Ladies Love Cool James Todd Smith was still a teenager when he wrote and recorded Radio, which came out just a couple of months before he turned 18.
Given that it was the first Def Jam release and given how influential Rubin’s minimalist production style turned out to be, Radio is also a landmark album, a turning point for 1980’s hip-hop.
It’s also confident as all hell. LL Cool J just drips with charisma and confident from the git-go, flowing in, under, and around Rubin’s ever-changing beats.
My story is rough, my neighborhood is tough
But I still sport gold, and I’m out to crush
My name is Cool J, I devastate the show
But I couldn’t survive without my radio
This, of course, was music designed to be played as loud as fuck, guaranteed to annoy any and all adults and/or young people who liked their loud music to have more instruments. I was one of those at first: it took me awhile to make heads or tales of a song that was literally just a combination of an organic human voice and completely artificial drum programming.
But now I think that’s the beauty of “Radio,” the organic human voice is completely under control — every syllable is exactly where it’s supposed to be — and the artificial drum programming sounds utterly unteathered, like each snare beat, kick beat, and fake handclap was generated by a random number program.
Who knew what that beat was going to do next? Maybe Rick Rubin, though I’m convinced that even he just let it do whatever the hell it wanted.
I saw LL Cool J the year after this album: along with the Beastie Boys & Whodini, he was one of the openers on Run-DMC’s Raising Hell tour, which came to Selland Arena in the summer of 1986, and I just remember that it all seemed like it was being beamed from a different planet.
“I Can’t Live Without My Radio”
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