30 years ago, Spin Magazine published an article in which Kim Gordon, the bass player of Sonic Youth, interviewed the rapper LL Cool J. The original idea, certainly from Kim Gordon’s perspective was to establish that the largely underground New York noise rock scene, of which her band was probably the best known, had much in common with the local rap scene, of which the man born James Todd Smith was one of its biggest commercial success. It should be remembered that, at this point in history, Sonic Youth had recorded for a multitude of independent labels, gathering a fair amount of critical acclaim but not much in the way of sales while LL Cool J had enjoyed hit singles and all sorts of platinum and gold discs for his first three albums.
The outcome was something of a car crash. The rapper ‘s responses to the questions clearly antagonised the bassist almost from the outset as he boasts about his car collection and then makes fun of her knowledge of the emergence of the Beastie Boys out of hardcore rock into rap and the involvement of Rick Rubin, with whom LL Cool J had worked, before he talks about his love for Andrew Dice Clay, a comedian notorious for his sexist material. The lowpoint, however, had to be this exchange:-
KG : “What about women who are so into you as a sex object that they take a picture of you to bed with them and their boyfriends or husbands start freaking out?”
LLCJ : “It’s not my problem. The guy has to have control over his woman. She has to have enough respect for you to know not to do those things. It’s how you carry yourself.
Later on, he talks about his admiration for Bon Jovi and says he’s never heard of Iggy Pop and The Stooges. I’m not sure how many of his responses were deliberately designed to make fun of the interviewer or whether he was genuinely unaware of so much music history around his home city. Kim Gordon provided this addendum to the interview:-
“It seems pretty obvious L.L. doesn’t have many conversations with white girls like me. And likewise, I don’t have many conversations with rap musicians. But I have more access to his world – even if it is superficial, watching the NYC black video show on UHF or whatever – than L.L. will ever have to mine.”
Nine months later, Kim Gordon had penned a song that would provide her band with something approaching a breakthrough hit, based on her bitter experience:-
mp3 : Sonic Youth – Kool Thing
Chuck D makes a guest appearance, obviously quite comfortable about the music and politics of Sonic Youth and at the same time willing to poke fun at a fellow rapper, albeit one who was almost diametrically opposed to Public Enemy in terms of the music, the look and the acceptance by white America. It’s great fun to listen to, and it’s scary to think that it is fast approaching its 30th birthday.
The b-side to the 7” version of Kool Thing, certainly here in the UK was a cover version of a song written by Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine, and which pre-dated the formation of Television:-
I think it’s a fair assumption to say that LL Cool J would have been completely oblivious to this particular release.