His success over the next 15 years -- a longer lifetime in the spotlight than any rapper has known -- was built on an emerging duality: LL's ability to affect different personas for different fans. Fighter and lover, conspicuous consumer and around-the-way homeboy, egocentric poseur and self-deprecating comedian (he invented the crazy-ass hip-hop loser Cheesy Rat a full decade before Eminem's Slim Shady), LL proves that mainstream players must eventually alienate the hood from which they come.
The one zone he wasn't willing to enter -- the hard thug world -- has now been taken up by Jay-Z, who stretches LL's duality to the schizophrenic breaking point. It's doubtful that LL will ever again manage anything as rough and smooth as Jay-Z's latest album, but if he does, you can bet he won't call it a comeback -- again.
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