LL handles the mic confidently, almost too confidently, on Phenomenon, his seventh album. Whether he's going on about a messed-up father-figure, working on the ladies ("Nobody Can Freak You," "Phenomenon"), or "making a rh... more »yme with every syllable of your name" ("4,3,2,1"), you can't help but feel like he's just selling you something. LL has built himself up considerably from the skinny punk rocking the bells in '85 to a true celebrity phenomenon, but somewhere on that journey he lost his soul. Strangely, the best tracks on the album employ guest vocalists like Busta Rhymes (on "Starsky & Hutch"), Cannibus and Method Man (both on "4,3,2,1"), where the guests unintentionally feel like the voices of ghosts, reminding LL of what it was like when rap music sold the beats and lyrics, instead of breakfast cereal and khakis. --Todd Levin« less
LL handles the mic confidently, almost too confidently, on Phenomenon, his seventh album. Whether he's going on about a messed-up father-figure, working on the ladies ("Nobody Can Freak You," "Phenomenon"), or "making a rhyme with every syllable of your name" ("4,3,2,1"), you can't help but feel like he's just selling you something. LL has built himself up considerably from the skinny punk rocking the bells in '85 to a true celebrity phenomenon, but somewhere on that journey he lost his soul. Strangely, the best tracks on the album employ guest vocalists like Busta Rhymes (on "Starsky & Hutch"), Cannibus and Method Man (both on "4,3,2,1"), where the guests unintentionally feel like the voices of ghosts, reminding LL of what it was like when rap music sold the beats and lyrics, instead of breakfast cereal and khakis. --Todd Levin
"LL Cool J has a tattoo of a microphone wearing a crown on his arm (representing that he is the self declared king of Hip-Hop). When they (LL, Redman, Method Man, DMX, & Canibus) came into the studio to record the song "4,3,2,1", Canibus noted the tattoo and told LL that he was going to get one similar to it on his arm. LL became furious that Canibus (being so young in the Hip-Hop game) was going to get a tattoo that he had worked years for. A non-violent altercation between the two broke out and they decided it would be best if they record their portions of the song on different days (to prevent further incidents). Canibus, angered by how LL reacted re-wrote his lyrics of the song dissing LL, "I'll snatch your crown off with your head still attached to it" and recorded his portion that day. LL came in later that week and listened to the previously reported portions and heard Canibus' portion of the song. Initially he wanted to remove Canibus from the song but, he decided to send a rebuttal at the end of the song. Listen closely...Hip-Hop is deeper than you think."
Phenomenal piece of crap
Scott D. Gribble | Baltimore MD | 04/15/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)
"LL Cool J arguably has had one of the strongest rap careers ever. He started out as a pioneer back in the 80's and yet still manages to appeal to audiences of today. As much as the purist may hate it, no one (not even the greats like Rakim or Big Daddy Kane), has been able to survive like LL. That doesn't necessarily mean he's come out with a lot of great material in recent years.
"Phenomenon" by no means should simply be written off. "4, 3, 2, 1," is the rap fans wet dream. Outstanding lyrics by guests Method Man, Redman, DMX, and Canibus over a sick hardcore beat make this one of the best posse cuts ever. There's even a self-contained beef, featuring back and forth shots from Canibus and LL on the same track! To top it off, LL closes the track with one of his best verses EVER... it was even featured as a Hip-Hop quotable in the source: ("Every little boy wanna pick up the mic/ and try to run with the big boys and live up to the real hype/ But that's like pickin up a ball, playin with Mike/ Swingin at Ken Griffey or challengin Roy to a fight/ Stop it! you amateur MC's/ Don't you know I'm like the Dream Team tourin' overseas/ For rappers in my circle I'm a deadly disease/ Ringmaster, bringin' a tiger cub to his knees/ In the history of rap they've never seen such prominence/ Your naive confidence gets crushed by my dominance.")
"Starsky & Hutch" is a great tag-team rap with Busta Rhymes. It's got a nice grooving beat and the two trade lines back and forth. It's solid all around and is one of those tracks you put on repeat. LL actually shows some solid creative effort on "Father" which uses a George Michael sample and gospel choir that works pretty well. Definitely a track that'll end up on his [2nd] greatest hits album. The title track is a cliché LL single, that although simply makes me want to drive a tent stake in my temple, will surely please the ladies and fill up the dance floors. It would seem like this album would be well on its way to being a solid one for LL.
