In a recent post on this blog’s Instagram page, LL Cool J was forced to defend his decision to release new music in 2020.

LL Cool J is no Jay-Z, but what we’re not gonna do is disrespect one of the legends of this rap shit. Also, I think it’s important to normalize the idea of rappers releasing new music well past the age of 35.

Because too many of you young’ns seem to have forgotten, this week’s TBT post is a reminder of LL Cool J’s greatness.

In June of 1996, LL released “Loungin” (featuring Total) as the third and final single from his sixth LP, Mr. Smith. The album version is a cool lil jam that samples Al B Sure!’s “Nite and Day,” but its remix, which samples Bernard Wright’s “Who Do You Love,” is the true classic.

Both versions of “Loungin” are so different that one has to wonder why Big Elly was ever allowed to pass this new song off as a remix. Their beats, melodies and lyrics are completely different, and while I live for a remix that sounds different from its original, I’d like to be able to identify some commonalities if we’re going to call it a remix. But I digress.

The “Loungin” remix is a laid-back chune that is so ’90s that it makes you wanna throw on a Kangol hat and sip on some Alize. Kima, Keisha and Pam killed the hook and LL Cool J rapped his ass off. And like every other mid-’90s jam, “Loungin” is about creeping with another person’s significant other.

The “Loungin” video was also peak ’90s. Pool party, Lexus chip, lime green outfits, you name it. And of course, there’s LL Cool J pouring chocolate syrup down the leg of his love interest — on the sidewalk while she sits on the hood of his car, no less. The ’90s were different.

“Loungin” peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the third top 10 from Mr. Smith and one of LL Cool J’s biggest hits. It was also one of the biggest songs on 1996. Respect Big Elly.

December 28, 2019, was not just a milestone anniversary for Jay-Z, it was also one for John Legend. That date marked the 15th anniversary of his debut album, Get Lifted. And for the record, it was also his 41st birthday.

After years of singing backup for everyone from Lauryn Hill to Alicia Keys to even Jay-Z, John Legend was now front and center.

Released under Kanye West’s GOOD Music imprint, Get Lifted was a traditional-yet-contemporary offering that can be played from start to finish without any real urge to skip a track. Even its weakest tracks (e.g., “Let’s Get Lifted Again”) can be enjoyed under the right circumstances.

John Legend co-wrote all 13 songs on Get Lifted, with Kanye West, Dave Tozer and offering writing and production assistance on majority of the album’s tracks. Features include Yeezy, Snoop Dogg, Miri Ben-Ari and the Stephens Family, who showed us where John Legend (real name John Stephens) gets his pipes from on “It Don’t Have to Change.”

Get Lifted didn’t produce any major hits as far as charts are concerned — its third single, “Ordinary People,” was its highest-charting song and it only managed to reach No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, John Legend has the kind of adult contemporary appeal where big singles don’t matter. That very appeal will power the album to over three million units sold and earn John three Grammys in 2006, including Best New Artist and Best R&B Album.

For an album this good, selecting a favorite is tough, but “It Don’t Have to Change” (featuring the Stephens Family) edges the competition out by *this* much. Check it out below.

Jay-Z’s fourth studio album, Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter, dropped exactly 20 years ago today.

This album has a weird place in history. It’s not widely considered to be among Hov’s best work; however, one of his signature songs, “Big Pimpin’,” comes from this album, so it has a bit of a claim to classic status.

Vol. 3‘s lead single, “Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up)” (featuring Beanie Sigel and Amil), failed to crack the top 50 on the Billboard Hot 100, and its follow-up, “The Thing That U Do” (featuring Mariah Carey), didn’t even chart — mainly because Hov’s record label neglected to promote the song, forgoing a CD single (which was essential at the time) and even a music video.

Just a year after having his biggest hit at the time with “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” Jay-Z attempted to recreate the magic on Vol. 3‘s third single, “Anything.” Much like “Hard Knock Life,” “Anything” samples a popular song from a musical — “I’ll Do Anything” from Oliver! — and has a hook sung by a child. It is perhaps the most nakedly formulaic song Jay-Z has ever released.

