LL Cool J / Radio
Fan Post by Josh Denny
If I had to judge hip-hop based solely on what my brothers played when I was younger, I would avoid it at all costs. While not all of it was terrible (most of it was), what really bothered me was that the genre lacked any nuance. This was, of course, the peak of pop hip-hop, so I think the philosophy in the industry was “quantity over quality,” as there were dozens of sub-par tunes put out during this time to fill the demand for middle school dances. Needless to say, I was not a fan of hip-hop in my youth. I was entrenched in classic rock radio as a kid, and I set my mind on never letting anything else infiltrate my musical tastes.
However, as I slowly began to expand my horizons with prog rock and jazz, I also began dipping my toes into hip-hop. I first ventured into the music of contemporary artists like Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, and Eminem, and I found myself liking everything the more I listened. From there, I began exploring artists like A Tribe Called Quest, Janelle Monáe (Dirty Computer was the best album of 2018, by the way), Gil-Scott Heron, NWA, and many more.
What I really appreciated about Kanye, Kendrick and Emienm were how they all managed to make themselves utterly unique and stand out from the rest of the of the hip-hop community. Take, for instance, Kanye’s masterful production and sampling, or Kendrick’s biting and visceral lyrics, or Eminem’s clever wordplay and humor. I hear elements of all of those artists in LL Cool J’s first album, Radio.
Radio marked the entrance into the era known as “peak Hip-Hop.” The album proves incredibly indicative of the future of the genre with synthesized snare beats, sampling, and ostentatious, confrontational and story-like lyrics. Def Jam cofounder, Rick Rubin took a meticulous yet minimalist approach to the production as well.
It’s incredible listening to this album retrospectively. With the current knowledge of the trajectory of hip-hop, Radio sounds like a pastiche of late ‘80s rap from heavy hitters like Run DMC, The Beastie Boys, Eric B. and Rakim, and Public Enemy. Radio helped cement the ‘80s style of hip-hop, and also laid the groundwork for the legacy of the genre. This all came from the work of a 17-year-old kid from Queens. I can’t believe what LL was able to accomplish at such a young age, and the longevity of his career is something to marvel at.
I’m glad I finally got around to this album, as it’s much more enjoyable after having the understanding and context of a genre like hip-hop. I’m now able to indulge in the works of those who set the musical course for generations to come.