Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 18: LL Cool J, "Around The Way Girl"

Artist: LL Cool J
Song: "Around The Way Girl"
Album: Mama Said Knock You Out
Year: 1990

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Within the world of music, when an artist finds themselves faced with adversity, it can push them in one of two directions.  While in many cases, it causes the artist in question to fold or seek a completely new sound, there are a few instances where this situation drives an artist to deliver the finest material of their career.  Though he had already established himself as a major force within the hip-hop world, by the time 1990 rolled around, LL Cool J was reeling from his critically panned 1989 release, Walking With The Panther.  While in retrospect, the record is quite good, at the time, the world of hip-hop was changing, and LL Cool J needed to change along with the times.  What would follow stands as not only his finest release of his long career, but a record that remains one of the greatest albums in the history of the hip-hop genre, as well as one of the defining records of the decade.  Boasting one of the most memorable title tracks in history, LL Cool J's 1990 release, Mama Said Knock You Out, permanently cemented his name as a hip-hop legend, and in many ways became the final support in establishing the genre as a mainstream sound.  The album boasts a wide variety of musical approaches both in terms of production, as well as delivery sound, and it is largely due to this diversity that the album was such a success.  Though the title track was a runaway success, one can easily make the case that the true gem of Mama Said Knock You Out lives on in the form of LL Cool J's 1990 single, "Around The Way Girl."

Though he had made his career to that point by bringing some of the most "in your face," harder beats and sounds, on "Around The Way Girl," LL Cool J delivers with a far more laid back, almost restrained sound.  However, this in no way means that the song is "soft," it simply has a wider reaching appeal as it is more musically sound than anything he had previously released.  Produced by the legendary Marley Marl, the song revolves around a sample of Mary Jane Girls' "All Night Long" as well as a piece from Keni Burke's "Risin' To The Top."  While these two pieces work brilliantly on the song, the core of the music is lifted from Honey Dipper's "Impeach The President," and it is from this track that the song gets its signature "high pitched" wail.  The samples work perfectly together, creating one of the warmest, head-bobbing moods ever composed, and it is this element that would make "Around The Way Girl" LL Cool J's first top ten hit,and the single would be the best charting song off of the record.  This deep groove also showed the clear interplay between the hip-hop and R&B sounds, and also proved that hip-hop could be less aggressive in sound while not losing any of its impact or "street cred."  The fact of the matter is, though it is far more relaxed than almost anything that had been released to that point, the song remains an irresistible groove and keeps the listener moving whether being listened to on a stereo, in a car, or on headphones.  The fact that the catchiness of the song remains more than twenty years later serves as a testament to just what an amazing and perfect composition lives within "Around The Way Girl."

Along with the more mellow, laid back music, LL Cool J alters his vocal approach on "Around The Way Girl," yet proves that even in a more "chilled out" delivery style, his swagger and impact come through as powerful as ever.  Delivering his vocals with a measured, clear sound, not a word is lost, and yet LL Cool J's smooth, distinctive sound give the song an edge that ensures that even the most "hardcore" hip-hop heads could proudly blast the song without feeling that it was "soft" track.  In fact, his overall performance here paved the way for countless other rappers to be able to express a bit of a more reflective side without being seen as "whack" or losing any of their "street cred."  Though he had already established himself as a "ladies man" within the hip-hop world, one can easily make the case that it was on "Around The Way Girl" that LL Cool J firmly established his persona, as the song is unquestionably one of the finest "hip-hop odes" that has ever been released.  The entire song extols the virtues of the rougher, independent women that LL Cool J loves, and there are few songs of the time that even remotely resemble his performance or the subject matter.  Touching on everything from fashion to fighting, LL Cool J comes off as completely fearless as he paints the picture of his ideal woman, punctuating the song with the lines, "...to all the cuties in the neighborhood, 'cause if I didn't tell you than another brother would..."  His approach throughout the entire song stands in stark contrast to the misogynistic image of hip-hop, and this is one of the many aspects that makes "Around The Way Girl" such a distinctive hip-hop classic.

Kicking off with one of the most memorable lines in history, LL Cool J's rhyme of, "I want a girl with extensions in her hair, bamboo earrings, at least two pair..." immediately sets a tone like no other song that had been previously recorded. He spends the next four minutes bringing up everything that makes up his ideal woman, and this honest, upfront ode remains an absolute hip-hop classic.  Whether he is encouraging women to become more independent or creating a brilliantly vivid image of his "dream girl" shaking her hips on the street, there are truly few songs of any genre that can compare insofar as paying tribute to a "real" woman for more than her looks alone.  Also using the song to set himself apart as far superior to the others who "pop that game all day," LL Cool J is sure to make it clear to the listener that not only is this his ideal woman, but he remains the ideal man for all women.  His ability to infuse this idea and keep his "ladies man" swagger on a song, whilst working with a far more relaxed and almost restrained beat than anything previously found in recorded music proves just how talented LL Cool J was at the time, and the song remains a massive influence on the entire world of hip-hop.  Marley Marl crafts an absolutely perfect groove for LL Cool J to work with, and the song remains unrivaled in terms of presenting the balance between more melodic backing music and vocals that speak to even the most hardcore hip-hop head.  Remaining today one of the most perfect, enjoyable, and enduring hip-hop songs in history, there is simply no other track that compares to LL Cool J's 1990 classic, "Around The Way Girl."

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