After reading his autobiography at the age of 12, LL Cool J was one of the first rappers to get me hooked on hip hop. So when he announced an exclusive UK date just down the road from me at the Brixton Academy, I secured my ticket immediately.
It’s not often that the rapper-slash-actor plays on these shores, something which he himself acknowledged as he addressed the crowd. “I might not get over here much, but don’t think that means I don’t love y’all”, he reassured.
Seeing LL live in action, the first thing that struck me was how much hip hop has changed over the years. From the old skool beats and rhyming style of classics such as “I Need A Beat” and “Mama Said Knock You Out”, to recent hits like the J-Lo featuring “Control Myself”, LL has seen it all, over an illustrious career spanning two decades.
As he performed, a massive screen displaying videos of the songs was projected on stage. This further showed how the genre’s image has changed through time, from ultra baggy pants and big earrings to the seamlessly produced hip hop-honey featuring videos of late.
The fact that LL’s lyrics were exactly synched up to his words onscreen was somewhat questionable; was the DJ actually doing any work or just there for show? This technicality aside, the general sound quality was excellent, perfectly complimenting Mr. Todd Smith’s crisp delivery on the mic.
Highlights for me were old skool joints ‘Around the Way Girl’ and ‘Hey Lover’, both from my favourite LL Cool J album to date, ‘All World’.
The first to really pioneer a ‘soft’ hip hop sound with tunes such as ‘I Need Love’ in the eighties, LL has always made music that’s stereotyped as appealing to the female market. So much so that when I asked a friend whether he was coming to the gig, his immediate response was ‘Hell no! LL’s strictly for the ladies.’ Whilst most rappers would take offence to this categorisation, LL appeared in his element, enthusiastically wripping off another shred of his already fast disappearing shirt.
And it was definitely clear that Ladies really do Love “Cool James”, with one even throwing her bra at him. The self confessed ex-sex addict then invited a selection of lucky girls on stage, where they got to dance with the star and generally revel in his presence, some even leaving with a rose from the smoothie.
Despite the short length of the show (under an hour), it was great to hear such an impressive, familiar and varied back catalogue of tunes. And no doubt LL is still looking fine as hell, dimples and six-pac still intact, despite pushing 40 now. His talent and charisma shun through and he proved that he’s got the staying power to bring us big hits for years to come yet.
By Anna Nathanson