LL Cool J
He was a rap pioneer in the 1980's, and has since expldoded into a superstar, by appearing in movies and commercials, and releasing several albums. Hip-hop is notorious for short-lived careers, but LL Cool J is the inevitable exception that proves the rule. Releasing his first hit, "I Can't Live Without My Radio," in 1985 when he was just 17 years old, LL initially was a hard-hitting, street-wise b-boy with spare beats and ballistic rhymes. He quickly developed an alternate style, a romantic -- and occasionally sappy -- lover's rap epitomized by his mainstream breakthrough single, "I Need Love." LL's first two albums, Radio and Bigger and Deffer, made him a star, but he strived for pop stardom a little too much on 1989's Walking With a Panther. By 1990, his audience had declined somewhat, since his ballads and party raps were the opposite of the chaotic, edgy political hip-hop of Public Enemy or the gangsta rap of N.W.A., but he shot back to the top of the charts with Mama Said Knock You Out, which established him as one of hip-hop's genuine superstars. By the mid-'90s, he had starred in his own television sitcom, In the House, appeared in several films, and had racked up two of his biggest singles with "Hey Lover" and "Doin' It." In short, he had proven that rappers could have long-term careers.
Of course, that didn't seem likely when he came storming out of Queens, NY, when he was 16 years old. LL Cool J (born James Todd Smith; his stage name is an acronym for "Ladies Love Cool James") had already been rapping since the age of nine. Two years later, his grandfather -- he had been living with his grandparents since his parents divorced when he was four -- gave him a DJ system and he began making tapes at home. Eventually, he sent these demo tapes to record companies, attracting the interest of Def Jam, a fledgling label run by New York University students Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. Def Jam signed LL and released his debut, "I Need a Beat," as their first single in 1984. The record sold over 100,000 copies, establishing both the label and the rapper.
LL dropped out of high school and recorded his debut album, Radio. Released in 1985, Radio was a major hit and it earned considerable praise for how it shaped raps into recognizable pop-song structures. On the strength of "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and "Rock the Bells," the album went platinum in 1986. The following year, his second album, Bigger and Deffer, shot to number three due to the ballad "I Need Love," which became one of the first pop-rap crossover hits.
LL's knack for making hip-hop as accessible as pop was one of his greatest talents, yet it was also a weakness, since it opened him up to accusations of him being a sellout. Taken from the Less Than Zero soundtrack, 1988's "Goin' Back to Cali" walked the line with ease, but 1989's Walking With a Panther was not greeted warmly by most hip-hop fans. Although it was a Top Ten hit and spawned the gold single "I'm That Type of Guy," the album was perceived as a pop sell-out effort, and on a supporting concert at the Apollo, he was booed. LL didn't take the criticism lying down -- he struck back with 1990's Mama Said Knock You Out, the hardest record he ever made. LL supported the album with a legendary, live acoustic performance on MTV Unplugged, and on the strength of the Top Ten R&B singles "The Boomin' System" and "Around the Way Girl" (number nine, pop) as well as the hit title track, Mama Said Knock You Out became his biggest-selling album, establishing him as a pop star in addition to a rap superstar. He soon landed roles in the films The Hard Way (1991) and Toys (1992), and he also performed at Bill Clinton's presidential inauguration in 1993. Mama Said Knock You Out kept him so busy that he didn't deliver the follow-up, 14 Shots to the Dome, until the spring of 1993. Boasting a harder, gangsta-rap edge, 14 Shots initially sold well, debuting in the Top Ten, but it was an unfocused effort that generated no significant hit singles. Consequently, it stalled at gold status and hurt his reputation considerably.
