Articles by Lopy

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:”

Don’t call it a comeback
I’ve been here for years
I’m rocking my peers
Puttin’ suckers in fear
Makin’ the tears rain down like a monsoon
Listen to the bass go boom
Explosions, overpowerin’
Over the competition I’m towerin’

Riding the “Funky Drummer” break from start-to-finish, “Mama Said Knock You Out” was a pure blast of adrenaline that could have devolved into parody — LL Cool J was hardly going to be mistaken for a gangsta — but instead got across on the strength LL Cool J’s half-angry half-amused flow and the absolute monster hook.

I’m gonna knock you out (huuuuah!)
Mama said knock you out (huuuuah!)
I’m gonna knock you out (huuuuah!)
Mama said knock you out (huuuuah!)
I’m gonna knock you out (huuuuah!)
Mama said knock you out (huuuuah!)
I’m gonna knock you out (huuuuah!)
Mama said knock you out (huuuuah!)

It was that chorus — an almost instant meme — that got me. At that point, I only really knew LL Cool J’s singles, and the last one I’d paid a lot of attention to was “Goin’ Back to Cali.” And in fact, Mama Said Knock You Out was the first of his albums I bought, and after digging into it and discovering other songs I loved like “Eat ‘Em Up L Chill” and “6 Minutes of Pleasure,” I was inspired to go out and get the rest of his catalog.

All because of a single song.

A quarter-century later, “Mama Said Knock You Out” still slays, with Marley Marl’s production pushing LL Cool J to ever crazier heights. He might start out shadowboxing, but soon he’s got a shotgun in his hand, and he’s a maniac psycho who’s gathered his crew and they might just bomb a town. Get down!

Of course, you never thought for one second that LL Cool J was going to bomb a town: even at his hardest, he wasn’t as revolutionary as Chuck D or streetwise as Ices-T & Cube, but it just didn’t matter. Like Mick Jagger in “Street Fighting Man,” LL Cool J was playing a part, and succeeded because he was just so damn good at what he was doing.

Knock you out!

“Mama Said Knock You Out”

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

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Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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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.

Having very little to do with any of that was the soundtrack to the film, a weird melange of offbeat covers (The Bangles’ “Hazy Shade of Winter”, Slayer’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”), previews of 1988’s best album (Public Enemy’s “Bring The Noise”), and right in the middle, LL Cool J’s brilliant dis of my entire state, “Goin’ Back to Cali”

I’m going back to Cali, Cali, Cali
I’m going back to Cali, hmm, I don’t think so
I’m going back to Cali, Cali, Cali
I’m going back to Cali, I don’t think so

It was LL Cool J’s pause just before he said his utterly dismissive “I don’t think so” that made the whole song so fucking hilarious.

But what made the song eternal was the horns.

Starting off with a muted trumpet battling Rubin’s reliably big, weird, scratched beat and ending with a goddamn sax solo, the horns in “Goin Back To Cali” were a fresh innovation — Rick Rubin has said that it was the first time he’d used them — and it paid off. The horns are always surprising: playing off and around and against the beat as well as adding commentary to LL’s rap about not wanting to come out to California, even though there are girls waiting for him here.

The whole thing adds up to yet another undeniable classic that still sounds fucking great 30 years later.

“Goin’ Back to Cali” official video

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

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.

It’s also confident as all hell. LL Cool J just drips with charisma and confident from the git-go, flowing in, under, and around Rubin’s ever-changing beats.

My story is rough, my neighborhood is tough
But I still sport gold, and I’m out to crush
My name is Cool J, I devastate the show
But I couldn’t survive without my radio

This, of course, was music designed to be played as loud as fuck, guaranteed to annoy any and all adults and/or young people who liked their loud music to have more instruments. I was one of those at first: it took me awhile to make heads or tales of a song that was literally just a combination of an organic human voice and completely artificial drum programming.

But now I think that’s the beauty of “Radio,” the organic human voice is completely under control — every syllable is exactly where it’s supposed to be — and the artificial drum programming sounds utterly unteathered, like each snare beat, kick beat, and fake handclap was generated by a random number program.

Who knew what that beat was going to do next? Maybe Rick Rubin, though I’m convinced that even he just let it do whatever the hell it wanted.

