For a genre that has prided itself on artistic growth, it’s hard to imagine that there was once a time when it was taboo to think outside the box in Hip Hop. For all of its original intent and purpose, artists were expected to keep themselves within a certain box. Which explains why so many of the legendary pioneers are often forgotten due to an unwillingness to expand, which ultimately kills you in the end. Fortunately, LL Cool J was never one to be trapped in the times of old. And with his second album, Bigger and Deffer, he avoided the sophomore slump and innovated the game while doing so.
Twenty-five years to the day and the significance of the timing of this album is as important as the project itself. 1987 was the beginning of the end for Def Jam, as the world knew it back then. Rick Rubin, who had been the architect of the soundscape for LL’s first album, would have no creative control over this time around. This album was made as only James Todd Smith could envision it and a job well done it was.
Make no mistake about it, Hip Hop needed “I Need Love.” LL was taking a major risk in an era when masculinity meant maintaining ones edge. Rap was still experiencing growing pains and 1987 was the year it hit puberty. You know that awkward phase in life when you’re just going through the motions and hoping the end result comes out fine? It made even the most hardcore of rap fans redefine the definition of real Hip Hop. LL made a commercially acceptable love ballad in the name of Hip Hop, and that can never be taken away from him.
Of course while it’s easy to note “I Need Love”, LL was able to work the song because the rest of the album was everything that you expected and then some. Bigger and Deffer was filled with vintage raps placed over a collection of break beats that fit the mold of that era. “I’m Bad” captured the confidence of a rebellious 19 year old that was living out his dreams. “Kanday” was the opposite of “I Need Love,” and let audiences know that this player wasn’t turning in his card anytime soon. LL even tapped into his soulful side with “The Do Wop.” The kid from Queens had no shame in letting his personality shine on his own terms creatively.
While he was among many that pioneered this genre, LL Cool J could arguably be considered the first child of Hip Hop. As the music grew from infancy, so to was LL as an artist. The arrogance and flashy style he displayed on his debut album, Radio was matched with a body of work that contained substance. “My Rhyme Ain’t Done” was an out of this world story that had LL rhyming as if his life depended on it. “Go Creator Go” gave the impression that not only was he skilled at his craft, but he legitimately had fun honing it. By 1987, Hip Hop was evolving beyond the simplistic approach that had captured attention from all who embraced it, and LL adapted well. It was the early stages of a blueprint that allowed him to remain relevant well into the next couple of decades.
Like most things built from the ground up, Hip Hop couldn’t remain the same forever and neither could LL Cool J. As most teens go through phases in life, he did with his music. He sharpened his craft, expanded his sound, and showcased his emotions on wax. It was unrealistic to believe that rappers could be so one dimensional that matters of the heart wouldn’t affect them. Today, your abilities as an artist are put in question almost immediately if you can’t express your vulnerable side from time to time. However, introspective songs are as much a part of Hip Hop as legendary tales of street hustlin’ and aggressive content. And Bigger and Deffer was an album built on this notion and balance. Some days you want to ride around and kick it with the homies looking for trouble. Other days you prefer to spend it with your significant other seeking affection. Both are normal occurrences, and should be embraced as such because that’s just how life goes.
Nottinghamers…share your favorite memories of LL’s Bigger and Deffer in the comments and make sure to take some time out to bump this album on its 25th anniversary!