Following the failure of 14 Shots to the Dome, LL began starring in the NBC sitcom In the House. He returned to recording in 1995, releasing Mr. Smith toward the end of the year. Unexpectedly, Mr. Smith became a huge hit, going double platinum and launching two of his biggest hits with the Boyz II Men duet "Hey Lover" and "Doin' It." At the end of 1996, he released the greatest-hits album, All World, while Phenomenon appeared one year later. G.O.A.T. Featuring James T. Smith: The Greatest of All Time, released in 2000, reached the top of the album charts, and 2002's 10 featured one of his biggest hits in years, "Luv U Better." With the help of producer Timbaland he unleashed the tough DEFinition album in 2004 as his James Todd Smith clothing line was hitting the malls.
LL Cool J : Not easy road
LL Cool J born James Todd Smith, 14 January 1968, St. Albans, Queens, New York City, USA. Long-running star of the rap scene, LL Cool J found fame at the age of 16, his pseudonym standing for "Ladies Love Cool James". As might be inferred by this, LL is a self-professed lady-killer in the vein of Luther Vandross or Barry White, yet he retains a superior rapping agility.
Smith started rapping at the age of nine, after his grandfather bought him his first DJ equipment. From the age of 13 he was processing his first demos. The first to respond to his mail-outs was Rick Rubin of Def Jam Records, then a senior at New York University, who signed him to his fledgling label.
The first sighting of LL Cool J came in 1984 on a 12-inch, "I Need A Beat", which was the label's first such release. However, it was "I Just Can't Live Without My Radio", which established his gold-chained, bare-chested B-boy persona. The song was featured in the Krush Groove movie, on which the rapper also performed. In its wake, he embarked on a 50-city US tour alongside the Fat Boys, Whodini, Grandmaster Flash and Run-DMC. The latter were crucial to LL Cool J's development: his modus operandi was to combine their beatbox cruise control with streetwise B-boy raps, instantly making him a hero to a new generation of black youth.
As well as continuing to tour with the trio, he would also contribute a song, "Can You Rock It Like This", to Run-DMC's King Of Rock. His debut album too, would see Rubin dose the grooves with heavy metal guitar breaks first introduced by Run-DMC. LL Cool J's other early singles included "I'm Bad", "Go Cut Creator Go", "Jack The Ripper" and "I Need Love" (the first ballad rap, recorded with the Los Angeles Posse), which brought him a UK Top 10 score. Subsequent releases offered a fine array of machismo funk-rap, textured with personable charm and humour.
Like many fellow rappers, LL Cool J's career has not been without incident.
Live appearances in particular have been beset by many problems. Three people were shot at a date in Baltimore in December 1985, followed by an accusation of "public lewdness" after a 1987 show in Columbus, Ohio. While playing rap's first concert in Cote d'Ivoire, Africa, fights broke out and the stage was stormed. Most serious, however, was an incident in 1989 when singer David Parker, bodyguard Christopher Tsipouras and technician Gary Saunders were accused of raping a 15-year-old girl who attended a backstage party after winning a radio competition in Minneapolis. Though LL Cool J's personal involvement in all these cases was incidental, they undoubtedly tarnished his reputation.
He has done much to make amends, including appearances at benefits including Farm Aid, recording with the Peace Choir, and launching his Cool School Video Program, in an attempt to encourage children to stay at school. Even Nancy Reagan invited him to headline a "Just Say No" concert at Radio City Music Hall.
Musically, LL Cool J is probably best sampled on his 1990 set, Mama Said Knock You Out, produced by the omnipresent Marley Marl, which as well as the familiar sexual braggadocio included his thoughts on the state of rap past, present and future. The album went triple platinum, though the follow-up, 14 Shots To The Dome, was a less effective attempt to recycle the formula.
Some tracks stood out: "A Little Something", anchored by a sample of King Floyd's soul standard "Groove Me', being a good example. Like many of rap's senior players, he has also sustained an acting career, with appearances in The Hard Way and Toys, playing a cop in the former and a military man in the latter. Phenomenon and 2000"s US chart-topping G.O.A.T. celebrated Cool's remarkable longevity on the rap scene, and featured guest appearances from Keith Sweat and Ralph Tresvant on the former, and Method Man and Redman on the latter. The follow-up 10 was premiered by the US Top 10 hit, "Luv U Better".
