“ My story is rough
My neighborhood is tough
But I still sport gold
And I’m out to crush
My name is Cool J
I devastate the show
But I couldn’t survive without my radio”
At just the tender age of 17, James Todd LL Cool J Smith made history with a debut that not only put him on the map as an artist, but propelled the then independent Def Jam label also.
Released on November 18, 1985, Radio was instrumental in defining “Hip hop’s emerging Golden Age”. Its success also served as a career breakthrough for the Queens native and iconic producer Rick Rubin. With its combination of lyricism that oozed clever disses, inner city life, teenage rebellion, promiscuity, Radio’s delightful braggadocio style paired Rubin’s stellar production, cemented LL Cool J’s magnetic persona and his popular b-boy attitude.
By using a mixing table that he received from his grandfather, LL produced his own demos and sent them to various record companies throughout New York City, before being brought to Rubin’s attention by Beastie Boy King Ad-Rock. Soon after, the world found out why the Ladies would eternally Love Cool James.
With the breakthrough success of Radio’s “I Need a Beat”, LL Cool J became one of the first hip-hop acts to achieve mainstream success along with Kurtis Blow and Run-D.M.C. Additional party starters “I Can’t Live Without My Radio”, a defiant declaration of loyalty to his boom box, and “Rock the Bells“, solidified LL’s popularity earning him gigs at large venues such as joining the 1986-’87 Raising Hell tour, as the opening act for Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys. Another milestone in LL’s career was his appearance on American Bandstand as the show’s first hip hop act.
The album’s success also helped in contributing to Rick Rubin’s credibility as a record producer. Radio, along with Run DMC’s Raising Hell and The Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill , became a trilogy of Rubin guided albums that helped to diversify hip-hop. Rubin’s production credit on the back cover reads “Reduced by Rick Rubin”, referring to his minimalist production style, which gave the album its stripped-down and gritty sound. This style would serve as one of Rubin’s production trademarks and would have a great impact on future hip-hop productions.
Radio sold over 500,000 copies within its first five months of release eventually selling over 1 million copies by 1988. The album peaked at number 6 on the Top R&B/Hip Hop albums chart and at number 46 on the Billboard 200 remaining there for forty-seven weeks. Radio also remained on the Pop Albums chart for thirty-eight weeks, and by April of 1989, the album was certified platinum.
Today, Radio still recognized as one of LL’s greatest works.