Melody Maker | Album | 17 April 1993
LL COOL J
14 SHOTS TO THE DOME
The career of LL Cool J, which began almost 10 years ago with the first Def Jam release, has been a helter skelter of ups and downs. In 1987, for instance, "I Need Love" gave him a huge hit single on both sides of the Atlantic, but the soppy rhymes were greeted with scorn by serious rap fans. More recently, he has been lambasted for playing the part of a cop in Michael J Fox's "The Hard Way" and appearing at Bill Clinton's inaugural bash.
LL has taken every criticism on the chin and, without so much as a pause to spit out the blood, continued to go his own sweet way. His last album, "Mama Said Knock You Out", proved he still had something to offer in the post-Daisy Age. Three years further along the line, "14 Shots To The Dome" takes him pretty well back to the top again. As the title suggests, it does not include any embarrassing "Clinton's gonna save us" raps.
"Diggy Down", "Buckin' 'Em Down" and "All We Got Left Is The Beat" lash out at the authorities in no uncertain terms, while "How I'm Comin'" has a go at just about everybody. As a flip to these, there are a couple of lurve songs, both vastly superior to "I Need Love". There are occasional flashes of humour too. The opening blast of "Funkadelic Relic", a four-minute guide to 10 years of LL, is wonderfully self-deprecating.
Most of the backing tunes are fine examples of simple, solid hip hop – thumping beats, booming basslines and the faintest of melodies greasing LL's inimitable vocals. The production, the credit for which is shared between QDIII, Bobcat and Cold Chillin' funkmaster Marley Marl, is bang on. But what makes "14 Shots" really hit are the sudden departures from the ruffneck business. Every third or fourth track brings a surprise.
"Stand By Your Man" isn't the old Tammy Whynette song (that would have been too much), but it's far more Talkin' Loud than Def Jam. Another strange one is "Pink Cookies In A Plastic Bag Crushed By Buildings", which uses a cut of The Emotions' "Blind Alley" and lots of sound effects to live up to its daft title. The lyrics are a complete mystery. The guest appearance of Lords Of The Underground on "NFA (No Frontin' Allowed)" makes perfect sense, though. It snaps, crackles and pops.
Although "Straight From Queens", a ragga shuffle co-starring Lieutenant Stitchie, and the vaguely pornographic "Back Seat" fall desperately short of the mark, the last of the "14 Shots", a track called "Crossroads", is pure genius. Believe it or not, it boasts an 18-piece orchestra (more than half of which are violinists) and-pseudo operatic backing singing. For all of that, it is a super-tuff hip hop slam. Expect Ice Cube's version of "Rock Me Amadeus" to be out by the summer.
With only a couple of blanks in the clip, "14 Shots To The Dome" makes an almighty mess of the head. It's LL Cool J's best album since his first. It's a hell of a long way back down from here.