LL Cool J : Keeping The Bus Pass
LL Cool J's head is really sprung. The jet-setting superstar has returned to his home and is reveling in the attention.
"This is like a dream for me," L says about shooting the second video from his latest LP, The DEFinition, at his old stomping grounds in Queens, New York's Jamaica neighborhood.
Little did L know that when he was dropping thousands of dollars on clothes and jewelry at the legendary Coliseum Mall in the late '80s and early '90s that he would come back over a decade later as a revered hip-hop veteran. L also couldn't imagine that he would be having his teenage son Najee play a younger version of himself in a music video — which is the case in "Hush."
In the clip, the rapper brings his girlfriend back to their 'hood so they can reminisce about the past and reflect on their success. It's a move that L finds therapeutic in real life as well. "Sometimes you have to keep a bus pass in your back pocket so you don't front too hard in the Benz," he says.
On the set of "Hush," LL talked about the resistance he got to releasing first single "Headsprung," where those Kangols came from and how he finally hooked up with R. Kelly.
MTV: I heard "Headsprung" was neck and neck with the Terror Squad's "Lean Back" as one of the biggest songs in the club.
LL Cool J: Man, I gotta tell you, your man LL Cool J is in the building, B. It's serious out here. From 8-80, B, there's a lot of people on board rocking with this DEFinition album. This is not a game. It's really happening. I didn't just try and make an album and try to get over on celebrity. It was about quality. I tried to dig deep and make something hot. I did my best and I think people are feeling it. I'm thankful.
MTV: "Headsprung" is not a typical LL track.
LL Cool J: A lot of people wanted me to fight "Headsprung" and fight that kind of vibe. They think I should drop a love song because that's what they think I'm supposed to do. But I can't let people take me for granted as an artist. When you start being able to predict what I'm gonna do, I need to stop. I'm not just gonna put a record out because I think I can get over with it. Because then I'm just cheating.
MTV: Tell us a little about the next single, "Hush."
LL Cool J: Sometimes some of my songs have a lot of depth and I think they may go over people's heads from time to time, but I think that this one is just deep enough for people to get what I'm saying. There is a deeper message to it, and then I flip it — I slip in "Shake It Baby" at the end, and that's just me paying tribute to the 'hood and me paying tribute to Queens and just shakin' it up a little bit, just to bring it back there and anchor the whole joint.
MTV: For the video, you brought it back to your original habitat, so to speak. Could you tell us memories you have of the Coliseum Mall, which is featured in the video?
LL Cool J: I used to come to the Coliseum and buy everything — all of my clothes came from the Coliseum. A lot of my jewelry came from the Coliseum, there on 47th Street. Jamaica Avenue was my stomping ground, for real. I bought every one of my Kangols back in the day from Rebel Knocks on Jamaica Avenue. This is real for me. Shirt Kings, Graffiti, they are my friends. I know them personally. It's a wonderful, wonderful thing to be back.
MTV: How did you and R. Kelly finally hook up for the song "I'm About to Get Her"?
LL Cool J: Teddy Riley brought me the track and this kid Sanchez produced it, and I was like, "Yo, we should get R. on that," because when I heard the joint, I thought it sounded like one of them joints that R. Kelly was doing with "Fiesta" and that vibe. And the only way I would even think about doing that track was to get R. on it because it sounds so right. So we shot it to him, and he was with it.
MTV: How did the whole connection with you and Timbaland happen?
LL Cool J: I had been wanting to work with Timbaland for a while. When we got the opportunity to work together, I was like, "Yo, let's do it." So we went in the studio and my man was just coming up with all these crazy beats, all these crazy sounds, and it gave me a chance to do something a little different. It was just an incredible collaboration. There's a reason why I've been able to make records and do what I do all my life the way I've been doing, and that's because I've worked with a lot of great and talented people.
