The pioneering pop song that made LL Cool J a star
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The pioneering pop song that made LL Cool J a star

Queens rapper LL Cool J is an epic emcee known worldwide. Emerging in the 1980s, the musician (real name James Smith) was one of many legendary artists spearheading hip-hop during its golden age. Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys discovered LL and introduced him to Def Jam Recordings co-founder Rick Rubin. Prior to 1984, Smith was a member of the underground trio, The Extravagant Three. However, following the crew’s dissipation, LL struggled to break through.

Following his discovery, Smith worked with Ad-Rock and Rubin to release his first major label track, ‘I Need A Beat.’ The song was featured on his 1985 debut studio album, RadioAlthough the project got certified platinum by the RIAA in 1989, Smith was yet to become a world-renowned star. However, that all changed in 1987.

Two years after his breakout album, LL released a smooth single that led to the creation of what is now known as the rap ballad. The single, entitled ‘I Need Love,’ showed the b-boy’s softer side, which stylistically drew on R’n’B Slow Jams. ‘I Need Love’ became a massive crossover hit for Smith, proving that an emcee could succeed with more introspective music.

Produced by the LA Posse, ‘I Need Love’ was released as the second single for Smith’s 1987 album, Bigger And Deffer. The single debuted at number one on the Hot Rap Singles and peaked at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Speaking with Revolt magazine about the track, LL revealed When we did ‘I Need Love,’ it was a huge hit. But at the same time, it got a lot of backlash. They didn’t understand, at that time, that hip-hop could go there! I’m very grateful, very thankful, and I’m glad that it created a genre.”

Smith has since admitted that he wrote the track in five minutes. Speaking with Interview Magazine, the Queens artist stated, “The music came first. I went home, listened to the track, and it took five minutes to write the lyrics. When I wrote ‘I Need Love,’ I needed it. I didn’t need it the next day, but I needed it when I wrote it. I was talking about a true spiritual love, and romantic love also. Just true love, companionship. That’s something I wanted.”

‘I Need Love’ solidified Smith in hip-hop as a versatile artist who could be more than just an aggressive b-boy. The single proved he wasn’t just the average rapper from the hood but a truly skilful lyricist who could work with any beat. You can listen to the track in the video below.