The roll call of hip-hop survivors from two decades ago is one short list. With Run-DMC effectively disbanded and the Beastie Boys musically MIA, only James Todd Smith remains of the titans that once strode the five boroughs. Bucking all the odds, he's kept his athlete's physique, his sense of humor, and -- most remarkably, in a genre infamous for making no time for its graybeards -- his commercial viability.
Of course, not even LL Cool J can keep up with the hip-hop Joneses year in and year out, as 2004's misguided blingfest DEFinition proved. But on his latest disc, Todd Smith, LL pulls off something almost no other rapper could: He recruits the usual litany of guest stars (J-Lo, Mary J. Blige) and uses them to give him the kick in the ass he's needed for some time. Having outlasted all his peers, and with his place in history secure, what other motivation remains?