Authentic is, different, to say the least.
When assessing LL Cool J’s latest effort, the first of his 13 albums to not be released on Def Jam, Authentic, the conversation of legacy versus current stature should be brought up. A large majority of rappers whose careers launched in the mid-to-late 90’s can accurately say their best material is behind them. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for the listening public to regard these rappers’ debut albums as their best project, and continually judge all subsequent material against the rubric that first album created, which more often than not is the case for Jay-Z, Nas and Eminem. Therefore, it is a testament to talent, vision, forward thinking label executives, resilience, luck, or some funky combination of those five characteristics that find the aforementioned artists and a slew of their contemporaries, specifically LL Cool J, still on the Billboard charts, in stores, and above all, residing in the ever elusive realm of relevancy. The downside to these illustrious careers is all good things, with a few exceptions, come to an end. And while Authentic isn’t the end all be all to the original Def Jam artists’ journey, the brakes have been slammed.
Unfortunately for LL, praise on Authentic comes few, and far in between the multiple misfires and gross disregard for sonic coherence that make up the 13-track LP. Previously touted for his ability to smoothly blend his edgy, spontaneous Queens-bred aura with the smoothed out, serene themes that have dominated a large percentage of his biggest hits, LL Cool J has veered so far off the beaten path—a path, I might add, that he’s beaten himself for 20 years—a foreseeable return to it can hardly be seen, even through the most squinted set of eyes. The title of the introductory track, “Bath Salt”, in and of itself suggests that LL has done away with being exactly what the title of the CD suggests. However, those reluctant to—pardon the overused cliché—judge this book by its cover, may press play and hear the “Hush” rapper proclaim “the beat salad when I toss this”, “hand on my nuts, that’s product placement”, and almost climactically, “slip into the bath salt”, over the quick-paced, synthesized instrumental. Coupled with the Snoop Dogg-assisted “We Came To Party”, which almost sounds like a Saturday Night Live parody skit, as LL boasts about being the oldest man in the club, it seems as if we’ve stumbled across a man that has found success in so many other genres, he’s forcing himself to continue to produce in one where it’s just not warranted. There’s no country for the “oldest man in the club” to be rapping about bath salts.
To address the praise found few and far in between, there are a couple moments on here where Cool J isn’t pushing his envelope nearer and nearer towards the edge of the desk. On the Seal-assisted “Give Me Love”, and “Something About You”, while we still see no visible sign of vintage Cool J, we’re treated to an alternately fulfilling sound from the veteran. Trading in his painfully random punchlines for a more conceptual verse pattern, a glimpse of coherence and attention to detail shine through the abysmally thrown together tracklist.
Thanks to a long and memory-filled career, there’s a good chance anybody will pin this up against Mr. Todd Smith’s legacy and use point to it as a detriment. There’s no way 10 albums, the majority of which have drawn widespread acknowledgement and critical acclaim, can be overshadowed by one project, as abysmal as that one project has turned out to be. However, in summation, if you type in the word ‘authentic’ in Wikipedia, despite browsing through the many disambiguations, LL Cool J’s album will not pop up, and you’ll have to type in ‘LL Cool J’, scroll through all the album he’s put out over the past 20 years, and eventually arrive at this one. Accidental metaphor, if you will.
-Khari Nixon (@KingVanGogh)