Chiseled rap royal LL Cool J and haggard guitar god Eddie Van Halen may seem like strange bedfellows. (For instance, one loves the gym; the other loves the Jim Beam.) But to the famously muscled hip-hop mogul, their unlikely flow-meets-fret pairing on his bold new album makes a beautifully twisted sense.
After all, at this point in their careers, they’ve both earned the right to mix it up.
I really wanted to do something unconventional, the 45-year-old star says.
Right now he’s promoting Authentic as part of the ballyhooed Kings of the Mic Tour. I wanted to surprise you guys musically, get people I’ve respected and put ’em on the album. I wanted to make a crazy workout record, you know?
Thus, Blink-182’s Travis Barker, alt-rockers Fitz and the Tantrums, soulster Seal and country singer Brad Paisley (more on him in a second) all play on Authentic. Eddie VH, now 58, shreds on two cuts, Not Leaving You Tonight and We’re the Greatest.
Eddie is an absolute genius and a mad scientist in the studio, says LL, who then proceeds to rap a verse from We’re the Greatest: I’m on a hacksaw tour! Eddie got a Frankenstein aimed at your door!
By the way, it’s a total geeked-out thrill having LL Cool J slam a vicious verse just for you.
Ladies Love Cool James – his real name is James Todd Smith – admits that being one of showbiz’s most notable multihyphenates – other jobs include hosting the Grammys and starring on the CBS show NCIS: Los Angeles – has taken juice away from his first love: music. Authentic is his first album since 2008’s Exit 13.
If I stayed in the game, I’d get sharper for sure, he admits. Music is always calling me, but I wanted to try other stuff. So I have to adjust my expectations a bit. But this is a good start.
With dozens of smashes (such as I’m Bad, I Need Love and Mama Said Knock You Out) since his prodigious 1985 debut album, Radio, he’s earned the right to take wild chances, not just to inspire fans but to inspire himself, as well.
Of course, palling around with Eddie Van Halen is one thing. Making Accidental Racist with Paisley is another.
The infamously polarizing duet is a dialogue between a Southern white man and a black man from New York: Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood / What the world is really like when you’re livin’ in the hood.
It means well. People despised it anyway.
As an artist, you express the thoughts that are on your mind, says LL about people taking issue with any of his songs.
I’m not doing music for controversial reasons. I do it for the love. There are no rules in music, you create what you create. When we decided to do Accidental Racist, we didn’t know people on the fringe would react the way they did. But music is like a Rorschach test, isn’t it?