There's a reason LL Cool J is still making records after two decades while many of his peers are played out after a couple of releases. Of course, he has one of the fleetest tongues around, but he's also smart enough to surround himself with top talent, including producers who push him.
On his 12th CD, ''Todd Smith," the rapper does what he does best: mixing his around-the-way lover raps with the high-testosterone lyrical struts. Then he steps aside for a bit and lets his all-star roster of guests fill in. After two disappointing sellers, this set is filled with radio-ready singles (including a bonus reworking of Ne-Yo's smash ''So Sick"). It's an obvious stab at commercial viability, and it's a successful one.
Some songs, such as the familiar but ingratiating ''Favorite Flavor" (with Mary J. Blige) and the first single with Jennifer Lopez, ''Control Myself," produced by Jermaine Dupri, are sharp and savvy and filled with LL's rainbow of rhymes.
This disc is less combative than probably anything LL has done, and it includes what may become a wedding staple: the lilting, lush ''Down the Aisle" (featuring the creamy vocals of 112). The MC is also intent on remaining guy-friendly and makes sure he teams with rappers both young and popular (Juelz Santana) or hungry and muscular (Freeway) so things don't get too gooey at the center. Freeway grinds away on ''What You Want," and LL tosses off rhymes like burning cigarettes, making this the disc's hottest cut.
Some of the hooks supplied by Jamie Foxx (the Neptunes' disappointing throwaway ''Best Dress") or Ginuwine feel manufactured. But there's plenty of good stuff here.
One of the best cuts is LL's co-production with underappreciated singer/songwriter Lyfe Jennings, ''Freeze." It's icy and understated as Lyfe's rich soul completes the MC's crisp couplets. On the tumultuous ''We're Gonna Make It," LL says ''I'm here to bring truth to rap, not gimmicks." The reality is that he brings both, which is what keeps him on the radio.