Thursday, May 1, 2008
No. 478: Radio
Band: LL Cool J
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Rick Rubin's first album produced, "Radio" is a killer early rap record with LL Cool J rhyming about his 'hood, his radio and his skills.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Yep. Dated. Old-sounding. LL isn't a great rapper.
Best song: "Rock the Bells" is fantastic.
Worst song: I don't love "I Want You."
Is it awesome?: It's a lot of fun.
When I was 17, I almost failed out of English, I was doing high school radio and I was in a band with some friends. I have recordings somewhere, but we did songs about MacBeth, Gene Roddenberry and Denis Rodman.
When LL Cool J was 17, he was hanging out with Rick Rubin and recording "Radio."
LL is kind of joke nowadays, but this first record is actually a delightful place in time. Rubin's beats are tough and typical -- this was the 80s after all. The record scratches are sometimes added to the hi-hat/snare/bass drum 4/4 rhythms laid down by bearded maestro.
LL actually sounds pretty quick on the take. His a cappella rap at the end of the end of the first side (It's about the last 45 seconds of "Dangerous") is one of his better bits and on CD is rolls right into the most modern song on the record, "Rock the Bells." Taking samples from AC/DC and Trouble Funk, Rubin's production is closest to that which he would perfect with Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys.
MTV called Rick Rubin the most important producer of the past 20 years recently. I'm not sure I totally agree, but his hands have been in so many things, it's hard to find total fault with it.
Rubin was, in some ways, Steve Albini before Albini was himself. Despite it being the 1980s, Rubin eschewed reverb, string sections and excessive synths. For more of hist career, he's mostly stuck to two types of music: metal and hip hop. He's also done with older singers like Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond.
Rubin's big strength is stripping all the noise out of a band and getting it "back to basics," as it were. Jay Z's "99 Problems" is a great example of this. Instead of having tons of jacked-up dance beats, Rubin simply did the same thing he did with the Beastie Boys: He took a heavy rock riff and had Jay rhyme over it.
"Radio" is his first production effort and Rubin's style has made the album a bit more timeless than dated. Sure, the beats are sparser than the best hip hop, but it's still a fine record.
LL is a more of an extreme case of my biases than the Coldplay record. LL is in an episode of "30 Rock," playing a hip hop entrepreneur feuding with Tracy Jordan. It's pretty funny and it really made me warm up to LL.
"Radio" is a pretty fun, from "If I Ruled The World" to the insult rap of "Dear Yvette" to the general greatness of "Rock the Bells."