Yet just as soon as Smith had established his celebrity as rap's toughest sounding teenager, he abruptly changed directions with "I Need Love
," the biggest-selling single from his sophomore LP, 1987's Bigger and Deffer
. "I Need Love" was, improbably, a rap ballad that paired a sensitive Smith lyric over a synthesized keyboard slow jam. Rising to #14 on the Billboard Hot 100, the tune unearthed the potential for marrying rap with the softer side of contemporary rhythm and blues - a marriage that persists at the top of the pop charts still. Having crossed over to audiences beyond hip-hop loyals, LL continued with a string of hits in the late 80s, including "Going Back to Cali," "I'm That Type of Guy," and "Big Ole Butt." However, Smith's commercial success didn't always sit well with hip-hop fans who clung to the genre's underground ethos and inner city beginnings. In a show at Harlem's famed Apollo Theatre at the turn of the new decade, for instance, the venue's notoriously merciless crowd booed LL offstage. Undaunted, Smith returned with a triumphant, less glossy effort: 1990's raw LP, Mama Said Knock You Out
, the title track to which announces, "Don't call it a comeback - I've been here for years." The album offered a series of sharp singles that have become LL standards, including "Around the Way Girl" and "Jingling Baby."