I saw LL Cool J the year after this album: along with the Beastie Boys & Whodini, he was one of the openers on Run-DMC’s Raising Hell tour, which came to Selland Arena in the summer of 1986, and I just remember that it all seemed like it was being beamed from a different planet.

“I Can’t Live Without My Radio”

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

Certain Songs #495: Geto Boys – “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”

geto boys mind
Album: We Can’t Be Stopped
Year: 1991

The key to Gangsta rap’s massive popularity was, of course, larger-than-life celebrations of the dangers and rewards of the gang-banging lifestyle, as millions of teenagers who would freeze from fear from actually having live any of these scenarios got off pretending they were as hard as the guys in the songs.

Kinda like superhero comics. In fact, somebody should chart the rise of the popularity of superhero comics vs. the popularity of gangsta rap. No black superheros? Have you ever heard “Midnight” by Ice-T? That’s some Batman-level shit right there.

Anyways, my problem was that I was slightly older, so while I appreciated the reportage, the violence and misogyny always made me uneasy. So I mostly gravitated to songs that looked at the life from different angles — the devastating “Dead Homiez;” the exhilarating “Gotta Lotta Love” and the paranoiac “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.”

Rapping over a icy cool Isaac Hayes sample, the Geto Boys spin verse after verse filled with same themes that powered six seasons of The Sopranos — that a life where you fuck people over on a regular basis, a life where you could be killed at any moment — “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” tells stories that could come right out of a session with Dr. Melfi:

Day by day it’s more impossible to cope
I feel like I’m the one that’s doing dope
Can’t keep a steady hand because I’m nervous
Every Sunday morning I’m in service
Playing for forgiveness
And trying to find an exit out of the business
I know the Lord is looking at me
But yet and still it’s hard for me to feel happy
I often drift while I drive
Havin fatal thoughts of suicide
BANG and get it over with
And then I’m worry-free, but that’s bullshit

In the end, Bushwick Bill is down on his knees pounding the concrete while hallucinating a beatdown, and the song just fades to black, with no relief in sight.

And man, what if David Chase thought to score that last scene of The Sopranos to “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” instead of that fucking Journey song? Maybe it would have been too on the nose — as we see all of those folks at the diner who might or might not be ready to kill him — but it would be kind of cool to see how that scene would play.

That said, Tony Soprano wouldn’t be caught dead listening to this song,

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

Certain Songs #495: Geto Boys – “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”

geto boys mind
Album: We Can’t Be Stopped
Year: 1991

The key to Gangsta rap’s massive popularity was, of course, larger-than-life celebrations of the dangers and rewards of the gang-banging lifestyle, as millions of teenagers who would freeze from fear from actually having live any of these scenarios got off pretending they were as hard as the guys in the songs.

Kinda like superhero comics. In fact, somebody should chart the rise of the popularity of superhero comics vs. the popularity of gangsta rap. No black superheros? Have you ever heard “Midnight” by Ice-T? That’s some Batman-level shit right there.

Anyways, my problem was that I was slightly older, so while I appreciated the reportage, the violence and misogyny always made me uneasy. So I mostly gravitated to songs that looked at the life from different angles — the devastating “Dead Homiez;” the exhilarating “Gotta Lotta Love” and the paranoiac “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.”

Rapping over a icy cool Isaac Hayes sample, the Geto Boys spin verse after verse filled with same themes that powered six seasons of The Sopranos — that a life where you fuck people over on a regular basis, a life where you could be killed at any moment — “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” tells stories that could come right out of a session with Dr. Melfi:

Day by day it’s more impossible to cope
I feel like I’m the one that’s doing dope
Can’t keep a steady hand because I’m nervous
Every Sunday morning I’m in service
Playing for forgiveness
And trying to find an exit out of the business
I know the Lord is looking at me
But yet and still it’s hard for me to feel happy
I often drift while I drive
Havin fatal thoughts of suicide
BANG and get it over with
And then I’m worry-free, but that’s bullshit

In the end, Bushwick Bill is down on his knees pounding the concrete while hallucinating a beatdown, and the song just fades to black, with no relief in sight.

And man, what if David Chase thought to score that last scene of The Sopranos to “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” instead of that fucking Journey song? Maybe it would have been too on the nose — as we see all of those folks at the diner who might or might not be ready to kill him — but it would be kind of cool to see how that scene would play.

That said, Tony Soprano wouldn’t be caught dead listening to this song,

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page