Tuesday, June 01, 2004


By Gerald Davis
The Oakland Tribune

LL Cool J's new, fast-selling rap album is simple titled, "Bad."

Bad as in cool, Bad as in hot. Bad enough to mock traditional sensibilities with the harsh realities of ghetto life. Bad as the cutting edge.

He's so bad, he raps on the X-rated LP about blowing people away with his .357 magnum; about a smelly prostitute who accepts food stamps; about what he likes his women to do.

Betty Reid Soskin, owner of Reid's Records on Sacramento Street in Berkeley, thinks the album is too bad to sell to children, so a sign in the window of her gospel-pop music store reads: "LL Cool J is not on sale here!"

Her protest is a relatively rare one in the black-oriented music industry, which has not been as affected by overt lyrical references to sex, violence, and suicide as have the white-dominated heavy metal markets.

In 1985, a group of congressional wives and the national PTA, Parent Teachers Association, pressured 22 recording companies, producing 80 percent of the records in the U.S., to include parental-guidance warnings about lyrics on album jackets.

Reid's solitary crusade began after she received three cartons of the LL Cool J album and listened to the lyrics. She said she had been signing up anxious and eager young customers -- all of them younger than age 14 -- on a waiting list before the recording hit the stores.

After hearing the words, she packed up her 30 albums and took them back to the distributor.

"Everyone looked at me like I was a lunatic," she laughed.

"Mine was just a single act. It was something I needed to do for my own conscience. The trouble is, most adults don't have the patience to listen to these records."

She says some parents have thanked her, and that one girl reported that her mother broke her record after hearing it.

Some young customers have returned to let her know that they'd bought the record elsewhere, although the imprinted parental warnings forbid sales to minors.

"...Calling all cars.
calling all cars.
Be on the lookout for a light-skinned brother
he's wearing a sweat suit, gold chain and sneakers...
he's armed.

That's the introduction to the album's lead song, "I'm Bad."

The song ends with master rapper LL Cool J himself cutting in on the mock police band with, "...Yo. This is LL Cool J, and you'll never catch me. I'm too bad!"

From there he raps out a sort of verbal collage of life as he sees it in New York City, a picture that is common to many youngsters living in the economically depressed areas of American cities.

His is a macho, competitive and potentially explosive world where everyone is out for the big bucks in a hurry. The cool women are loose, and the cool "dudes" pack guns.

He presents himself as a pseudo-outlaw super-disc jockey/dance/emcee/rapper. He issues tough-sounding challenges to anyone who would dispute his claim.

"I'm the hardest hard rocker
in the hard rock town
'cause I got a .357
and I break it on down ...
Three-fifty-seven at point-blank range
ain't nothin' strange
you're having a heart attack'
it's at your back!"

At Wauzi Records in Oakland's Eastmont Mall, manager Darrell McFadden said the album has been "the hottest thing going" since its release three weeks ago.

It's what the brothers can relate to," he said. If some people find the lyrics objectionable, McFadden says simply, "It's reality." "I wouldn't allow my kids (ages 8 and 3) to listen to it, there's a lot of bad words in it. But to each his own, you know."

McFadden and other local store managers say that they can barely keep the record on their shelves because sales are so brisk.

After its first sales week, "Bad" was ranked Number 51 on Billboard Magazine's chart of Top 100 albums. After its second week, it was ranked Number 13. The record trade publication, "The R&B Report," calls LL Cool J "one of the front-runners of the rap movement (drawing) listeners as a vanguard."

The rap music genre emerged in the post-disco era of the early 1980s with often-witty writing that challenged uninitiated ears to something new.

The early hit by Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, "The Message," was an insightful tale about a young man about to snap from the pressures of his dead-end environment.

Some groups continue with social commentary. An album by Public Enemy calls for the return of the Black Panthers. Others have adopted more routine themes, usually bragging about how well they can rap, dance, or seduce women. "A lot of adults don't like rap," said Nelson George editor of black music at Billboard. "It's viewed in the same ways that people see heavy metal. "They (rap and heavy metal) appeal to the young with aggressive music. It's the nature of the way it sounds, and the attitudes, that adults don't like. "Cool J is one of the guys who emphasizes the machismo aspect. He's a clever lyricist, he really writes well. He personifies some of what people don't like about it and some of the best."

No other local record storers have returned the "Bad' album, said Elliott Blaine, founder of the record distributorship that first sold Reid Soskin the "Bad" album. "Unfortunately, a lot of records are being made today for adult ears," he said. "I've been in the record business for 41 years. I remember when you couldn't say "God" on a record. The whole world has changed, morally. "Betty's a wonderful person. I agree with her on a whole lot of things, but you've got to accept life the way it is."

"I make no pretentions about changing the world," Reid Soskin says. "Actually I'm happy to settle for a few blocks. I can only affect things immediately around me. "I'm simply not participating in something I feel so negatively about. Perhaps if enough Bettys do the same, we just might create the positive change that we'd all like to see."

(end of article)

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