“Around The Way Girl” by LL Cool J (1990)

Hip-hop moved so fast in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s that rappers could be at the top of the heap in January of one year and have fallen off by the end of that same year. Such a fate besieged LL Cool J when he released 1989′s Walking With A Panther. Hip-hop had passed him by in two years, but with 1990′s Mama Said Knock You Out, LL proved that he had the savvy to roll with the punches and managed to pull off the first legitimately successful hip-hop comeback*.

LL was smart enough to recruit the versatile Marley Marl as the sole producer of Mama Said Knock You Out. During a period in rap when pandering to a commercial audience wasn’t necessarily encouraged, the most “pop” song on the album was “Around The Way Girl”, which wasn’t really pop at all (although it did become the first of LL’s handful of Top Ten pop hits, peaking at #9 in spring 1991.)

“Around The Way Girl” was LL’s best attempt thus far at making a song that appealed equally to his male and female audiences. It wasn’t corny in the way his previous attempts at courting the ladies was (”I Need Love”, “One Shot At Love”, the so-awful-it’s-awesome “You’re My Heart”), LL sounded positively charming. The beat knocked (and kudos to Marley for flipping The Mary Jane Girls’ “All Night Long” better than anyone has before or since and inventing the chipmunk sample voice a decade and change before Kanye), but was smooth enough to be played in the daytime on urban radio. The ladies, of course, loved the subject matter (I mean, the song is essentially a love letter to a very vocal section of L’s fan base**), while the dudes felt comfortable bumping it alongside Keith Sweat or Bobby Brown (which was the “softest” music you could really admit to enjoying as a hardcore hip-hop fan back then.)

Some randomness:

-I feel like this is the only LL video in which he dances. Hey, sometimes you’ve got to keep up with the Joneses (in addition to the Heavy Ds and the BBDs)

-On pop radio (and on Saturday Morning Videos): the line “eat you like a cookie” was always removed. I thought it was kinda dumb, but…

-How open was every girl in the ‘hood named Lisa, Angela, Pamela or Renee?

*Kool Moe Dee’s post-Treacherous Three blossoming as a solo star doesn’t *really* count.

**-99% of his fan base, if you believe Canibus.

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