Concert Reviews

LL Cool J Concert Review | Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse | 08.12.23

Hip Hop officially turned 50 on August 11, 2023! After much debate on the specific birth date of the genre and culture, elders of the tradition traced the origins back to a party hosted by DJ Kool Herc in the Bronx in 1973. Thus the classic record scratches and rhythmic raps we know as Hip hop today was born! 

LL Cool J, one of hip-hop’s first superstar heartthrobs, celebrated the milestone in Cleveland on Saturday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, joined by a roster of iconic artists. With the power of the F.O.R.C.E anything is possible. F.O.R.C.E in this case stands for  “Frequencies of Real Creative Energy.” Throughout the tour, LL has brought just that to every show with different surprise guests for each city. The Cleveland stop featured Method Man and Redman – From the Wu-Tang Clan, MC Lyte, Common, and Jadakiss. The Roots served as the house band, with DJ Jazzy Jeff and DJ Z-Trip also backing LL Cool J. 

The Ladies Love Cool James indeed! The man born James Todd Smith easily proved that he’s still admired by plenty of gray-bearded dudes, too. And though he didn’t rip his shirt off as he certainly would’ve half a century ago, the very much still jacked Cool J managed to mesmerize fans with his ever-so-bulging biceps. His 35-year career catalog of music provided enough hits and album cuts for two separate sets, which of course came with an outfit change.

The F.O.R.C.E. LIVE show format is modeled on the 2023 Grammy telecast’s 50-year hip-hop medley, hosted by LL and organized by The Roots’ drummer Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson. The pair turned that moment into a full three-hour stage show Saturday that kept the music moving and the acts rotating in and out, maintaining a pretty fast pace. 

Expected with a long set and the average crowd demographic the energy fluctuate but the audience seemed to get what they wanted musically and nostalgically from the decades of hip-hop hits represented on stage. Likewise, the backdrop for the show was a constantly scrolling list of hip-hop acts covering all 50 years, from Kurtis Blow to Ice Spice

The Roots — a hip-hop band, which is still a rarity, served as the house band, with assistance from fellow Philadelphian DJ Jazzy Jeff. They opened with a set of oft-sampled, old-school R&B and breakbeat tunes, including Jimmy Castor’s “It’s Just Begun.” Black Thought served as a universal hype man for everyone, then reminded folks of his own considerable lyrical skills with an intense rapid lyrical rendition of “Here I Come.”

Next up was an energetic Common. He lovingly shouted out “East Cleveland,” “Shaker,” and “Cleveland Heights,” along with his local family, while running through hits that included “The Corner,” “Resurrection,” and the catchy, “The Food.” He wooed the ladies and got everyone singing the Bobby Caldwell-sampled hook to “The Light.”

{Video Courtesy of YouTube user Kelly Arroyo}

Common’s 15-minute set got the crowd hyped. And with no time for a bathroom or beverage break, LL’s first set began with 1987′s “I’m Bad.” The headliner alternated between hard hitters, such as his “Flava In Ya Ear” and “Rampage” verses, and his hits, including “Big Ole Butt,” “Jingling Baby,” “Around The Way Girl,” and “Going Back To Cali”.

LL’s hyper-masculine yet charismatic stage presence kept the crowd singing along and dancing in their seats.

Between LL’s sets, The Roots dropped a few more of their classics, including “Proceed.” They went on to back up the evening’s lone lady, MC Lyte, who ran through several of her “Rap City”-era hits, including “Cha Cha Cha,” “Poor Georgie.” She expertly worked the crowd’s participation for her biggest crossover hit, “Ruffneck.” 

*MC Lyte holds a special place in this reviewer’s father’s heart; sources say he almost made a run for the stage.*

As expected, Jadakiss of The Lox, brought the hardcore, grimy lyrics with his verse from Ja Rule’s “New York,” the Lox’s “Money, Power, Respect” and his own “Why.”

Keeping the evening’s theme of keeping the show moving, Common briefly returned before The Roots played a medley of sampled songs and the familiar hits, getting the crowd to sing along to familiar bangers from EPMD, DMX, Biz Markie, and others.

Method Man and Redman were one of the evening’s highlights as their 30-year musical and personal camaraderie flowed from the stage. They still seem to be having fun together and it was infectious as they performed a packed medley of solo and duo hits, including Meth’s “Bring The Pain,” Redman’s “Time 4 Sum Aksion,” and their duo-hit “How High.

The pair couldn’t leave the stage without showing Cleveland and Ohio some love and respect, with Method Man shouting out “Steubenville,” and Red reminiscing about his first Cleveland show back in 1992.

LL closed the show with a second set front-loaded with tunes that reminded folks he was hip hop’s first balladeer, including “I Need Love” and “Hey Lover.” 

The second set had more song snippets than whole songs, which was fine as the third hour approached. LL touched on the ‘80s with “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” and Kool Moe Dee crushing “Jack The Ripper.” He ventured into the ‘90s with “Phenomenon” and “Mr. Good Bar,” and then on to the aughts, with “Hush.” LL ended the hip-hop marathon with an intense tandem of “Mama Said Knock You Out” and “Rock The Bells,” hyping the crowd one last time with a one-two punch.

The ladies and everyone else as well will continue to love Cool James and respect the lasting legacy he was able to create and spread. To 50 More!

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