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LL Cool J
Todd Smith

LlCoolJ.jpgLL Cool J has made women swoon for more than 20 years. But even the slickest playboys run out of game eventually. That fact is made dreadfully clear on Big Elley’s 12th album, Todd Smith, where the rap vet seems restricted, even trapped, by his reliance on making music for the fairer sex.

The lead single, “Control Myself,” finds LL dusting off his flirtatious “Going Back to Cali” flow for a regretful romp with Jennifer Lopez. Although Jermaine Dupri’s Afrika Bambaataa– inspired production gets the bodies rockin’, Mr. Smith quickly kills the mood with his elementary lyrics. Other duds include the disturbing “Preserve the Sexy,” a high BPM duet with teenage temptress Teairra Mari, and the sappy Track Masters–helmed “Down the Aisle.” Backed by 112 on the latter, LL gushes, “I was blind to love, God showed me you/Now I’m standing at the altar ready to say I do.”

LL does better when he drops the Superman Lover cape and reveals his inner thoughts. Take the mournful “Freeze” featuring Lyfe Jennings and “We’re Gonna Make It,” where Uncle L and gospel divas Mary Mary team up to praise the Lord. And even though the lazily titled Juelz Santana collaboration “It’s LL and Santana” can’t compare to his best Jack the Ripper material (i.e. “Ill Bomb” and “I Shot Ya”), at least LL sounds reinvigorated over producer Shay Taylor’s heavy metal track.

The rest of Todd Smith, however, finds LL on autopilot. Including a guest performer on every track, he plays it safe by going for potential singles and standard chick records. One of the few exceptions being “I’ve Changed,” is a vivid narrative where LL plays the role of stalker and confesses, “That’s the old me, the one I still regret/The one you couldn’t respect/The one you should forget.” Sounds like even he’s so sick of love songs.—THOMAS GOLIANOPOULOS

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