Somewhere between Grammy hosting duties, starring on a hit CBS cop drama and thwarting home burglars, LL Cool J has completely lost touch with what launched him into superstardom: rapping. That startling disconnection is what bogs down his 13th album, “Authentic.”
His first offering in nearly five years — and first not to be issued through longtime hip-hop powerhouse Def Jam — “Authentic” not only misses the mark, it doesn’t even come close.
In the nearly 30 years since the Queens emcee first emerged, the lady-killer has become a multi-hypenate force in entertainment. But where other aging rhymers like Jay-Z and Nas have evolved, the album sounds like an artist light years past a creative peak that helped establish the genre.
LL still shines when he’s doing what he’s known for: wooing the ladies. The R&B-tinged grooves (“Something About You,” “New Love,” “Between the Sheetz”) are standouts, as are the ‘80s hip-hop flourishes on “We Came to Party” and “Whaddup.” But those few moments are sandwiched between forgettable tracks that desperately reach for a hybrid of rap, pop and rock. It could work if the material was interesting enough (just ask Lil Wayne).
Even worse, he allows himself to get lost amid an exhaustive list of guests including Fitz and the Tantrums, Eddie Van Halen, Snoop Dogg, Earth, Wind & Fire, Bootsy Collins, Travis Barker, Chuck D, Tom Morello, Z-Trip and Brad Paisley. Some of his collaborators elevate the material, and others make you wish they’d done the track themselves.
Thankfully, his collaboration with Paisley, the semi-rock ballad “Live for You,” isn’t as big a misfire as the controversial “Accidental Racist.” Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to save the record.
LL Cool J