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 the rest of Mama Said Knock You Out, LL’s verbal nuclear missile aimed at anyone who thought he fell off after his previous album, Walking with a Panther.
THE POWDER KEG OF 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? It’s almost as if these words were written with gym rats in mind, giving them an anthem to take out their daily frustrations with punishing deadlifts and slam ball super sets.
Just like Muhummad Ali they called him Cassius
Watch me bash this beat like a skull
Let’s give LL some extra credit here for rhyming ‘Cassius’ with ‘bash this’ to squeeze an Ali reference into a song about beating up the competition. It’s such a clutch move by LL. Side note: when this song came out I had zero idea who he was referencing because there was no Google and I was 11 and didn’t know the history of Ali changing his name. I think I finally understood the ‘Cassius’ reference early in high school.
I’m blastin, outlastin
Kinda like Shaft, so u could say I’m shaftin
LL isn’t typically discussed in the upper echelon of wordsmiths/MCs, but I’ll tip my cap here not only for his ability to work 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 poorly… And I’ve always liked the “blastin’” and “outlastin'” tag team word 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 is 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 if you can time it right. And if you aren’t shadow boxing you should be.
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 grandmother’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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*I know he says “C’mon, man” at the very, very start, but that’s more like a prologue to the song rather than lyrics… it’s a dare to the listener, actually.
Jon Finkel is the award-winning author of Hoops Heist, The Life of Dad, Jocks In Chief, The Athlete, Heart Over Height, “Mean” Joe Greene and more. His books have been endorsed by everyone from Mark Cuban and Tony Dungy to Spike Lee, Kevin Durant and Chef Robert Irvine. He has written for GQ, Men’s Health, Yahoo! Sports, The New York Times and has appeared on CBS: This Morning, Good Morning Texas, and hundreds of radio shows, podcasts and streams.