Having first introduced himself to the world in 1985 in the seminal hip-hop film Krush Groove, a chiseled, bare-chested 17-year-old man-child bursting into a record-company office with a Radio Raheem-sized portable stereo on his shoulder and a sneer on his face, LL Cool J is probably the most senior hip-hop artist to retain a viable career. With swaggering hits like "I Just Can't Live Without My Radio" and "Rock the Bells" and his entertaining public feud with older-school MC Kool Moe Dee, LL Cool J was probably hip-hop's first solo star and first true sex symbol (sorry, Kurtis Blow). He peaked with the 1990 classic Mama Said Knock You Out, where the hit single "Around the Way Girl" not only established a classic hip-hop-culture archetype but boasted pop-poetry on a par with Chuck Berry himself: Listening to the song, you can practically see LL's honey-complected muse standing by that bus stop, sucking on that lollipop, a New Edition/Bobby Brown button pinned to her sleeve. She's like an update of Berry's Nadine, forever walking toward that coffee-colored Cadillac as her pursuer runs behind, campaign-shoutin' like a Southern diplomat.
LL Cool J never reached those heights again, focusing as much on his respectable acting career as on his music over the past decade or so. But he remains a more viable performer and recording artist than such still-active contemporaries as KRS-ONE, Chuck D., and Rakim. His latest album, The DEFinition, is a collaboration with genius producer Timbaland. Ladies who love cool James can see him up close and personal this week at the Premier, where he performs Monday, November 1st. Doors open at 8 p.m. and the cover is $20.
Or, if you want to see some hip-hop at less expense and probably less hassle, check out locals Tunnel Clones and Kontrast at the Hi-Tone Café Saturday, October 30th. The last time I saw these acts perform was as part of the local opening contingent for Dead Prez last month at the Complex, surely one of the best local shows of the year. Both groups were in fine form (and both have been in the studio working on debut recordings): The Tunnel Clones -- MCs Bosco and Deverachi backed by DJ Red-Eye Jedi -- stand in pretty stark contrast to what people typically recognize as local rap, owing a lot more to Native Tongues acts (Tribe Called Quest) or indie hip-hop than Dirty South rap. Kontrast -- MCs Empee and Jason Harris backed by DJ Capital A --split the difference. They don't sound that different from, say, Eightball & MJG, but they bring a smart, funny, everyman sensibility to their songwriting.
When Shabadoo played the Hi-Tone Café a few months back it was supposed to be a one-off event. The band is strictly a recording project for Joey Pegram, a local drummer and guitar player whose musical history might only be described as peripatetic. But the show was so well-attended and so well-received that Pegram and his posse of Memphis all-stars are returning to the Hi-Tone for a command performance on Friday, October 29th. Over the years, Pegram has played bluegrass, punk, folk, metal, and just about any other style you can imagine. None of that has had any influence on Shabadoo, a relatively quiet, slyly psychedelic band that's all about texture and melody, with smart (and occasionally smart-ass) lyrics on love and love's less savory by-products. Tripp Lamkins (the Paper Plates) won't be sitting in with Shabadoo this time around, which is unfortunate since his keyboards add so much to the sound. But in the end, Pegram could pull it all off solo if he had to. In a nutshell, Shabadoo is easy on the head, disarmingly clever, and worth checking out sooner rather than later. This isn't a stable live band, and it's hard to know which show will be their last.
Going on tour with Kiss and Aerosmith didn't quite work out for the Porch Ghouls. It might even be said that that little taste of success led to their ultimate demise. But there's good news for folks who've missed that garage-blues caterwaul: Porch Ghouls frontman Eldorado Del Rey is back with a brand-new band called The Ruckus, featuring the Bluff City's chief Backslider, Jason Freeman, on guitar. The Ruckus is a somewhat more rocked-up version of the Porch Ghouls minus the endearing loungey extras. The Ruckus plays Murphy's on Halloween night with Jeffrey Evans & The Memphis Roadmasters. All you roots-punks know you can never go wrong when Evans is in the house telling jokes as nasty as his guitar riffs. --