ACL Review: LL Cool J

Ladies by the thousands still love Cool James

The dichotomy of LL Cool J’s career was on full display for a late-afternoon Saturday set in front of a vast crowd on the day’s designated hip-hop stage. Everything in the catalog of the veteran Queens MC is either growling tough guy bars or romantic whisper rap. Hardcore or cornball, there’s no in-between.

Photo by David Brendan Hall

The former James Todd Smith kicked off with the former, busting out the gate with 1990 hit “Mama Said Knock You Out.” Judging by the size of his biceps – seriously, dude has a barrel chest and tree trunks for arms – he still means that literally. Late-Eighties cuts “I’m Bad” and “Jack the Ripper” brought more boom bap and braggadocio.

LL’s moniker stands for Ladies Love Cool James, but can a rapper barely south of 50 remain a sex symbol? Well, he can sure as hell try. The man did a lot of winking and over-exaggerated lip-licking throughout Nineties pop-rap anthems “Doin' It,” “Loungin' (Who Do Ya Luv),” and “Around the Way Girl.”

He upped the ante on “I Need Love,” passing out long-stem roses to a dozen lucky dames while rapping chivalrous if impractical lines like, “I'll lay down my jacket so you can walk over a puddle.”

Schmaltz aside, the set was a crowd-pleasing celebration of golden era hip-hop. B-boys top-rocked and windmilled, and Z-Trip scratched and cut as the other half of the classic MC/DJ combo, closing with iconic 1986 single “Rock the Bells.” LL may be cornball, but he’s a total pro.

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LL Cool J, ACL Fest 2016, James Todd Smith, Ladies Love Cool James, Z-Trip

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