LL Cool J’s 1987 song “I Need Love” became one of the first hip hop love hits that showed a side of vulnerability and romance — a major shift from the politically-aware lyricism and early rumblings of Gangster Rap that defined the end of the decade. Speaking with Complex, LL reflected on the mixed response he received from the track and the lane it paved for hip hop, which now allows artists to thrive from romantic joints.
“At first it was a lot of friction because, you gotta remember, hip hop was — and still is to a certain extent — but back then, it was really conservative and if the energy wasn’t testosterone, like I’m punching you in your face, kicking the door down, you don’t get a lot of credit,” he explained. “In hip hop, you only get brownie points for creativity within certain parameters… When you try to go outside of that box, if it’s anything that’s not considered 1000% street, [you get] no credit.”
Still, LL formed his career on the basis of versatility. He experimented with several different genre-influences, sounds and flows and later expanded his career further to include TV and film.
“I wanted to creatively be able to do all kinds of music. When we did ‘I Need Love,’ it was a huge hit. But at the same time, it got a lot of backlash,” he reflected. “They didn’t understand, at that time, that hip hop could go there.”
However, he says he happily pioneered the way for the next hip hop generation to be able to excel with love songs, naming the likes of Fabolous and Drake.
“I’m very grateful, very thankful and I’m glad that it created a genre,” he said. “I’m glad that now, years later, a Fabolous can go out and do his thing and still be very well-respected as a lyricist. A Jadakiss can do his love song and still be well-respected as a lyricist… I’m glad I was able to help it.”
“People compare me to Drake all the time, but we’re very different artists because I have a lot of hard records and I’m very diverse,” he continued. “But in that aspect of my career, it paved the way for guys like that… who I’m happy for. I like a lot of his music too.”
Check out the rest of LL’s interview below.