A thundering, minimal hip-hop landmark, 1985’s Radio launched LL Cool J from a hungry Queens kid with a Krush Groove cameo to the greatest rapper on the planet. And even if you didn’t think he was the best around, LL Cool J himself certainly sounded convinced: Radio remains one of the braggingest, boastingest, flexingest, most assured albums of all time. A teenage dynamo and “MC assassinator,” LL makes numerous sky-high claims on Radio—that he can make Madonna scream; that his vocal chords are so rough, he can eat cactus; that he’ll make your girlfriend ask him for his autograph. “I disintegrate rappers, I can and I could,” he shouts in “You’ll Rock.” “The great Edgar Allen Poe couldn’t write this good.” Selling more than half a million copies without the help of MTV, Radio was the first of its kind, as well as a booming introduction to the corrosive, pavement-cracking production of Rick Rubin. Radio was the first full-length album released by Rubin’s Def Jam Recordings, kicking off a dynasty that would last a generation. The 1984 single “I Need a Beat,” programmed in Rubin’s NYU dorm room, was the breakthrough, providing the nascent label with a huge hit right out of the gates. From that, his first moment on wax, Cool J promises nothing short of predicting “This jam will hit/The highest plateau in the world of music/Paparazzi, wealth, and fame/The total propulsion of my name.” (A remixed “I Need a Beat” adds an extra layer of dubbed-out chaos.) The album’s most legendary track, “Rock the Bells,” remains hip-hop’s ultimate battle challenge, as well as a game-changer: The song’s jolting guitar stabs would presage rap’s mid-1980s moment as “the new rock,” while the take-all-comers intro would end up one of the most enduring tools for DJ battles. More crucially, the brash attitude projected on “Rock the Bells” would follow Cool J for decades, as he became the undefeated champion of wars on wax. Radio isn’t all ferocity and fervor: “I Can Give You More” and “I Want You” are early love raps from the Kangoled Casanova—bare, honest, emotional invitations that, nonetheless, still pound with Rubin’s spare and deafening beatwork.
 But the legacy of Radio is in its raw power. The album would spawn an entire generation of larger-than-life MCs, with LL Cool J’s flow being endlessly mimicked throughout the mid- to late-1980s, and his confidence serving as inspiration throughout the battle-torn 1990s. LL may have rapped that JVC speakers vibrated the concrete, but it was his cocky attitude that would shake the world.

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