Certain Songs #943: LL Cool J – “Mama Said Knock You Out”

Album: Mama Said Knock You Out
Year: 1990

You could call “Mama Said Knock You Out” several things: a top 20 single; the title track to LL Cool J’s most consistent album; proof that he could combine hardness with maturity; and one of my top 5 favorite hip-hop songs.

But, of course, there’s one thing that you absolutely shouldn’t call “Mama Said Knock You Out:”

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Certain Songs #942: LL Cool J – “Goin’ Back To Cali”

Album: Less Than Zero Soundtrack
Year: 1987

While I don’t remember a single damn thing about either the film or book of Less Than Zero, I do remember that the film happen to coincide with the most hipstery and druggy period that me and my social circle went through.

So in my head, anyways, I think of it as “our Less Than Zero” period, despite nobody having any kind of aspirations of being like anybody in the film.

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Certain Songs #941: LL Cool J – “I Can’t Live Without My Radio”

Album: Radio
Year: 1985

Ladies Love Cool James Todd Smith was still a teenager when he wrote and recorded Radio, which came out just a couple of months before he turned 18.

Given that it was the first Def Jam release and given how influential Rubin’s minimalist production style turned out to be, Radio is also a landmark album, a turning point for 1980’s hip-hop.

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Certain Songs #940: Liz Phair – “Uncle Alvarez”

Album: whitechocolatespaceegg
Year: 1998

After failing to catch lightning in a bottle a second time with 1994’s good-not-great Whip-Smart, Liz Phair changed direction completely with 1998’s transitory whitechocolatespaceegg, which abandoned the low-fi sound of her first two records for a more slick, Scott Litt-produced approach.

This sounds like I’m winding up towards an insult, but actually, quite the opposite. I really liked whitechocolatespaceegg. It was the closest thing to traditional singer-songwriter album she’s ever produced, but retained some of the musical weirdness that marked her first two albums. The lyrical themes expanded beyond love and sex, and she was writing about characters and situations that clearly weren’t autobiographical.

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Certain Songs #939: Liz Phair – “Divorce Song”

Album: Exile in Guyville
Year: 1993

Oh god, “Divorce Song.” My favorite song from Exile in Guyville, and my favorite Liz Phair song.

We’ve all been there, right? One last road trip in a relationship that was clearly already a dead shark, maybe taken as a last-ditch effort at reconnecting, maybe taken because of an obligation larger than the relationship, maybe taken because you didn’t know how not to take it.

And it was a fucking disaster.

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