LL Cool J : Past, Present, Future
MTV : How do you feel about "The G.O.A.T."?
L.L. Cool J: Man, I'm a fan of it. Every album I make I'm not a fan of. Sometimes I make records and they're more laid-back albums, or they're just more rap albums, and then I make MC albums. "Mama Said Knock You Out" was that type of album, and "Radio" was that time of album, "Bigger And Deffer" kinda, in a way, was also that type of album. So maybe this is my fourth [MC album], and the other albums were more laid-back albums where I was doing more songs and just rapping.
On this joint I just wanted to just take it and just make it really exciting. No holds barred. Not try to pretend, not try to be the boy in the plastic bubble. I just wanted to be truthful with the art form and just say what I really felt as an artist and express myself and spit leverage. Give the world something true. It's the equivalent of a [drummer] on a few albums going [L.L. taps out beats] for the band. On the new album. he's [L.L. pounds out beats]. That's the difference. Lyrically, that's what this is. This is the guy in the band getting a solo as opposed to just playing along.
MTV: What brought that out of you?
L.L.: [It's] a combination of two things. First, I think Canibus making a song about me was very inspiring for me. It made me want to show people that I am great. Because a lot of times you can confuse what you know your capability is and what you know your potential is with what people have seen. You feel me? Prime example: Let's say a guy is some ultimate fighting champion. Eighth degree black belt, incredible at fighting. He walks in a room and he expects people to be scared of him because he says, "I can fight." If no one has seen it, they don't necessarily respect him. Now, he may be right, you know? If nobody knew Muhammad Ali when he was 24, and he said, "I'll hit you in the face with five jabs and knock you out, for real," and you'd be like, "Yeah, right," he could prove it. So when I said, "L.L. Cool J, Greatest Of All Time," and then Canibus responded with "The Greatest Of All Time died on March 9, and you're not great," and stuff, it made me say to myself, "Well, maybe I need to show," because obviously that's a voice that's representative of other people in the community that may feel that. I'm saying that and I've been doing it a long time, but maybe they need me to prove it to them.
I said, "You know what? I'm gonna put together something that they can understand what I mean from beginning to end, from back to front, that's crazy." Just to show them that I'm capable of doing that, so they can respect "Hey Lover," which is my fade-away jump shot, but also respect "Ill Bomb" or some of these records on my new album, which is a slam dunk in your mouth. I've been shooting a lot of fade-away jumpers, scoring high points, but it doesn't get the rise from the crowd the same. They're not in awe as much as me putting it through my legs and dunking it straight down and getting the win at the end.
MTV: Why didn't you come out with your album after Canibus dropped his?
L.L.: Because that's not what it was about. It's not about Canibus. It's about me making a great album. That was just inspiring. It's kinda like telling Michael Jordan, "You can't dunk anymore. You're not capable of playing basketball." People forget. Right now, if somebody got on TV and said, "Michael Jordan, you can't play", people would assume maybe they're right. A lot of people would be fans, and others would be like, "It's been a long time. Maybe he can't play and compete in that arena." We know he's great, but maybe he can't compete in this new climate with these new players. So I said. "OK, it's time for basketball camp." [Laughs] I just wanted to have some fun.
Being great is not about me being a greater human being than anybody else, 'cause everybody's life is valuable and worth something, man. So obviously there's always gonna be a small percentage of people who resent you saying something like that, or shocked. "How dare he have the courage to go there?" But first of all, it's a lot more fun than naming my album "L.L. The Pretty Good Rapper." I think that might be a little boring. I think the "Greatest Of All Time" is a little more interesting, and [besides,] I really believe that. Be great at what you do, but I'm gonna be great at this. The greatest at this. I really believe that, man. That's what I believe in my heart.
