I Need Love

Album: Bigger and Deffer (1987)
Charted: 8 14

Songfacts®:

  • After taking hip-hop by storm in 1985 as a 17-year-old with his precociously hard-toned debut album, Radio, LL Cool J returned with a softer style on this 1987 single - a track which gave birth to an improbable new form, the rap ballad. Stylistically influenced by 1970s rhythm and blues slow jams like The Chi-Lites' "Have You Seen Her" (later covered as a rap ballad by MC Hammer) or The Delfonics' "Didn't I Blow Your Mind," "I Need Love" gave LL an unexpected crossover hit and reconfigured the MC's persona away from conventional boasting and into something more introspective and romantic.

    The rapper claimed to have written the lyric in a half hour while meditating about his loneliness in his grandmother's basement, and the words are striking for the vulnerability they convey. LL expresses regret for the women he's toyed with in the past, confessing that he realizes now his happiness depends on something emotionally more substantial. Given how many male-authored rap lyrics, from "Rapper's Delight" onward, have centered on sexual self-aggrandizement and thinly veiled misogyny, the single was, thus, dramatic in its novelty. In the song's video, the MC dramatized this softer persona in a melodramatic display that juxtaposed scenes of celebrity excess with the rapper's melancholy direct appeal to the camera. While LL Cool J had already established a loyal b-boy following enamored with his hard-edged delivery, this softer performance struck a nerve with female audiences. Playgirl magazine named him one of the ten sexiest men in popular music shortly after.
  • The track's most important legacy might be the market it opened for slowed-down hip-hop tunes about love and relationships. Rap had already established the party anthem and the social commentary lyric as workable song forms, but LL's single showed that the genre's flexibility could be stretched to allow for romantic exploration as well.

    While the persona of the MC as an indomitably promiscuous womanizer still reigns supreme on many hip-hop records, "I Need Love"'s introspective narrator carved a space for later moments of MC vulnerability like Jay-Z on "Song Cry," or Drake on "Marvin's Room." Moreover, in adapting the tradition of the soul ballad to rap music, LL Cool J helped establish stylistic ties between rhythm and blues and hip-hop that flourished in the ensuing two decades. For every R&B slow groove that features a rap break by a guest MC, or laid-back hip-hop number with a featured vocal by a soul singer, we might have LL Cool J and "I Need Love" to thank.
  • LL was just 18 when he wrote this song, and he wasn't in a relationship. He explained, "I was talking about a true spiritual love, and romantic love also. Just true love, companionship. That's something I wanted."
  • LL wrote and produced this track with DJ Bobcat (Bobby Erving), Darryl Pierce and Dwayne Simon, who were part of a production team called the L.A. Posse. LL's label, Def Jam Records, brought them in to work with the rapper.
  • This was LL Cool J's first Top 40 hit in both the US and UK. It was the second single released from the album, following the pugnacious "I'm Bad," which topped out at #84 in the US and #71 in the UK. This became a pattern for LL, whose biggest hits were his softer offerings like "Around The Way Girl" and "Doin' It," while his albums were filled with plenty of rough stuff. "I Need Love" not only brought R&B into the world of rap, but it brought rap to R&B - the song was a #1 R&B hit.
  • When he performed this on his Bigger And Deffer tour in 1987, LL would get on a couch and do some simulated love making. This got him in trouble in Columbus, Georgia, when he became the first artist arrested under their anti-lewdness law, which had been implemented a few months earlier following a rather raunch Beastie Boys concert. LL was fined $250. "They just felt like they didn't need a black man humpin' a couch in Georgia," he later explained.

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