LL Cool J and the Art of Romance

The expanded abbreviation Ladies Love Cool James is not for nothing. LL Cool J has the finesse and, most importantly, the lips to back up his moniker. While he occasionally shows his hardened, impenetrable side (as in the songs “Mama Said Knock You Out” and “I’m Bad”), it is his slow, erotic jams that most (read: women) truly identify with. His overt sexuality is, in large part, the secret of his success, as there are so few rappers willing to capitalize on the carnal.

His first few albums showed a wizened, impervious persona, particularly on tracks like “To Da Break of Dawn,” in which he openly took shots at fellow rappers of the time like MC Hammer and Ice-T. It wasn’t really until 1995’s Mr. Smith that LL Cool J revealed his unbridled penchant for romance. “Hey Lover” featured the smooth, crooning vocals of Boyz II Men, a combination that has perhaps never been matched in terms of sultry evocativeness. At times, it feels as though they are speaking directly to you, with sentiments like, “You’re all a real man could need.”

And then there is the inimitable classic, “Doin’ It,” which somehow manages to combine sexuality and romance seamlessly. The man even finds a way to bring up safe sex as he asserts, “Nice and hard/Safe sexin’ it, flexin’ it, gettin’ that affectionate/Chewin’ it, oohin’ it, all while we’re doin’ it.” Suffice it to say, this song managed to usurp the common theme of careless love in the 90s (see: “Erotica”).

After Mr. Smith–and even 1987’s Bigger and Deffer, which featured the vulnerable “I Need Love”–LL Cool J seemed to intuit that he had no need to recapture the tenderness he had thus forth displayed. For, you see, it’s written all over his face. He just wants to love you.