Written by: Jon Finkel
Don’t call it a comeback!!!*
Oh, man. Has there ever been a more definitive, powerful declaration to start a song? Ever? Have the first five words of a song ever been sung with more anger/purpose/built-up rage? Have the first five words of a song ever said so much in so few syllables?
“Don’t call it a comeback!” is concise and cutting and is the tip of the spear to perhaps the best re-launching of an artist ever. LL was a superstar at the time and was only 22 when Mama Said Knock You Out debuted, but his previous album, Walking with a Panther, though it went platinum, didn’t have the breakout hit or the critical acclaim of his previous work.
Mama Said Knock You Out was LL’s nuclear missile, his declaration of war to anyone who thought he fell off.
*I know he says “C’mon, man” at the very, very start, but that’s more like a prologue in this case….
SO MANY CLASSIC LINES
Don’t you dare stare, you betta move,
Don’t ever compare,
Me to the rest that’ll all get sliced and diced,
Competition’s payin the price…
Who doesn’t want to slice and dice the competition? Who doesn’t want to make people they’re up against pay the price? So great.
Just like Muhummad Ali they called him Cassius
Watch me bash this beat like a skull
Rhyming ‘Cassius’ and ‘bash this’ to squeeze an Ali reference into a song about beating up the competition? Such a clutch move by LL. And major points for the effort to make this work both lyrically and rhythmically.
I’m blastin, outlastin
Kinda like Shaft, so u could say I’m shaftin
I give lots of credit for not only working in a Shaft shout out, but for also writing a verse that has Shaft basically rhyming with itself in the same line without it sounding bad… I’ve also always liked the blasting’ and outlastin’ combination.
I’m goin insane, startin the hurricane, releasin pain
Lettin you know that you can’t gain, I maintain
Unless ya say my name
Diggin and drillin a hole
Pass the Ol’ Gold
This might be my favorite coupling of lyrics in the song. It’s the crescendo of LL’s anger. He has flat out had enough of people doubting him and he’s letting us all know. Workout-wise, the insane-hurricane-pain line can push you through just about any tough lift you’re going through.
Don’t u neva, eva, pull my lever
Cuz I explode
And my nine is easy to load
I gotta thank God
Cuz he gave me the strength to rock
Perfect ending to the perfect pump-up song. It’s got three or four stop-and-starts that explode like grenades: Neva! Eva! Pull my lever! But it somehow keeps building momentum to a powerful finish… And who doesn’t want the strength to rock… Hard!!!
LL Cool J. Alone in a boxing ring. Wearing a hoodie. Spitting (and literally spitting) all over a mic.
The intensity on his half-covered face is genuine. The feeling of strength in the ring is palpable. Every word feels like it’s being yelled directly at you.
And on top of that you intercut LL singing with shots of him lifting weights and flexing and you’ve got the gold standard in terms of a motivational workout video and song. And this wasn’t even the super-jacked, super-fit version of LL we have today. This was the in-great-shape, about-to-be-swole, version of LL.
I know the rumor about how this song got started is that LL’s grandmother told him to go knock out his competition. I think it’s even been verified in places. If it’s true, great. If not, no big deal. It’s a phenomenal title either way.
Essentially, every meathead wants to knock someone out and if you have your mom’s permission, all the better.
THE CHORUS & BEAT
Excellent and more excellent. I love the repetition of ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ and ‘I’m Gonna Knock You Out’… It’s like LL just keeps confirming that he got the request, heard it and is gonna act…Hard!!!
And the beat… It’s steady. It’s strong. It never lets up. Love all of it. There’s honestly nothing about the song I don’t enjoy and it’s impossible to not bob your head a bit the second the first beat drops.
Personally, I’ve taken LL’s advice. I do not call this a regular jam. I call this the best workout jam ever.
You disagree? Let me know. I’m happy to do a deep dive on all the competition as well… Though they may pay the price by being sliced and diced.
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Jon Finkel is the author of Forces of Character with 3x Super Bowl Champion and Fighter Pilot, Chad Hennings, Heart Over Height with 3x NBA Slam Dunk Champion Nate Robinson, as well as Jocks In Chief, The Dadvantage – Stay in Shape on No Sleep with No Time and No Equipment, and all twelve volumes in the Greatest Stars of the NBA book series for the National Basketball Association, which won several ALA Young Reader Awards.
As a feature writer, he has written for Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Muscle & Fitness, GQ, Details, The New York Times, AskMen.com, ComedyCentral.com, Yahoo! Sports’ ThePostGame.com and many more. His work received a notable mention in the 2015 Best American Sports Writing anthology. He has appeared on CBS: This Morning promoting his books.