A few days ago, rapper and actor LL Cool J took out an intruder in his SoCal home. (Good thing, too. I’ve heard reports the guy had a manslaughter conviction on his record.) I am all for defending your home and family from intruders by any means necessary (for me, that would mean hiding in a closet with my cell phone and whichever cat was within grabbing distance). Everyone has been making “Mama Said Knock You Out ” jokes ever since. But let’s take a moment to remember that this is one badass song.
I’m not the biggest rap /hip-hop fan out there (not surprising, since I’m a middle-age, middle class white woman from the suburbs). But what I do like, I like a lot. And I like “Mama Said Knock You Out.” LL Cool J is an old school rapper with old school style. This song was released in 1990, and was one of his biggest hits. It is powerful without being profane, lyrical without sacrificing machismo (not something I advocate normally, but it works for this song). Too many rappers today think they can just use a lot of expletives and degrading rhymes about women/gays/cops to make up for a lack of talent. They think it’s all about image, money, drugs, and naked women. (To be fair, this kind of attitude isn’t limited to hip-hop; there’s a lot of heavy metal bands that take pretty much the same tack, only with more pyrotechnics.) LL Cool J never needed to resort to that sort of thing. Yeah, he could be a braggart, and he was never exactly one of feminism’s poster boys. But he knew you needed more than an image and an attitude to make music that lasts. That’s why this song holds up more than twenty years later.
I’m glad we’ve moved past the “rap’s not real music” thing. Because there’s some amazing music out there being created by rap/hip-hop artists. I’m still feeling my way around this musical world, but I’m slowly discovering stuff that really resonates with me. So if anyone has any recommendations, I’m listening.