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Walking With a Panther

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Album Review

Released at a time when hip-hop's anxieties about crossover success were at a fever pitch, Walking With a Panther found LL Cool J trying to reinvent his sound while building on the commercial breakthrough of Bigger and Deffer. Even though the album succeeded on both counts, it did so in a way that didn't sit well with hip-hop purists, who began to call LL's credibility into question. Their fears about commercialism diluting the art form found a focal point in LL, the man who pioneered the rap ballad — and there are in fact three ballads here, all of them pretty saccharine (and, tellingly, none of them singles). Apart from that, some of the concerns now seem like much ado about nothing, and there are numerous fine moments (and a few great singles) to be found on the album. It is true, though, that Walking With a Panther does end up slightly less than the sum of its parts. For one thing, it's simply too long; moreover, the force of his early recordings is missing, and there's occasionally a sense that his once-peerless technique on the mic is falling behind the times. Nonetheless, Walking With a Panther is still a fine outing on which LL proves himself a more-than-capable self-producer. The fuller, more fleshed-out sound helps keep his familiar b-boy boasts sounding fresh, and force or no force, he was in definite need of an update. On the singles — "Going Back to Cali," "I'm That Type of Guy" (inexplicably left off All World), "Jingling Baby," and "Big Ole Butt" — LL exudes an effortless cool; he's sly, assured, and in full command of a newfound sexual presence on record. So despite its flaws, Walking With a Panther still ranks as one of LL's stronger albums — strong enough to make the weak moments all the more frustrating.

Biography

Born: 14 January 1968 in Bay Shore, NY

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Hip-hop is notorious for short-lived careers, but LL Cool J is the inevitable exception that proves the rule. Releasing his first hit, "I Can't Live Without My Radio," in 1985 when he was just 17 years old, LL initially was a hard-hitting, streetwise b-boy with spare beats and ballistic rhymes. He quickly developed an alternate style, a romantic — and occasionally sappy — lover's rap epitomized by his mainstream breakthrough single, "I Need Love." LL's first two albums, Radio and Bigger...
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Walking With a Panther, LL Cool J
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