Vol. 3 finally cracked the top 20 with “Big Pimpin'” (featuring UGK), its fourth single in just four months. As far as party-on-a-boat music videos are concerned, “Big Pimpin'” is one of the greats. It also captures simpler times, when Jay-Z and Damon Dash were on good terms and Roc-A-Fella was still intact.

Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter was Jay-Z’s second No. 1 album in a row — he will go on to have a No. 1 album in each following year until 2003, and as of 2019, has an unbroken streak of 11 solo No. 1 albums. Vol. 3 sold over three million copies in the US alone and is Hov’s third-best seller.

Even though “Big Pimpin'” is the marquee track from Vol. 3, “Anything” is the clear winner. Yes, it was an obvious attempt to replicate a prior success, but we don’t care. It slaps and has aged beautifully. Check it out below.

Music has the power to invoke a broad range of emotions. The hipsters of the world will have you believe that the best songs are the ones that make you sad, but it is my unshakable belief that the best ones make you happy. And during the holidays, I am especially hooked on upbeat songs that put me in a good mood.

Hanson’s debut single, “MMMBop,” is one of those songs. Released in April 1997 and written by all three members of the group, “MMMBop” is a rock-yet-“pop” ditty with indelible doo-wop influences. The song has the makings of one that many would dismiss as “fluff”: It’s upbeat, ridiculously catchy, and was sung by kids with long, blond hair aged 11-16. However, anyone with an open mind (and open ears) would be able to catch the rather poignant message in its lyrics.

“MMMBop” is about all that is fleeting — money, youth, beauty, life itself. It’s about knowing and holding on to the things that (should) matter most, which are our loved ones. At this time of year, there isn’t a more appropriate message.

If you were “today” years old when you found this out, don’t be ashamed. Most of us have been conditioned to receive “deep” messages in the form of slow, heart-wrenching ballads. In actuality, some of the most profound lyrics can be found in up-tempos.

“MMMBop” was No. 1 for three weeks in May of ’97. The group went on to have two more top 20 hits, but nothing at the scale of their debut single.

Earlier today, Drake dropped a new song called “War,” and he’s fully on his Brit boy shit. The accent, the slang, the everything.

Produced by AXL Beats, “War” has Drizzy referencing the Kendall Jenner rumors and confirming that he and The Weeknd are back on good terms. And of course, there’s a line about beefing with no-names. Guess who that one’s about.

“War” is included on the El-Kuumba Tape Vol. 1 mixtape, which is a collaboration between OVO’s Olivier El-Khatib and Kuumba International. Watch the video below.

In the fall of 1994, Mariah Carey released her first holiday album, Merry Christmas. It was an unexpected move for a young and relatively new artist, especially one as successful as Mariah was. In just four years, she had sold over 75 million albums and earned eight No. 1 hits, and at that time, only one of her 12 singles had failed to crack the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. In short, she was a beast and showed no signs of slowing down.

As with almost everything she has ever done, Merry Christmas was met with mixed reviews, but real ones know not to trust a critic. Mariah’s take on the traditional carols like “Joy to the World” and “O Holy Night” are among the best you will ever hear, as are her covers of modern classics like “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” However, it is her original Christmas chunes that really stand out.

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think “Jesus Born on This Day” was written in the 1400s, but it was actually written by Mariah and her writing partner at the time, Walter Alfanasieff. And then there’s “Miss You (Most at Christmas Time),” a ballad good enough for consumption all year long.

And last but not the least, the juggernaut: “All I Want for Christmas Is You” (a.k.a. Mariah’s 401k plan). The song, whose lyrics Mariah wrote in 15 minutes, sounds like a cover of something from the ’60s, and that is perhaps what makes it feel so timeless. As of 2019, it has become the quintessential Christmas song, which is remarkable, considering that we already had a long-established canon of holiday hits.

Following its initial release, “All I Want” didn’t chart for many years because Hot 100 rules at the time required a physical single issuance to qualify. However, the song was popular on the radio, and would become even more popular over the years, thanks in part to a feature in the 2003 romantic comedy, Love Actually.

Between the constant airplay, covers by other artists, and use in movies and commercials, “All I Want” is now unavoidable. And this past week, a whole 25 years after its release, the song has topped the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time, becoming Mariah Carey’s 19th No. 1 hit — extending her record among solo acts, bringing her within reach of the Beatles’ 20, and setting a variety of new records.

