G.O.A.T. stands for Greatest of All Time, and while LL Cool J may or may not be the greatest MC ever (I'm sure there's a fella named Rakim who would take exception to that, and Kool Moe Dee is bound to be getting riled up right now just thinking about it), he's definitely on the short list, and the fact that he's the most senior rapper who still can claim to have his finger on the pulse of the culture has to count for something. Contemporaries like Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, and even Rakim have struggled to keep up as the young man's game of hip-hop has entered its third decade, but G.O.A.T. is perhaps Cool J's most vital record since his 1990 career best, Mama Said Knock You Out.
After years of piddling film roles and sitcom anesthetization, G.O.A.T. finds L.L. back on the right coast, rocking New York hip-hop with something close to the fervor of the seventeen-year-old kid who stole the show in Krush Groove. His stabs at social commentary on Can't Think and Homicide aren't very convincing, but thankfully G.O.A.T. mostly sticks to the song types on which L.L. built his rep: sex fantasies, battle rhymes, and love-man braggadocio.
The amusingly crass Imagine That is the sound of LL breaking into the Britney Spears video Baby, One More Time and turning it hardcore, while Back Where I Belong announces his return to the streets and puts a definitive end to his high-profile battle with upstart MC Canibus. (I could've told the world you get your lyrics from the Internet/And spit 'em word for word like you're really a rap vet/How you take metaphors from books and put 'em in your rhymes/How you're really from Canada, and you been frontin' all this time/I heard your second album/That shit is garbage too/LL Cool J and I did this to you) The stand-out Fuhgidabowdit finds the returning warrior confidently sparring with young bucks DMX, Method Man, and Redman.
Like so many hip-hop albums of the post-CD era, this album is way too long. At eighteen tracks and more than 70 minutes of dense beats and rhymes, G.O.A.T. is too much of a good thing. But it is a good thing, and at this late date in his career, that's probably more than we had the right to expect.