At the tail end of the 80s, Sonic Youth‘s Kim Gordon sat down with LL Cool J to interview him for a piece in US music magazine Spin. A fan of his music – she loved Cool J’s first album, Radio – the plan was to show how the artists maybe had something in common. Despite each coming from wildly differing marginalised backgrounds, Gordon, a woman from the underground punk rock scene and Cool J, a black man from the misrepresented rap scene would/should be able to empathise with each other’s experiences of prejudice in music. They had a tenuous common link in Def Jam supremo Rick Rubin who’d come out of the same scum-rocker scene that allowed Sonic Youth to grow and develop, but, really, that was about it.
Sonic Youth’s bass player quickly discovered she had very little in common with the hot to trot rapper. Indeed, it wouldn’t be out of sorts to say she didn’t really like him….and he didn’t really give two hoots in any case.
With his current album Walking With A Panther tearing up the Billboard Hot 100 and a fleet of luxury cars parked outside his brand new, furniture-free home, LL came across as very much the stereotypical big-shot rapper, a boy from the projects who had landed very much on the soles of his box-fresh sneakers, his frat-boy opinions on subjects as divisive as what made comedians funny and how to treat women drawing a clear line in the sand.
Amongst the tension, there’s a genuinely funny moment when Gordon prods Cool J into giving his opinion on contemporary rock music. As well as admitting to a love of Bon Jovi (“both their albums“), he just doesn’t get the obvious parallel between Iggy in the late 60s and his own experiences 20 years later.
The experience wasn’t a total flop though. Gordon went home and turned the meeting into song. Kool Thing is the howling sound of fringes flicking eyelids and torn-at-the-knees 501s, a dirty great tsunami of wonkily-tuned surf-punk guitar with a rhythm to ride on. It was the perfect output for expending post-interview pent-up frustration. To use that well-worn cliché, it rocks. Rawks, even.
Sonic Youth – Kool Thing
With references to Cool J (‘Kool thing, walkin’ like a panther’) and a lyric that takes exception to LL’s objectification of women, it’s fairly hard hitting. Political, pro-feminist, angry, anti-misogynist, it ramps up another level when Public Enemy’s Chuck D pops up to ‘tell ’em ’bout it. Hit ’em where it hurts.’
“Hey, kool thing!” instructs the uber-cool, street-smart Gordon.
Come here, sit down. There’s something I go to ask you.
I just wanna know, what are you gonna do for me?
I mean, are you gonna liberate us girls
From male white corporate oppression?
Tell ’em ’bout it indeed. Maybe Kim Gordon thought that by changing the ‘C’ in ‘Cool’ to a ‘K’, LL wouldn’t realise it was about him. She was probably right. I wonder if he’s aware of it yet. I doubt, with his Benz, his BM, his Audi and his Porsche lined up in the drive of the house he called Fantasyland that he’d be all that bothered. I may be wrong, but I don’t think LL Cool J ever replied in rap to Gordon’s dis. Unusual for a rapper, that.