Hip-hop's flavor-of-the-minute aesthetic keeps the music perpetually exciting, even as it makes successful long-term careers as unlikely as Al Franken endorsing Bush. Contrarians inevitably point to LL Cool J--the lone old-school rapper with a flag still planted near the chart summit--as proof the odds can be beaten. But in 2004, beating them means a full-scale attempt to outdo LL's countless disciples at their own shallow game, with Timbaland at his most derivatively mainstream and the star at his least lyrically engaging. Except for the latest romantic descendants of "I Need Love" and the marvelous "Feel the Beat," a throwback to the stripped-down power of Radio, LL has the 4WD on mindless cruise control, rolling through the Hamptons on the way to the club, where he spends most of DEFinition, flexing and sipping Cris alongside a million inferior MCs who weren't even born when he began. The man who once pledged he can give you more has unfortunately never given less.
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