In 1989, LL Cool J & Stetsasonic were “talkin’ all that jazz” on Lifetime’s “What’s Up, Dr. Ruth?”

By on August 4, 2017

In the summer of 1989, after a performance of “Talkin’ all that Jazz” by Brooklyn’s Stetsasonic, blinged-out Def Jam rapper LL Cool J appeared on Lifetime’s new daytime talk show What’s Up, Dr. Ruth?,” chatting with the eccentrically interesting Dr. Ruth Westheimer, TV’s most popular sex therapist, about what had happened in his rap career thus far. Watch it now on Night Flight Plus!

“What’s Up, Dr. Ruth?” — which was videotaped in front of a live audience at Lifetime’s impressive Astoria Studios — helped broaden the Lifetime network’s appeal with teenagers by talking candidly with some of their favorite musical acts about the problems they were facing in their lives, like peer pressure, S.A.T. scores, step-parents, and drinking and driving.

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On the very first episode of “What’s Up, Dr. Ruth?,” debuting on Saturday, June 10, 1989, Dr. Ruth’s guests were members of the heavy metal band Anthrax along with their mothers.

A few weeks later, Dr. Ruth’s studio audience were treated to a performance of “Talkin’ all that Jazz” by Stetsasonic, and Dr. Ruth’s chat with them afterwards, before she brought out rapper LL Cool J, who was doing promotional events for his album Walking with a Panther, released around the same time as Dr. Ruth’s new show had premiered.

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Just five years earlier, LL Cool J — born James Todd Smith and raised in New York’s borough of Queens by his grandparents — had recorded a demo of “I Need A Beat,” which had made its way to local rap manager Russell Simmons and record producer Rick Rubin, who were trying to launch their own label at the time.

“I Need A Beat” became their label Def Jam’s first release, going on to sell over 100,000 units, and also helped Rubin secure a distribution deal with CBS Records.

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LL Cool J became of one Def Jam’s top-selling artists. He released his hugely successful debut LP, Radio, in 1985, and followed it two years later with Bigger and Deffer, which powered its way up the charts on the strength of a #3 charting hit, the ballad “I Need Love,” which was one the first hip-hop/pop crossover successes.

His 1989 album Walking with a Panther was a more pop-oriented affair, likely an obvious attempt to reach an even wider audience (it would peak at #1 on Billboard‘s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, where it spent four weeks, and #6 on the Billboard 200 pop chart).

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LL Cool J was likely tapped by his management to make appearances on lifestyle and public affairs-oriented programs like “What’s Up, Dr. Ruth?” but he was a great guest on shows like this because he truly connected with rap lovin’ teens who were likely looking for a spokesperson to speak up for their up-and-coming generation (also featured on the show was a local high school poetry teacher and wannabe rapper Keith Gerstenhaber, who helped fill the audience by bringing students to the show).

LL Cool J talks about taking a stand on his new single, “Going Back to Cali”; about donating funds to have a hospital built in Africa; about the start of his rap career at age nine; the reason behind recording “I Need Love” (he tells the audience he recorded it because he “needed love,” after which they burst into applause), and other assorted topics.

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Stetsasonic — who were involved with the Stop The Violence Movement at the time, and promoting their “Self-Destruction” single — were a little upset with LL Cool J back then because he’d written a rap for the track for MC Lyte, but had declined to perform himself.

LL Cool J would later tell the members of Stetsasonic that — since he hadn’t appeared on a new recording in quite a while — he didn’t want his fans to hear him rapping after his long hiatus on a track like “Self-Destruction,” because he didn’t want to be associated with the song’s “beat.”

Check out LL Cool J and Stetsasonic on “What’s Up, Dr. Ruth?,” and while you’re at it, be sure to check out our previous Night Flight blog post about our collection of exclusive ’80s-era Dr. Ruth interviews with celebrities, rock stars and special guests, they’re all streaming over on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.