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DAR Classic Hip Hop: LL Cool J's Mama Said Knock You Out



By @CherchezLaPorsh




Tracklist
1. The Boomin System 
2. Around The Way Girl
3. Eat Em Up, L Chill
4. Mr. Good Bar
5. Murdergram
6. Cheesy Rat Blues
7. Farmers Blvd (Our Anthem)
8. Mama Said Knock You Out
9. Milky Cereal 
10. Jingling Baby
11. To Da Break Of Dawn
12. 6 Minutes Of Pleasure 
13. Illegal Search 
14. The Power of God

I’m sure everyone who knows, talked, tweeted, interacted with me or read any of my DAR submissions would know I talk about what I love and sometimes what I hate. There really are no in betweens, especially in hip hop, but somehow LL Cool J has been just that, he’s the neutral territory rapper and I’m sure he’s that for many people. He doesn’t really appear on top lists and is rarely quoted these days, so we don’t hear much, but at the same time, he’s not disliked, and he’s recognized and respected for his contributions to the genre and then...nothing (aside from his movie roles maybe). So here I am today, to resurrect the often forgotten, but recognized classic album “Mama Said Knock You Out”. As much as my feelings on LL are neutral, this album would play a critical role in his career and become a gem for rap music. Before I get into the tracklist, let me give you a quick run down of his career up until that point.


Upon his debut release of “Radio”, LL was considered a genius. The lyrics, the rawness, the aggression, the production.. everything about his first album was great and thus a new artist was added to the New York pantheon of rappers. His second release followed the same momentum, as we heard the antics we loved with a large incorporation of R&B, and this worked well for him while appealing to a wider audience. Things seemed to be on the rise and his moniker of “Ladies Love Cool James” was further cemented. However, in 1989, he would release “Walking With A Panther” and everything seemed to change. LL was on the brink of being labeled a cross-over artist because the ballads outweighed the raps and his mainstream appeal was off-putting to rap fans, while his image was quickly shifting. I don’t know many artist who can crossover genres and maintain or increase their popularity and fan base, and LL couldn’t either. It’s a career killer, and damage control was needed, so a year later in 1990, “Mama Said Knock You Out” was released.

Partnering with one of the greatest producers of the time, Marley Marl, LL created this 14 track, highly energetic, balanced and very cohesive album. Truly reminiscent of his debut, he managed to win back the respect of the industry and put himself back on the map. In my opinion, it’s because of this album that you can’t hate him. As much as LL himself hates the reference, it is essentially a “comeback” album, so let's take a look at some of the tracks that made this so great.


What better way to make your presence known than to sample Public Enemy’s “Bring The Noise”, James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” and “Payback”, which is exactly what LL did with this first track “The Boomin’ System”. This is the epitome of 1990. It’s high energy and the tempo, the beat, and the flow all come together to make this an enjoyable and fan favorite track. The lyrics are interesting, he somewhat addresses the negative backlash he got for being so mainstream, but he does it in the soft-LL-sorta way and also does a ton of name dropping which interestingly enough, also works. Here take a look:

“A jam that you love that don't be gettin no airplay/
Strictly for frontin when you're ridin around/
12 o'clock at night with your windows down/”

“Cos my system is pumpin loud/
Like Rakim said, I wanna move the crowd/
I warm it up with Kane, fight the power with PE/
Tell the cops, you gots to chill with EPMD/
This is something devastating that'll break your trunk/
And remember, Uncle L is like the future of the funk/”

If nothing else, this was a great way to start off a “comeback” album. I appreciate the lyrics and I find this incredibly fun which is what we can all expect from the guy so he did great on this one.



The second track is my favorite on the album, and probably mine and everyone else’s, “Around The Way Girl”! I’ll start offpraising Marley Marl for the production. I think it’s near perfection. The samples, the tempo, the beat, absolutely everything about it is great. It’s the perfect balance of R&B and rap. His typical “ode to women”, but the lyrics and delivery are a good contrast against the beat that it takes away from the softness, so he isn’t left open to criticism. I’m sure that was done deliberately and probably a bit of a risk, but LL nailed it. A definite highlight of the album. Here are some of the cute and sweet lyrics LL is so good at delivering:

"Silky, milky her smile is like sunshine/
That's why I had to dedicate at least one rhyme/
To all the cuties in the neighborhood/
Cause if I didn't tell you then another brother would/"

Oddly enough, the track immediately after "Eat 'Em Up L Chill" is my least favorite. The only reason I even mention it here is because I'm shocked the best and the worst are back to back. I don't know if this was intended to be a diss track to the fans or what, but I wish I could delete it from the album. Let's start with lyrics, one word: terrible. Here are examples of it:

"MC's are dumb, I catch em in a dragnet/
You're not complete, I'm battling a fragment/"

"Took a crack of the 40 and went to show em how/
You like me now, but you didn't before/
Cause you forgot I was raw/"

I can't take these claims serious. At all. I also dislike the chorus and the way "CHILLLLLL" is stretched out. I think you get the point, the entire thing is like a bad joke. I wish I could remove it from the album, but I'm glad that the rest of the tracks are good enough that this becomes a fleeting memory.


The following track is "Mr. Good Bar", which I won't spend too much time on. This is a fun song which plays out like a conversation, but we only hear LL's side. I love the samples, his flow is dope and the lyrics are great too. LL has always appealed to the ladies and this track is another one of those.