For a woman who has been through hell many times over and whose new music is wholly ignored, this is a hell of a victory and a testament to the fact that you can’t keep a good woman down.

To mark the song’s 25th anniversary, Mariah released a new video for “All I Want” this past Friday, and it is surprisingly good — music videos have not been her strong suit in recent years. Watch the new clip below.

In the two days since the video dropped, it has been watched over 8.5 million times on YouTube alone, which guarantees that “All I Want” will be spending a second week at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In the 25 years since its release, “All I Want” has made over $60 million dollars in royalties and keeps coming back for the bag year after year. It is quite literally the gift that keeps on giving — to us, the music fans, but especially to Mariah and her bank account.

Merry Christmas has sold over 16 million copies and is the highest-selling holiday album of all time. Every other holiday album ever since has basically tried to recreate its magic, and largely to no avail. The album is truly in a league of its own.

As with every other album retrospective, a favorite must be named, and you know what? I’m really happy for “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” and I’ma let it finish, but “Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)” is actually the best song on Merry Christmas (and the best holiday song Mariah ever made). If you haven’t heard this one before, thank me later.

Today is Dionne Warwick’s birthday, and it is also Thursday, so this week’s TBT pick was a no-brainer. In April of 1964, Miss Warwick released “Walk On By,” the first single from her third album, Make Way for Dionne Warwick. That album title is about as ’60s as it gets.

It’s worth noting that Dionne Warwick also has albums called Presenting Dionne Warwick and The Sensitive Sound of Dionne Warwick, to name a few. What a time it must have been.

“Walk On By” was penned by Burt Bacharach and Hal David — one of the greatest songwriting duos ever — and peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. Over the years, many have covered the song, including Aretha Franklin and Isaac Hayes, but the original remains supreme.

And as if “Walk On By” wasn’t special enough, it holds the distinction of being one of the few songs from the ’60s with a music video. Check it out below.

If you ever wondered if the name of this website was just a name, I’d like to point out that I never bothered to listen to Billie Eilish’s music until a few months ago because her hipster persona was simply insufferable. However, good music is good music, and luckily, I heard a snippet of “Ocean Eyes” during a TV segment about her. I was so impressed that I downloaded it and then listened to her No. 1 hit, “Bad Guy,” from start to finish for the first time.

“Bad Guy” is not just trash, but it is trash in the exact way I thought it would be.

Anyway, back to “Ocean Eyes.” The song is three minutes and twenty seconds of synth-y goodness, and even though Billie is definitely a bit overrated, she is quite the vocalist.

This past week, Alicia Keys and Billie Eilish got together to perform a piano-driven version of the song, and quite frankly, I need someone to pump it into my veins because it is just that good. Check it out below.

The phenomenon of the one-hit wonder is one that has always puzzled me. How can an artist be so successful and then disappear into thin air? How can people love a song so much and then care so little about its follow-up? How can a record label enjoy success with an artist and not try harder to replicate it? So many questions.

These questions come to mind whenever I hear Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz’s “Deja Vu (Uptown Baby).” How come a rap duo this dope was never able to have a second hit? Yes, they were featured on the two other hits — the remix to Mariah Carey’s “My All” and Tatyana Ali’s “Daydreamin'” — but as far as their own releases are concerned, “Deja Vu” was their one and only. The duo didn’t even release a second single, and by 1999, they disbanded due to frustration with the music industry.

The brevity of Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz’s run isn’t the only thing that makes me sad. The other thing is how badly they were jipped by Steely Dan.

“Deja Vu” samples Steely Dan’s “Black Cow.” To sample a song, its copyright holder (usually the people who wrote it) has to clear it for use. When Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz tried to clear the “Black Cow” sample, Steely Dan only did so on the condition of an upfront payment of $115,000 and 100% of the song’s royalties. Basically, Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz don’t make money from their one hit.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Steely Dan also demanded sole songwriting credit, so “Deja Vu” is credited to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, the two members of Steely Dan. You hate to see it.

If you’re wondering why Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz agreed to such a disastrous agreement, it’s because they were banking on having many more hits. Little did they know, they wouldn’t even have another single. Life is truly a bitch.

Due to the fact that we’d be dropping more coins in Steely Dan’s pockets, I reluctantly ask you to click play.