Here’s the Inside Story of the Making of LL Cool J’s Classic Rock the Bells (Video)
In Ambrosia For Heads’ ongoing GOAT ballot series to determine Hip-Hop’s Greatest Of All Time MC, LL Cool J is facing off with Run (of Run-DMC) in Round 2. In this search to let fans decide the real winner, it is actually 30 years removed from a rivalry between the two New York giants, regarding their burgeoning status, and a certain break-beat.
Sample Heads know that both Run-DMC’s “Peter Piper” and Cool J’s “Rock The Bells” make massive use of Bob James’ “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” Jazz rendition. Maneuvered differently (by producer Rick Rubin), the resulting Rap records both became classics, with emerging mogul Russell Simmons tied to each. With Run-DMC’s take coming first to LL’s early demo versions of his song, it was controversial at the time. With the beat he wrote to no longer available, James Smith and Rick Rubin challenged themselves and rocked the bells with a different beat (with no bells at all), that perhaps changed Hip-Hop forever.
In Complex’s latest “Magnum Opus” vignette, nearly 20 minutes are dedicated to the 1985 Def Jam single. LL Cool J, Rick Rubin, Russell Simmons, (then Def Jam Publicist) Bill Adler, (then Def Jam Radio Head) Bill Stephney, DJ Cut Creator, and journalist/actor Bonz Malone are among those who speak.
The record would be emblematic of what LL would deliver Hip-Hop, music, film, television, and pop culture over the next 30 years. Still a minor when the song was cut, LL grew into his britches with the overly-confident record that nudged Bruce Springsteen aside and offered Madonna some satisfaction, should she want. Cocky, confident, and built in clearing the dance-floor to give the world a taste of what was happening in the New York City nightlife.
A lot of interesting tidbits surrounding the hit Radio single come alive from this production. From the beat’s creation and controversy, Run’s attitude towards LL Cool J, the Go-Go influence, a Beastie Boys’ lyric coming from Cool J’s demo, and Rick Rubin’s racial ambiguity to those who hadn’t met him are all part of the magic behind this crate staple.
“I introduce the term GOAT to Hip-Hop, and then they tell me I’m not the GOAT.” – LL Cool J (laughing hysterically)
#BonusBeat: One of the pre-single versions of “Rock The Bells” (with bells and all):