Live Music + Gig Reviews

LL Cool J @ The House of Blues, Atlantic City

16 December 2005

If you can give yourself an acronym derived from the phrase, “Ladies Love Cool James,” and not come across as a total jackass, you are pretty much destined for superstardom. Since bursting onto the music scene in the mid-80s at 17 years of age, and quickly becoming one of Def Jam Records’ original, platinum-selling rappers, LL Cool J has been nothing less.

Tonight Mr Cool J played in front of more than 2.000 people in a packed House of Blues in Atlantic City, backed by DJ Cut Creator. This is his sole show, so far, to hype his forthcoming, twelfth release with Def Jam in March (he is also acting with Queen Latifah in a film out in January).

Not only is LL living history – and a huge influence on virtually every rapper alive – but he is still only 37 years old. He continues to put out decent, if unheralded, records. After opening the show with a short video of highlights from his career on three flat screens on stage, replete with reminders that LL is a “Pioneer,” an “Innovator” and a “Legend,” Mr Cool J quickly made it clear that not only has he not lost his unabashed cockiness, but he has not lost any of his famed energy or charisma either. He can still rock the house, he can still be “hard” without being hateful, and he still unleashes raps with a lyrical quality that has set him apart from the beginning. (Note: he also still pumps iron, but no Kangol cap this night.)

After opening with a more recent song, LL went into a medley of his early rap classics. Unfortunately, this meant that favourites like Bad and I Need My Radio were reduced to a couple of minutes each. Other hits were pared down later too – not a wise move. While a few of his newer songs are exciting, such as Hush and Headsprung from last year’s Timbaland produced DEFinition, there is no question as to which end of his catalogue made him a legend. Considering that his full set was barely even an hour, this was a bit of a letdown.

As he is known to do, Mr Cool J threw out dozens of roses to the many ladies in the audience and he eventually brought up a dozen young women to be sung to “personally.” After he had thrown out so many of his sweaty towels and t-shirts as souvenirs to girls in the crowd (a couple dozen of each), I started to wonder if maybe he just didn’t want to do his laundry. What’s more, hearing “Put your hands in the air…Say yeah…Now scream,” over and over, through every song, becomes grating – even when its LL Cool J, pioneer, legend, etc., saying it.

Am I nit-picking? Yes. This is a guy so talented that he once took what probably should have been an instantly forgotten, corny, rap/pop experiment, I Need Love, and turned it into an all-time classic. Hearing it live was worth the price of admission. He hit most of the other biggies as well: Around the Way Girl, Jingling Baby, Mama Said Knock You Out, an encore of Goin Back to Cali. There was no I’m the Type of Guy or Bristol Hotel, but he was in excellent form and sound. Even when the man grabbed his crotch (he is, of course, one of the original crotch-grabbers), he did it with a certain panache. After all, he is LL-and, yes, he’s still hard as hell.

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LL Cool J @ The House of Blues, Atlantic City