With a glance at the tracklisting of Authentic (429/S-Bro Music), LL Cool’s 14th LP and first record in four years, a feeling of dread falls over you. It seems as if a Todd Smith (2006) error of mass proportions is repeating itself in front of your eyes, and possibly ears. Authentic ties the aforementioned Todd Smith as LL’s most top-heavy record in terms of features. Only the ominously titled, and sounding, “Bath Salt” has LL riding on his own. With relief, the comparisons between those two albums stop there.
The cast brought on board for Authentic is interesting. It includes, but isn’t limited to: Charlie Wilson, Eddie Van Halen, Seal, Monica, Chuck D., Brad Paisley (yes of “Accidental Racist” fame), Fitz and The Tantrums, and Earth, Wind & Fire. What does all this mean for LL who musically left a very mixed, disappointing feeling behind with Exit 13 (2008)? Despite its posturing as “authentic hip-hop,” this isn’t a return to the b-boy bounce of Radio (1985), Mama Said Knock You Out (1990), or 14 Shots to the Dome (1993). The new long player is closer to his post-classic finesse reached with 10 (2002); close, but not exact.
Production on Authentic is tasteful, in-step with the time, but mature. That in and of itself is a major accomplishment for a veteran in a genre often seen as ageist. The clubby jams rock on “We Came to Party” and “Bartender Please”; LL’s love songs are still his trump card as heard on “New Love” and “Between the Sheetz.”
It’s on that latter batch that no time seems to have passed between LL’s once certain reign and the era of Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and A$AP Rocky. “New Love” is one of the songs that benefits from its guest; Fitz and The Tantrums provide a hook that is sweetly inescapable. Unfortunately, not every match-up is as successful and elsewhere LL finds himself submerged, drowning almost, in the craft of his friends (see “Something About You (Love the World)”).
LL hasn’t lost any of his athleticism in handling his rhymes and manages to kill “Whaddup” (the lead single). The major pro about Authentic in LL’s own words is that he would “Never try to sound like a rapper I raised.” The drawback? LL seems to (still) be under the misconception that his fans want to hear an album of features instead of an LL LP. The G.O.A.T. clearly enjoyed himself here and that’s nice. It would have been an even more joyous occasion if he had created a simple 10-12 track album that showed his unfiltered prowess. Authentic manages to wash away the unevenness of his last two records, but is neither classic nor totally modern. Instead it’s a strange composite of both ideals. Ranking: Transitional
[Editor’s Note: Authentic is available in both standard and deluxe formats. The latter is available through Target only. Standard version reviewed here. For current information on LL Cool J, please visit his official site.-QH]