer some of his then-rivals on "To Da Break of Dawn": Kool Moe Dee is ripped for his "Star Trek shades", MC Hammer is likened to "my old gym teacher" and Ice-T is derided as a former "downtown car thief". Perhaps the most surprising song is "Farmers Blvd. (The Anthem)", where LL teams up with some childhood rhyming pals for what is his first `posse cut' featuring his own vocals (he had previously contributed written lyrics for the Stop the Violence Movement's "Self-Destruction").
The other album cuts are worthy, so this is fortunately not the album of a few good singles and tedious filler. LL and Marley crafted a hip-hop masterpiece to announce the 1990's, but its appeal is far from dated."