Almost at the midway point, with track number five, we have  "Murdergram". LL gives us the high energy, funky sounds and fast paced tempo we have come to expect from him and this album, not to mention the lyrics! This is probably the most intricate I've ever heard him and his delivery is exceptional. From the opening line of "the big showdown, the display is skill" he's absolutely right. It is exactly a display of skill which LL proves he has. At exactly the midway point of the song LL hits us with one of the most dizzying deliveries I've ever heard:

"Your mic's a baby bottle son/
Some say they ain't, but I am the one/
To slice and dice, fry and boil, to bake and serve a nerd/ I heard a word occurred to him/
That he could move or wouldn't get moved on, like a shotgun blast/
Big mouth MCs, I'll bet ya none last/"

It's at this point that LL has managed to make a full comeback. The man can absolutely deliver non-mainstream raps and this is the proof right here. Incredible.



I'm going to skip over the next two tracks "Cheesy Rat Blues" and "Farmers Blvd", because as much as I love the song titles, I want to get to the title track "Mama Said Knock You Out". No matter what version, remix or part you hear, it's an immediate favorite. The production is flawless, the lyrics are truly raw(unlike in "Eat Em Up, L Chill"), aggressive and they hit you like a ton of bricks. LL has always been very vocal about disliking this album being called a comeback and the opening line of the title track addresses it:

"Don't call it a comeback, I been here for years/
Rocking my peers and putting suckas in fear"/

In my opinion, this was flawlessly planned out, executed and supported well with lyrics that reiterate the point in every way imaginable, not to mention it comes equipped with one of the catchiest chorus/hooks of any rap song. In case you missed the point that LL is back and here to stay, he spits it again in the second verse:

"Don't you call this a regular jam/
I'm gonna rock this land/
I'm gonna take this itty bitty world by storm/
And I'm just gettin warm/"

I love that track and everything about it. As soon as I start to question when I'm going to hear the conceptually genius tracks, LL hits us with "Milky Cereal" and if the previous tracks didn't confirm for you that LL is brilliant, this song will change your mind. He compares women to cereal and describes each accordingly. I'll let the lyrics do the explaining:

"Mirror, mirror on the wall/
Who's the baddest female of them all?/
It was Frosted Flake, she loved to bowl"

"She took me to a club, I think the name was Cheerios/
She walked like she was jumping a hurdle"

"I went to Vegas, didn't think it'd do any harm/
I walked into this girl named Lucky Charm/"

Once again, fantastic concept. Great storytelling and dope lyrics. Once again, LL nails it.




I'll skip over "Jingling Baby" and get to track 11 "To Da Break Of Dawn" this is another highlight track for a few reasons:

1. It's a diss track to rappers Ice-T, Kool Moe Dee and MC Hammer.

2. The song has 3 verses and each verse is dedicated as a diss to one of the above rappers for clowning his previous album flop.

3. His lyrics are pretty dope. Sting factor is very much there and the production is so great that Cube ended up sampling it on No Vaseline and Gangstarr also.

And another note to mention is, this diss caused Kool Moe Dee to "clap back" and he wasn't able to deliver anything remotely close to this caliber and many people believe was the cause of his decline as a rapper, so once again LL affirms that he is in fact still great and that this album is truly a gem. Here are some of the clever lyrics:

Verse 1 (Dissing Kool Mo)
"Homeboy, hold on/
My rhymes are so strong/
Nothing could go wrong/ 
So why do you prolong/
Songs that ain't strong/
Brother, you're dead wrong/
And got the nerve to have them Star Trek shades on/"

Verse 2 (Dissing MC Hammer)
"Stop dancing, get to walking/
Shut your old mouth when young folks is talking/
Huh, you little snake in the grass/
You swing a hammer, but you couldn't break a glass/"

Verse 3 (Dissing Ice-T)
"In the immortal words of L.L., 'hard as hell'/
Your broad wears it well/
She's the reason that your record sold a few copies/
But your rhymes are sloppy/"

Once again, the sting factor is pretty high and the entire track flows so well. LL was a force to be reckoned with at this time and he reaffirms It there.

As we approach the end, I'm going to skip over "6 Minutes Of Pleasure" and look at the second to last track "Illegal Search", which is exactly what it sounds like, but LL's approach in the song is to allow the search as he has nothing to hide. The lyrics here are pretty dope and the beat is great. LL managed to turn this into a banger track, which is pretty cool as well considering the topic. I'm surprised at how relaxed, calm and carefree he is. Here's how he explains it:

"I don't smoke cigarettes, so why you're lookin for base?/
You might plant a gun, and hope I run a race/
Eating in the messhall, sayin my grace/
You tried to frame me, but it won't work/
Illegal search/"

"I just started it, you're searching my car/
But all my paperwork is up to par/
It's in my Uncle's name, so the frame won't work/
Chump - Illegal search/"

Impressive. He managed to maintain his relaxed demeanor even through the bouncy high energy beats. Once again LL proves to be a dope MC.


We are left with the last track "Power of God", which is also another dope track with an incredible beat. Marley Marl has delivered the very best beats and samples throughout this entire album and this track is no different. LL's lyrics have some gems laced in as well, which makes this a fantastic end to a very solid album.

There we have it. The album that essentially saved LL's rap career. He set out to prove that he wasn't a crossover artist and that he could deliver an album of the same caliber, if not higher caliber than his debut and he did it.  "Mama Said Knock You Out" is packed with incredible production, amazingly fun samples, intricate lyrics, fantastic delivery and aggression and rawness while still being able to incorporate the R&B component that LL is so widely known for. But let's call it what it is...a comeback album which was done very well. Although he manages to stay under the radar more so now, LL Cool J is definitely a fantastic MC and he has proven time and again that he can and will deliver brilliance whenever he feels it's necessary.

-Porsha 

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