Then, LL just stopped trying, the rest of the album is on cruise control and really only mediocre at best. "Candy Rain" might make for a pretty good filler track on a New Edition album, but LL brings it down even farther and just sounds lazy. "Another Dollar" is shows off the "hardcore" LL, which alienates the ladies. This would be fine except for the fact the song sucks, and ends up leaving everyone unhappy. Ironically LL adopts the same style, as he drops "Drug Money" tales (kinda) with help from the Lost Boyz. Sounds about as good as it looks on paper: crap. I almost thought "Nobody Can Freak You" and "Hot, Hot, Hot" where the same song, until I realized that the latter was infinitely worse (talk about lame choruses). And the album closes on the super sweet, sensitive, and predictably boring "Don't Be Late, Don't Come Too Soon". Don't be surprised if you find yourself dozing off for a second or simply skipping the track all together.
Since 93 and including "Phenomenon", LL started a streak of mediocre albums and songs, and yet somehow maintains commercial success and strong fan base. It's undoubtedly due to the fact that while male popular option is ever critical and always shifting, one thing stays the same: ladies love James Smith. "Phenomenon" has it share of really great tracks, but overall it falls flat on its face. It's worth getting this album at a bargain price for the couple of highlights, even though I guarantee you'll never listen to this straight through more than once (if that). Ladies won't even love this one... (3/10)"
Christopher Ware | Fremont, CA United States | 08/11/2000
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I've been an LL fan since way back. His first two albums (RADIO and BIGGER AND DEFFER) were tha bomb! His next three were pretty good, but this one was a major disappointment. It plays more like an R&B album than a rap album. I can understand a rapper mellowing out, but this is ridiculous. The only songs I really enjoyed on this album were 4,3,2,1 and FATHER. The rest had kinda blase lyrics and mediocre production. BRING BACK MARLY MARL! C'mon LL, I know you got more talent than this...get angry again! Trust me, this is a sub-par performance for LL. I hope he can come back from it. If the the last few soundtrack singles he's done are any indication, he's still got the skillz. They're off the hook!"
Not as good as expected
Scott D. Gribble | 10/09/1999
(3 out of 5 stars)
"LL has been around a long time. He is one of the best battle rappers out there (Just listen to The Ripper Returns). Why does he keep making pop crap? This album feels exactly like Puffy produced it (He's an executive producer) and sounds more like a Hip-Hop Who's Who list. His best songs are those where he tests his chops lyrically (4, 3, 2, 1, Father). For his next album, he needs to be more like himself and less like Will Smith."
LL began running out of steam here
Robert Johnson | Richmond, KY USA | 08/16/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Everything about PHENOMENON (the production, the samples, the guest appearances) tells you that LL intended it to be a blockbuster release, one that confirmed his position as the one old school rapper who was still very relevant in his second decade as a performer. The album was a commercial success, but it artistically fails to satisfy. LL obviously spent a lot of time putting the disc together (with every production trick in the book), but failed to project much energy in the writing and performing areas.
He sounds flat out exhausted on the title track (#55 Pop, #16 R&B, #14 Rap), which also suffers from possibly the most repetitive hook that LL has ever committed to vinyl. Several songs suffer from overobvious samples (as is the case with "Candy" and "Hot, Hot, Hot"), while other tracks ("Nobody Can Free You," the whiny "Don't Be Late, Don't Come To Soon") are blatant copies of songs from MR. SMITH. The hit "4, 3, 2, 1" (#75 Pop, #24 R&B, #10 Rap) features plenty of guests (Redman, Method Man, Cannibus, and DMX all contribute), but the disjointed track has no central melody and sounds like four different songs stitched together.
On the plus side, "Starsky & Hutch (with Busta Rhymes) and "Wanna Get Paid" are energetic and fun, and the hit "Father" (#18 Pop, #12 R&B, #1 Rap) is a real classic. With the combination of a haunting instrumental (a sample from George Michael's "Father Figure," used very effectively) and LL's intense performance and lyrics, "Father" is the only track on PHENOMENON that truly can stand next to LL's best work. Nearly everything else is misguided, at best."