With a guest list including anyone walking past the studio, LL Cool J deserves to feel like more than a featured artist on his own comeback album – but at least in his comfortable middle age he can admit he’s not challenging anything.

Twenty-two years ago, hip hop legend LL Cool J growled at us not to call it a comeback, but on opening track ‘Bath Salts’ he now wisely admits “Honestly I was scared to comeback / It was ugly not knowing how the game would react”. This is LL Cool J’s first album since leaving his career-long home of Def Jam in 2008, but realistically, this is the first time in over a decade any of us have heard him rap. Once an angry young man, LL Cool J is now a middle-aged network TV star, and to his credit, this album doesn’t try to gloss over this change. On the slow jam ‘Closer’, with the also-no-longer-a-teen balladeer Monica, he narrates the evolution of his career, making clear he’s not here to turn young fans – he’s in it for the mums who grew up with him.

The album was originally going to be titled Authentic Hip Hop, and on paper, with guests like Chuck D, Snoop Dogg and Bootsy Collins, LL Cool J could have been the senior figure to rally a self-questioning genre back to its basics. However, they’re only a few of the featured artists on a much longer list including Seal, Eddie Van Halen, Earth Wind & Fire and Brad Paisley, that seems to position this as more of a Santana vanity/desperation project. 11 of the album’s 12 tracks feature guests, and the results vary as widely as the names. ‘We Came To Party’ uses Fatman Scoop to ridiculously fun effect, while ‘Whaddup’ builds the kind of hectic intensity you’d expect from Tom Morello, Travis Barker, Chuck D and Z-Trip.

Unfortunately more songs veer towards the flat-out lame ballad ‘Not Leaving You Tonight’ on which Fitz & The Tantrums squint and emote like Idol contestants, and Van Halen’s abbreviated guitar solo swoops in out of nowhere, flies around the room and back out the window like a disoriented bird.

3/5 stars


Authentic is out now on429 Records/Universal.

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