Back when rap music was first heard on the radio, the music sounded a lot like R&B. The rhymes were mostly about party chants, whose rhyming skills were best, and who could move the crowd. There were also funny stories and a lot of rapid fire back and forth between and among group members. What you didn’t hear so much in those early days, were rap ballads.
You listen at what rap is today, you’re more likely to hear a rap ballad, albeit with lyrics so foul-mouthed you wouldn’t want your child to listen. For that matter, what passes for R&B ballads these days also contain explicit lyrics. There isn’t much of a call for romance, or courting, or leaving some things to the imagination. I suppose that is a changing of the times, but for me, I want a little bit of what made the old school great.
In finding today’s 80’s Mania Monday song, I saw a comment that referenced that today’s artist was “Drake before there was a Drake.” Drake, for those who don’t know, is one of today’s most popular rappers, but he also sings a lot of lyrics in his songs. Today’s artist didn’t sing so much, but he was one of the most gifted rappers out there, and has the longevity to be called a legend. Though now he mostly is an actor and host of the television show Lip Sync Battle, at one time, he was one of the greatest to ever rap on wax.
Today’s song, which incidentally is cited as the first rap ballad, is LL Cool J’s “I Need Love.”
By the time of this song, James Todd Smith aka LL Cool J, was on his way to becoming a superstar in rap music. Found on his second album, Bigger & Deffer, “I Need Love” would go on to hit #1 on the R&B chart, while landing at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would pave the way for the likes of Heavy D & The Boyz “Don’t You Know,” and many other slow jam rap songs. It also gave him license to try his hand at more ballads, but none of them were ever as popular as the first one. LL Cool J would chart rap hits through the 80’s, 90’s and even into the 2000’s (his most popular song on the R&B chart, “Luv U Better,” hit #1 for four weeks in 2002). For a career that began in 1985 when he was 17 years old, that’s a lot of longevity in what is a young person’s game.
Do you remember this one fondly? If so, or even if you don’t, tell me about it in the comments. As always, thanks for reading and listening.
For a new friend, who quoted the lyric “I’ll lay down my jacket so you can walk over a puddle” when I mentioned that I’d be writing about this today.