Don't Call It A Comeback: LL Cool J's Mama Said Knock You Out Album Review
CLASSIC RATING: 4 OUT OF 6
Back in 1990, LL Cool J felt that he couldn't compete with the new era of gangsta rappers, several of them had even dissed him in their songs. LL was so troubled by this that he sat down to talk to his grandmother about it. Luckily she had some good advice for Todd when she told him, “Oh baby, just knock them out!” referring to his critics. She told him that she believed in his talent and this inspired LL to go hard, yet stay true to himself. And it paid off, both commercially and critically.
Mama Said Knock You Out was released on August 28, 1990, and is LL Cool J's fourth album. “To Da Break of Dawn” was the first single and it didn't chart anywhere except Australia of all places! However, this was before the release of the actual album and it can be seen as a “testing the waters” single. It was also included in the Kid 'n Play's movie House Party from 1990. The track also serves as a diss track to a few of his rivals at the time such as MC Hammer, Kool Moe Dee, and Ice-T. It's considered one of the best diss tracks of all-time.
The second single, “The Boomin' System” was released about three weeks before the album, but neither this track managed to cause any damage on the charts. One could assume that LL and the record company were starting to get anxious about the lack of a hit, so they decided to release a smoother track. And that was a smart move because “Around The Way Girl” was the hit they had been looking for, peaking at #9 and becoming LL's first ever top 10 hit. The lyrics are relatable and are all about LL searching for a streetwise girl to form a relationship with. Throughout the song, LL describes the exact features that he's looking for in this girl and it all flows well over a mellow yet highly danceable beat.
Now that they had finally found the successful single that they needed they decided to do what should have done all along and they released the title track “Mama Said Knock You Out” on February 26, 1991. Almost half a year after the album's release they dropped the single which is one of LL's most popular songs until this day. It only charted decently, however, this is likely due to the album having been out for so long at this point. The story behind the song is that LL got the chorus lyric from his grandmother who told him “to knock out” his critics!
Both LL and the record company still wonder what would've happened had they released “Mama Said Knock You Out” immediately and then dropped “Around The Way Girl” as a follow-up. In hindsight, they know this would've been the best thing to do, but at the time they were too unsure. It's reasonable to assume the album, Mama Said Knock You Out could have sold even more than it's double platinum status. Considering that LL's sophomore album sold to triple platinum, but times had changed a lot since 1987, so who knows really?