Meaning of “Around the Way Girl” by LL Cool J

The release of “Around the Way Girl” on 20 November 1990 harps back to a day when LL Cool J was one of the biggest rappers in the game. This track served as the third single to 1990’s “Mama Said Knock You Out”, which is arguably his signature project.

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for LL Cool J's Around the Way Girl at

The song itself, which was released through Columbia and Def Jam, also represents one of Cool J’s biggest hits. Besides topping Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart, “Around the Way Girl” also broke the top 10 of the US Hot 100. It has also been certified gold by the RIAA. And yes, that was an impressive showing for this track’s day, which was before rap music had gone mainstream.

This song was co-written and co-produced by LL Cool J in conjunction with Marley Marl. In putting the instrumental together, the latter in particular sampled 1983’s “All Night Long” by the Mary Jane Girls, which was composed by Rick James (1948-2004). Therefore, James also granted writing credit for “Around the Way Girl”. 

And to note, the other two songs that are sampled are:

  • “Impeach the President” (1973) by The Honey Drippers
  • “Risin’ to the Top” (1982) by Keni Burke

Meanwhile Paris Barclay, who went on to have a big career in television, directed this track’s music video, which was filmed in LL’s hometown of Queens.

Around the Way Girl

Lyrics of “Around the Way Girl”

As alluded to earlier, this song dates back to an era in which rap music was more of a homegrown phenomenon than what it has developed into since. So instead of celebrating the likes of models or women from exotic parts of the world, as 21st century rappers tend to, here we have a song dedicated to ‘around the way girls’, i.e. those from the ‘hood. 

So besides stating a preference for women who are physically attractive, Cool J also digs those with “a bad attitude” who “walk with a switch and talk with street slang”, i.e. being fluent in “gangster talk”. 

And he even expresses a sympathetic attitude towards this lifestyle, knowing that such a lady’s ‘independence’ can get them into beef with their parents. But in that regard, if mom dukes and co. are dumbing out, then an around-the-way girl can always come and stay with Uncle L.

Indeed as this piece progresses, it transforms from an ode to a particular type of woman into more of a straight-up love song. Cool J was perhaps the first rapper to establish himself as a romantic, and in the third verse we find the vocalist kickin’ it to a personification of the around-the-way girl. 

But this song also shares some similarities to 21st century rap, since this is, after all, one of the tracks that set the mold. For instance, even though the lyrics of “Around the Way Girl” are very SFW, there’s still a certain premium put on the addressee’s sexiness. Also, it’s pretty obvious that the women the rapper is attracted to are relatively well paid, though in the ‘hood rich kinda way. Or at the very least, they know how to carry themselves.

“I need an around the way girl (Around the way girl)
That’s the one for me (She’s the only one for me)
I need an around the way girl
You got me shook up, shook down, shook out on your loving”

Shortly after this track was dropped, Uncle L married Kadida Jones, the daughter of Quincy Jones who, accordingly, was raised far from the ‘hood. However, shortly thereafter he and Kadida divorced. He then went on to wed Simone Johnson, who was in fact an around-the-way girl. The couple are still together (as of the writing of this article), almost three decades later. So obviously, LL was the type of rapper who said what he meant and did what he said.

And as noted earlier, Cool J himself grew up in the ‘hood. And the way he explained this song is as being “an ode to the girl next door”, i.e. the type of women he “) would see on a daily basis”. 

At the time “Around the Way Girl” came out, it was a catchy, hit rap song for its day, the type of which is unforgettable for hip-hop fans who were around back then, when there weren’t that many rappers in circulation. 

But looking back now it comes off as a sort of a novelty track, illustrating that there was an era in rap music when artists weren’t obsessed with money, hoes or hooking up with celebrities per se.

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