After releasing four projects in a row that all sold at least a million copies, James Todd Smith aka LL Cool J in 1993 found his career at a crossroads. It was the era where harder edged “gangster rap” was moving units. Even artists like Hammer looked at the marketplace and realized that they would have to change their image and sound to coincide with the times with his project The Funky Headhunter. That project was recorded in 1993 but was not released until 1994 due to switching record labels from Capitol Records to Giant Records. It managed to eventually go platinum despite a severe backlash. Personally, I thought it was the perfect balance of still danceable funky tracks but with a harder edge.
What was more perplexing in my opinion though was the backlash that LL received from his project 14 Shots to The Dome. The production was spearheaded by legendary hip hop producers Marley Marl, DJ Bobcat, and Quincy Jones III also known as QDIII. The songs were mostly aggressive sprinkled with some r&b tracks such as “Stand By Your Man” and “Backseat Of My Jeep”.
A formula he had used on his previous project Mama Said Knock You Out released in 1990. The project’s tone was in response to the reception of 1989’s Walking With a Panther where he was criticized for having too much of a soft r&b type of vibe. 14 Shots To The Dome was said to be faux west coast gangster rap. That LL had no business giving off this persona. The criticism was unwarranted.
LL in all previous projects had an aggressive boom bap braggadocios side to him. In addition, there were several tracks on the project which had deep social messages. These included “All We Got Left Is The Beat”, “Diggy Down”, and “Crossroads”. In my eyes this was a more well-rounded project than what it received credit for.
LL Cool J – All We Got Left Is The Beat
LL Cool J – Diggy Down
LL Cool J – Crossroads
A track that had been recorded during the 14 Shots To The Dome sessions but was ultimately found years later behind a radiator of all places was the track “Year Of The Hip Hop” by producer K-Def who at the time worked closely with Marley Marl on the first two Lords of The Underground projects. In all likelihood if the track had not been lost in my opinion would have made the album. Its vintage LL over the famous ESG breakbeat “UFO”.
LL Cool J – Year of the Hip Hop
ESG – UFO
LL Cool J during this era was complete odds with his record label Def Jam. He put out a track airing out his grievances with the label. They were fighting with him on the material being released. At one-point LL threatens “to bootleg” his own music. He also discusses how he built the label up and how dare they disagree with him. He started to entertain with the idea of switching over to Bad Boy Records.
LL Cool J – Def Jam Records Diss
Ultimately LL Cool J did end up bootlegging his next project to an indie label called Double L Cools Down recorded in 1995. He disguised himself, going by the alias “Double L” and the production of the album tied to a “Mr Smith”.(https://hiphopisntdead.blogspot.com/2014/08/not-available-in-stores-double-l-double.html) The project consisted of 11 tracks. The overall tone had more of an r&b feel but with a “street” edge in contrast to 14 Shots To The Dome. Def Jam did not want to associate themselves with the project. Ultimately only the tracks “Dear Lover” and “Candyman” were officially released. The latter found a home on the gold certified Jason’s Lyrics Soundtrack. “Dear Lover” would be slightly tweaked and found on the next project as the smash hit single “Hey Lover”. LL Cool J realized to continue to release projects through Def Jam he would need to compromise. This ultimately led to 1996’s Mr. Smith with the Trackmasters production duo of Poke and Tone at the helm. The project set the tone for LL”s second act of his career. The hits would be generally showcasing his softer side, sprinkled in with some tracks for the “hip hop heads”. Nonetheless there are some other classic gems from the rare Double L Cools Down project worth mentioning including “Set It Off New York” and “Bring On The Mo’s and Ho’s”.
LL Cool J – Candyman
LL Cool J – Dear Lover
LL Cool J – Hey Lover
LL Cool J – Set It Off New York
LL Cool J – Bring On The Mo’s and Ho’s
Even if LL Cool J’s career had completely stalled in the mid 90’s he would have had an impressive ten year run. A career much longer and impactful than the majority of other hip hop artist. True hip hop heads can appreciate the music he put out for 14 Shots to The Dome and Double L Cools Down. LL Cool J ultimately had to come to a decision whether or not to come to compromise with Def Jam Records and continue putting out music through them. As a result LL Cool J was able to put out 8 more albums. One going multi-platinum, two platinum, and 3 other projects going gold. The majority of the major hits were of the r&b nature but we were still able to get a healthy dosage of underground hits and album cuts that resembled LL Cool J of the 80’s and early 90’s.