LL Cool J

Mr. Smith

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On the strength of the slow-burning Boyz II Men duet "Hey Lover," LL Cool J returned to the top of the charts with Mr. Smith, meaning the album is somewhat of a comeback for the veteran rapper. LL Cool J's skills had never deserted him, but his previous album, 14 Shots to the Dome, was an exercise in hardcore that only worked in fits and spurts. There are a couple of hard moments on Mr. Smith, but the album is at its most successful when he concentrates on his seductive, romantic side. LL has gotten a bit dirtier since the teenage days of "I Need Love," but he never steps over into the explicit, lewd come-ons of R. Kelly, preferring to suggest everything with a series of double entendres, metaphors, and analogies. Mr. Smith isn't a perfect record -- there are too many slack moments for it to qualify as one of his best -- but it proves that LL Cool J remained vital a decade after his debut.

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