#213: Mama Said Knock You Out by LL Cool J
James Todd Smith was born in 1968 on Long Island, New York. The Chicago Tribune later reported, “[As] a kid growing up middle class and Catholic in Queens, life for LL was heart-breaking. His father shot his mother and grandfather, nearly killing them both. When 4-year-old LL found them, blood was everywhere.” In 1972, Smith and his mother moved into his grandparents’ home in St. Albans, Queens, where he was raised. In 1978, after hearing the music of pioneering rap group, The Treacherous Three, Smith began rapping at the age of ten. By the age of 16, in 1984, he was making demos with two turntables, mixer and amplifier.
About this time he created his stage name LL Cool J (an abbreviation for Ladies Love Cool James). In 1985, the rapper released the album Radio, including his dance chart Top 20 hits “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” and “Rock The Bells”.
In 1987 LL Cool J was back with Bigger and Better. The album featured his 1987 number-one Dance/Electronic Singles Sales Billboard chart hit “I Need Love”. The single also climbed to #14 on the Billboard Hot 1o0, and made the Top Ten pop charts in Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom and West Germany.
In 1989 LL Cool J had his first number-one hit on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart titled “I’m That Type Of Guy”. The single, from Walking with a Panther, also peaked at #15 on the Hot 100. As well, LL Cool J received a Grammy Award nomination for “Going Back To Cali” in the Best Rap Performance category.
In 1990 LL Cool J released Mama Said Knock You Out. The album featured three number-one Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart singles. These were “The Boomin’ System”, his first Top Ten on the Hot 100 “Around The Way Girl”, followed by the title track “Mama Said Knock You Out”.
“Mama Said Knock You Out” is written by LL Cool J. In his rap, he brags that he’s just like the boxing champ Muhammad Ali. Born in 1942, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., he won a gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome in the light heavyweight category. On February 25, 1964, Clay beat Sonny Liston for the boxing heavyweight championship. Clay was just 22-years-old. On March 6, 1964, he announced that he no longer would be known as Cassius Clay but as Muhammad Ali. In 1966, Ali refused to be drafted into the military, citing his religious beliefs and ethical opposition to the Vietnam War. He was found guilty of draft evasion so he faced 5 years in prison and was stripped of his boxing titles in mid-February 1967. Ali returned to boxing dominance as the heavyweight champion from October 30, 1974, to February 15, 1978. He returned to win back the boxing title on September 15, 1978, until he relinquished it on October 18, 1979.
LL Cool J also compares himself the “the Ripper,” (short for Jack the Ripper). Jack the Ripper was the name for an anonymous serial killer, mostly of female prostitutes, in the Whitechapel area of London, England between 1888-1891. The number of murders by the Ripper are said to range between eleven to fifteen. As well, LL Cool J later attests “when I rip and kill at will, the man of the hour, the tower of power, I’ll devour…” Elsewhere in the song, he offers up similarities to (John) Shaft, the private detective who in the 1971 crime drama film, Shaft, was described as “hotter than Bond, cooler than Bullitt.” The film spawned several sequels. And, when thinking of nature, the rapper compares himself to the force of a hurricane. Like many rap songs, LL Cool J comes out on top as the toughest, most powerful, phenomenal rapper of all.
“Mama Said Knock You Out” peaked at #2 in Vancouver (BC), #7 in New York City, and #10 in Arlington (VA).
“Mama Said Knock You Out” won LL Cool J a Grammy Award in 1992 in the Best Rap Solo Performance category.
In 1993 LL Cool J had a number-one hit on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart with “How I’m Comin'”. That year he received another Grammy Award nomination in the Best Rap Solo Performance category for “Strictly Business”. And in 1994 was again nominated for a Grammy in that category for his song “Stand By Your Man”.
But it was his 1995 release of the Mr. Smith album that saw the peak of his recording career. Two songs from the album, “Hey Lover” (featuring Boyz to Men), and “Loungin'” (featuring Total), both climbed to #1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. While “Doin’ It” also peaked in the Top Ten, as did the other two, on each of the Billboard Hot 100, Dance/Electronic Singles Sales and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. As well, “Hey Lover” earned LL Cool J a Grammy Award in the Best Rap Solo Performance category in 1997, while his album, Mr. Smith, received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album.
Since 1985 LL Cool J had begun appearing in film. In 1995 he was cast in his first lead role with top billing in Out-of-Sync, a crime drama. From 1995-1999 the rapper was cast in a sitcom titled In the House. Among his other films is the 1999 science fiction horror Deep Blue Sea. And in 1999 LL Cool J was in another crime drama, opposite Stanley Tucci, titled In Too Deep. Another box office smash with over $100 million, titled Any Given Sunday, – a sports drama – was also released in 1999.
In 1996 LL Cool J was a featured vocalist on the Top Ten Billboard Hot 100 hit by Babyface titled “This Is for the Lover in You”. That year the rapper had a #1 hit on the UK pop chart titled “Ain’t Nobody” from the Beavis and Butt-Head Do America Soundtrack. The song earned LL Cool J a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap Solo Performance. The following year, LL Cool J had another Top Ten hit in the UK with “Hit Em’ High”, from the Space Jam soundtrack. And he had his fifth Top Ten hit on the pop charts in the UK in 1997 with “Phenomenon”. While in 1998 LL Cool J was back at #1 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart with “Father”.
Starting off the new century, LL Cool J had his only number-one album on the Billboard 200 Album chart titled G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all time).
In 2002 LL Cool J was a featured vocalist in the Jennifer Lopez number-one Billboard Hot 100 hit “All I Have”. That same year the rapper had a #1 hit on the Billboard Dance chart titled “Luv You Better”. The single also climbed to #2 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It earned LL Cool J a Grammy Award nomination in the category Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. In 2005 LL Cool J had a #3 hit on the UK pop singles chart with “Hush”. And in 2006, LL Cool J released his last Top Ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Control Myself”, which climbed to #4.
Over his career LL Cool J has released 13 studio albums, of which 9 have peaked in the Top Ten on the Billboard 200 Album chart. One of these, The DEFinition, also garnered LL Cool J his second Grammy Award nomination in the Best Rap Album category (2005).
January 14, 2022
Teresa Wiltz, “Rapper LL COOL J Puts Wild Days, Demons Behind Him,” Chicago Tribune, September 19, 1997.
Robert Repino and Tim Allen, “Blaxploitation, from Shaft to Django,” Oxford University Press Blog, June 3, 2013.
“The Enduring Mystery of Jack the Ripper,” Metropolitan Police, London, UK, February 4, 2010.
William C. Rhoden, “Ali’s Voice From the Past, A Stand for the Ages,” New York Times, June 21, 2013.
Geoffrey Gray, “How Muhammad Ali Became a Boxer,” New York Magazine, June 4, 2016.
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