This is a collaboration with Boyz II Men, who were the hottest vocal group at the time, charting #1 hits with "I'll Make Love To You
" and "On Bended Knee
" in 1994. Talking about the song in Entertainment Weekly
, LL Cool J said: "I wrote this hook and I just thought it felt like Boyz II Men. They were on fire at the time, but more importantly it just felt like they were made to do it. We drove out to Philly and I played the record for the guys. They got in the truck with me and some friends, and they loved it. We went right to the studio that night I and did the entire song in one take. Everything, It was just magical."
This song features a sample from the legendary singer Michael Jackson. The sample comes from his song "The Lady In My Life," which was one of just two songs on the Thriller album that wasn't a hit. Rod Temperton, who wrote several of Jackson's hits, composed "The Lady In My Life" and got a songwriting credit on "Hey Lover" (along with LL Cool J) because of the sample.
"Hey Lover" may have been the pinnacle of romance in the mid-'90s, but it is difficult to see how this wish fulfillment fantasy about a poor woman who accidentally makes eye-contact with the rapper could be construed as anything but creepy. Over the course of the song, he stalks the woman repeatedly over a long period of time, and has sexual fantasies about her. It's hard to interpret his dream of "tonguing you down with vanilla ice cream," while he watches her at the bus stop from his car, as anything other than a little bit off. Interestingly enough, the same year this single was released, LL Cool J married Simone L. Johnson, and we could speculate as to whether or not she is the woman in his song. We certainly hope so, as it would make a comforting end to the story (better than, say, checking missing persons databases).
Years after this song was released, aside from the stalking and the thing about the tongue, the types of sexist observations LL Cool J makes about the woman he is pursuing would be enough to cause widespread feminist outrage, but in 1997, it won him his second Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance. His first Grammy was in the same category, for the song "Mama Said Knock You Out" from the 1992 album of the same name.
The music video, directed by Hype Williams, portrays this woman (actress Gilian Illana Waters) as a helpless sex-object, whilst the lyrics seem to see her as economically dependent on hand-outs from her man, whom LL Cool J feels is not looking after her properly because her man allows her to take the bus instead of driving her around in his Porsche ("Your man must think it's safe for you to travel that way." As LL Cool J proves by stalking her, clearly it's not safe at all!) Although he certainly is a victim of the sort of stereotyping now associated with male chauvinism, he seems so blissfully unaware of it that it actually comes across as innocent. Accusing a rapper of sexism may be a moot point. Clearly it didn't bother the listening public. Since the song features the highly sensitive and emotional R&B boy-band Boyz II Men, a huge part of its listenership was women. If you look at recent trends, taking the film or book versions of the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer as examples, it would appear that contemporary notions of romance are still very closely connected with creepy guys – it's just a little more PC when it's a woman's dodgy fantasy rather than that of a giant, tattooed ex-convict looking bull of a man.
"Hey Lover" appeared on LL Cool J's sixth studio album Mr. Smith, which was very successful, going platinum twice. It was considered a serious comeback after his failed album 14 Shots to the Dome. LL Cool J may be many things, but he is definitely not a gangster, and this hard-core attempt did not sit well with listeners. "Hey Lover" shows his sensitive streak, and showcases the ballad Hip-Hop style that has become his trademark as he matured.