Top 5 LL Cool J Videos

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In Chris Rock’s new film, Top Five, his character, Andre Allen, names his top five favorite rappers. And when he finishes the list, he gives an honorable mention to LL Cool J as his “sixth man.” That made us feel a little bad for LL, who, at one point, had the clout to coin the term G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) for himself, and would’ve been in just about everybody’s top five. So we thought we’d pay tribute to the Queens trailblazer, who was the first rapper to receive MTV’s Video Vanguard Award in 1997, with a look at the Top 5 LL Cool J Videos. Solo tracks only, although we must give a tip of the hat to his supporting role in the classic video for Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear” remix.

5. “Loungin’ (Who Do Ya Luv)” f/ Total

The 1996 remix to “Loungin’,” a track from LL’s 1995 album, Mr. Smith, upgraded the song from a banger to one of his defining ladies’ man jams thanks to a new Trackmasters beat and a hook from Total. The video is full of classic ’90s rap video iconography, from the party scenes to the badly dated computer graphics behind Total. But what really makes it memorable is one of Uncle L’s signature touches of sensual perversity: a scene of a woman in a short black dress, sitting on the hood of a car in the middle of a New York street, while LL Cool J pours chocolate syrup onto her legs (and licks the bottle).

4. “Going Back to Cali”

Rick Rubin assembled the Def Jam soundtrack for the 1987 film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero, and he got in the studio with LL to cook up one of the album’s hit singles. The video was perfectly tailored to the song’s brassy sonics and deadpan raps, with LL dialing down his usually animated screen presence to roll his eyes at iconic Los Angeles sights and dancing valley girls. The comical black-and-white clip was directed by the late Ric Menello, who passed away last year. Menello also co-wrote Tougher Than Leather and directed a series of classic ’80s rap videos, including the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” and Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story.”

3. “I’m Bad”

LL Cool J released “I’m Bad” in the summer of 1987—shortly before Michael Jackson’s “Bad.” And the videos for both songs present the artists with a tough-guy image that would start seeming extremely quaint very soon, with the arrival of N.W.A only a year away. But both videos hold up because of the charisma of the respective performer. In LL’s case, “I’m Bad” is a portrait of the 19-year-old MC at his most electric, wearing his signature Kangol hat, muscles bulging from his unzipped sweatsuit. He leaps around the sparse set, illustrating every lyric and throwing himself into the hokey action plot with dedication that would serve him well as the future star of NCIS: Los Angeles.

2. “Doin’ It” f/ Leshaun

In a catalog full of seductive songs and sexy videos, “Doin’ It” stands out as LL’s most explicit and salacious masterpiece. Leshaun, the female rapper who trades nasty rhymes with LL on the track, was pregnant when the video was being shot, so a series of models filled her role. Hype Williams pushed the limits on what you could get away with on MTV, capturing scenes of phone sex and peep shows in such vibrant colors and dramatic lighting that the “Doin’ It” video functioned both as an aesthetic experience and as an exercise in titillation.

1. “Mama Said Knock You Out”

In some ways, it’s one of the simplest videos that LL Cool J ever made: He stands in the middle of a boxing ring, rapping into an announcer’s microphone that drops down from the ceiling, as a hoodie obscures half of his face. A few shots of LL working out in the gym and boxers getting punched in the face in painstaking slow motion are interspersed, but that’s pretty much it. And that bare-bones execution is all that the song needs, with sweat flying off of LL as he grips the mic and gives the performance of his life. And after all of that machismo and muscle, the video deflates itself with a perfect ending: LL’s real grandmother, the one who inspired the song, showing up to command him, “Todd, get upstairs and take out that garbage.”

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