LL Cool J was hip-hop’s first superstar. Named James Todd Smith, he was an engaging blend of everything gratifying about the genre’s early rise to popularity. LL Cool J had it all; the melodic pop tendencies of Run-DMC blended with the lyrical masterminds such as Rakim or KRS-One. The magnetic personality played a crucial role in delivering hip-hop to the mainstream. Of LL Cool J’s numerous critically acclaimed albums, Bigger and Deffer solidified LL as a mainstream force while venomously attacking his enemies in the hip-hop industry.
His first big break came in 1984, signing for Def Jam Recordings. Following the signing, he released his debut single, “I Need A Beat” which made him a commercial icon overnight and later, landed on his debut album, Radio in 1985. During the birth of his career, LL Cool J created albums that set trends in the culture. His energy, brashness, and creative fire stuck out amongst the pack of upcoming MCs. However, that rage went far beyond a desire to be commercially appealing. Even for a Queens-based upraising, his upbringing was still far more traumatic than most. At the age of four, his father shot his mother and grandfather, nearly killing each of them. While his father would eventually turn his life around and the two would make amends, a 10-year-old James Smith began turning that pain into rap verses.
LL Cool J Had An Egotistical Persona
As mentioned, LL Cool J’s first big break came when he signed a deal with Def Jam Recordings. However, the Rick Rubin-led Def Jam initiative was nowhere near the iconic label it is today. Its humble existence began in Rubin and Russell Simmons’ New York University dorm room. The success of LL Cool J’s debut helped propel Def Jam into a leading label for a budding genre, which in turn, allowed them to sign other talented MCs throughout New York onto its roster. However, LL Cool J’s hallmark musical statement would arrive with his sophomore album, 1987’s Bigger And Deffer. Going triple platinum, Bigger And Deffer remains one of the most successful and influential albums to date.
By the time Bigger And Deffer came around, LL Cool J had fully embraced his confidence as an MC, fully aware of his charisma and skills. While he may have been holding his tongue to a mild extent when he first broke out onto the scene, the powerful reception of his debut album pushed him to fully express himself on his sophomore album.
LL Cool J certainly wasn’t the first to utilize braggadocios tendencies as a driving force behind his narrative. Still, nobody looked as cool doing it as LL. In fact, it wasn’t only the bars. It was his signature cropped fedora and heavy jewelry that he sported at music videos or press releases. Everything about LL cemented his unbreakable image. Take the lead single “I’m Bad,” where LL states, “I’m like Jaws, my hat is like a shark’s fin” and “When I retire I’ll get worshipped like an old battleship.”
LL Was Heavily Influenced By Run-DMC
Even if Bigger and Deffer positioned LL Cool J as an almost God-like figure, what made the project utterly iconic was the fact that he wasn’t wrong. “Get Down” and “.357 – Break It On Down” each showcased LL’s ability to dart from a meandering, leisurely verse to a more rapid pace. “Kanday” sees him marveling at his newfound relationship, even going as far as to sneer at his woman’s ex-boyfriend. His storytelling evolved into the world of flat-out hysteria as Bigger and Deffer wore on, from journeying to the center of the Earth to hanging out with The British Royal Family. However, this endearing level of ridiculousness is an engaging viewpoint into LL’s aspirations. Even if the bars were outrageous, they all lent themselves to the very real swollen dreams of the Queens MC.
From a sonic perspective, Bigger and Deffer dives between different soundscapes from track to track. “Go Cut Creator” is a stripped-down tribute to rock that was evidently ahead of its time. However, the record’s darker elements draw clear inspiration from Run-DMC. The sophomore effort is a blend between soul sampling and scratchy drum machines, a wild mix between the past and then-present sounds of hip-hop. Bigger and Deffer is at its best when LL fully leans into his dark image, attacking his detractors amidst enraged rock-fluenced production. Ironically, the project’s most commercially successful song, “I Need Love,” is a weak point on the record. The record’s overt softness and lyrical cringiness spawned a wave of rap ballads from other MCs looking to replicate its commercial success.
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Bigger And Deffer Has Been Imitated, But Not Replicated
Bigger and Deffer would have plenty of rappers imitating LL Cool J’s style on albums over the coming decades. However, nobody quite blended the engagement of an inflated ego with the concrete backing of lyrical talents like LL Cool J. Bigger and Deffer’s wide diversity of soundscapes appealed to a wide variety of audiences, from hardcore heads to easygoing listeners. When rappers attempt to big themselves up by aiming their lyrical chops at any and all detractors around them, the attempt usually reads as performative rather than genuine. However, Bigger and Deffer proved that LL Cool J was the man, and he was here to stay.