NASHVILLE — There are 12 song titles on the back cover of L. L. Cool J's new album, "Bigger and Deffer," but only 11 songs on the LP. The final track--"On the Ill"--is simply a 25-second message from L. L.
"Don't touch that needle," a voice advises. "Yo, this is L. L. again . . . (laughter). . . . You didn't think I could do it again, did ya? Another album . . . (more laughter). . . . The joke's on you, Jack."
Listeners who have their fingers on the pulse of rap no doubt assumed the barb was directed at Rick Rubin, the high-strung, in-demand record producer who worked on L. L.'s first album, a million-seller that established the 19-year-old New Yorker last year as the hottest solo star in rap.
When word leaked out a few months ago that Rubin wasn't going back in the studio with L. L. for the second LP, there was suspicion of a rift. Because Rubin is on a hot streak (he also helped shape the rock 'n' rap sensibilities of the latest Run-D.M.C. and the debut Beastie Boys albums), it's easy to think that he was the controlling vision in the studio.
Without Rubin in his corner, L. L. knew there would be doubts about his ability to come up with another hit.
But L. L.--who produced the new album in association with a crew called L.A. Posse--denies the joke on the record is aimed at Rubin.
"Naw," L. L. said quickly and pointedly during an interview after a recent concert here. "That wasn't about Rick. That was to all the doubters . . . all the people who said the first album was a fluke. They thought I was a producer's pet, more than likely, and that it was just a one-shot deal. I just had to prove to the world that it wasn't like that.
"Rick was busy working on (the upcoming Run-D.M.C. movie), and besides I thought it would be good to do my own album . . . to show that I could switch trainers and still knock people out. Things are cool between us. We may work together on my next album or even do some B-sides for the singles."
L. L. Cool J's youth isn't the only reason people were skeptical about his ability to make an album without Rubin. There's still a large section of the record industry that looks on rap as a novelty, where each hit album is simply another lucky break.
Even Run-D.M.C.--which has now delivered three best-selling LPs--continues to be considered something of a fluke. And you can find a lot of takers around town if you are willing to bet the Beastie Boys will ever see the Top 10 again with an album. The smart money was lined up heavily against L. L. before "Bigger and Deffer."
The skepticism carries over to the media. Some East Coast publications, notably the Village Voice, have done insightful spreads on the important rappers, but most national pop-rock publications have shown little interest in the rap phenomenon.
Run-D.M.C. finally made the cover of Rolling Stone last year, but the Beastie Boys still haven't had their mugs on the cover, even though the trio's "Licensed to Ill" was clearly the favorite album on campus for much of the last nine months. L. L. Cool J, too, is generally underexposed, considering his charisma and popularity.
See L. L. live and it's easy to understand why he is emerging as a legitimate culture hero. While Run-D.M.C and the Beastie Boys have been making headlines with their tour, which started a few weeks ago on the West Coast, L. L. is headlining an equally successful tour that began on the East Coast and is now headed West for a series of dates that includes a stop Friday at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
L. L. isn't the only act on the bill. The others include Whodini, Doug E. Fresh and the especially interesting Public Enemy, led by Chuck D., a self-proclaimed "raptivist" whose black-consciousness message is more consistently and pointedly political than those of other contemporary rappers.
Yet L. L. is clearly the star. He says it loud and proud.
L. L. Cool J (real name: James T. Todd) is a charismatic performer and deft rapper who is extremely competitive--that's one reason he favors prize-fight analogies. He even looked like a fighter as he sat on a chair in the dressing room of the ancient Municipal Auditorium, a towel draped around his bare, muscular shoulders as he cooled down from his fast-moving, fast-talking performance.
"That's true," he said, when asked about the boxing terminology. "I look at rap like boxing. . . . The quicker you knock 'em out in the ring, the quicker you can get out of the ring and talk to the reporters, you know what I am saying.
"To me, my first album was a title match. I was a challenger going for a title and I took the title. This album is a title defense, and I'm happy that it is selling so fast. I feel like I have a championship belt around my waist and God is going to help me keep it.
"This (career) isn't going to be no one-shot, two-shot thing. I'm going to keep trying harder and harder and harder. I feel like (heavyweight champ Mike) Tyson. He's young also. . . . It's like out with the old, in with the new."