The cover of LL Cool J's latest album, Todd Smith, closely resembles that of LL's career high point, 1990's Mama Said Knock You Out, with one significant subtraction: chest hair. This is actually a pretty good visual metaphor for LL's transformation as a rapper over the last decade and a half: Where he once proudly broadcast his virility, warning haters against underestimating his manhood, now he stresses his cool untouchability, the smooth surface sheen of the modern multimedia star. Hearing LL expound on his current situation isn't without its fleeting pleasures—hey, Us Weekly doesn't read itself—but there's not much to hang onto here.
Of course, even the man himself seems to recognize that. Only one track on Todd Smith doesn't feature a guest spot from some younger MC or singer, perhaps an admission that LL now requires a foil to play against in order to make it through four minutes of designer beatscape. Which is a pretty savvy marketing plan, and not a bad way to stoke the creative fires, either: Freeway's turn in "What You Want" drives LL to hustle ever so slightly, while the aptly titled "It's LL and Santana" (with Dipset barker Juelz Santana) climaxes in a hilarious orgy of self-promotion. And "Control Myself," a club-jam duet with fellow multimedia star Jennifer Lopez, is some kind of profound statement on indulgent superstar excess. But the plan's efficacy is decidedly short-lived; ultimately, Todd Smith lasts about as long as a full-body wax.
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