MTV: I remember hearing, maybe before the whole thing with Canibus, everybody was like, "What's up with L.L.?" "He's coming back out if the fans wanna hear it."
L.L.: That's the truth. But the flip side of that is that I was frustrated and a little bitter at one point of my career and wasn't totally happy. My relationship wasn't the greatest with the label at that time -- at least to me it wasn't -- and that affected me. It made me wanna quit. It frustrated me. Just like many other artists out there are frustrated.
But then there was a part of me that said. "You know what? There's so many people that supported you for seven, eight albums. You're gonna just turn your back on that one guy?" There may be 30 people that just live life and just keep listening to hip-hop, but that 31st person is gonna be like, "Damn, why did L.L. let me down? I always buy his album. I always look forward to when his records are released." I'm not saying every hip-hop fan is like that, but there are certain people who really wait for my records. And I said, "I can't do that." Because I would need that record.
LL Cool J : Dimepiece
"You've been waitin' and debatin' for oh so long/ Just starvin' like Marvin for a Cool J song/ If you cried and thought I died, you definitely was wrong." — LL Cool J, "Rock the Bells"
Imagine being LL Cool J: fighter, innovator, entertainer, lover, pioneer and legend. You elevated the rap-love anthem into its own genre while Ja Rule was still in grade school. You rapped about popping Cristal and wearing iced-out jewelry while Biggie and Jay-Z were still hustling in the streets of Brooklyn. You headlined tours while P. Diddy interned at Uptown Records. You appeared in movies while the closest Will Smith got to Hollywood was a matinee at a local theater. You're so far ahead of your time, you've passed the average rapper twice. Yet with almost every album you dropped, some people misunderstood your direction, while others doubted you should've come back in the first place.
"I think Walking With a Panther was like that," LL Cool J said, in New York, the night before a sold out show at the Hammerstein Ballroom mentally backtracking through some of his more poorly received offerings. "I think 14 Shots to the Dome was like that. I think G.O.A.T. was like that. Really, those three. I eat it up, though. I love it. I love it.
"You know what it's like?" he continued. "It's like being a basketball player whose aim is to be the best and losing the game right before you make it to the playoffs — your season being over and having all summer to think about it. I love it. I love it. When they start talking that, 'Yo, he's finished,' 'He can't do it' — don't say that about me. I love it."
Once again, LL Cool J has quelled the naysaying of doubting Thomases with the release of his 10th LP — aptly titled 10 — featuring the top 10 leadoff hit "Luv U Better" and debuting at #2 on the Billboard 200. After almost 20 years of banging out hits, LL Cool J remains the same as he came in the game: wearing Kangols, loved by ladies and hard as hell.
"I don't know how the hell he does it," Houston legend Scarface marveled. "I remember LL's 'I Need a Beat.' I used to sit in my room, man, and memorize the words to LL songs, 'Rock the Bells' and all that. People wasn't up on rap music back then. It was only in New York ... I mean, it was other places, but it wasn't in Houston back then. So the album cuts, the cuts nobody heard outside the radio, I had them, 'cause my aunt and cousins lived in New York and New Jersey. They would send me tapes of WBLS. I'd be in there battling people with those cold-ass LL words, man."
As seen from the abs of steel in his video for "Luv U Better," LL Cool J also adores working out with his personal trainer, Scooter.
"I just live in the gym, basically," L said. "The main thing is I really enjoy doing it. I just have fun. I'll get up and run 12 miles. Not every day — that would be hard on your knees — but occasionally I go a long distance. A lot of push-ups, dieting. I'm gonna probably put something out there [in stores to] let people see what I do.
"[At my age], your metabolism slows down," the 34-year-old said. "You keep eating the same but your body doesn't burn it up the same. You just gotta kind of back up off them strawberry shortcakes and all of that. It's difficult."
The role of husband was another inspiration for downsizing his beefed-up physique. With male peers like Ja Rule taking their clothes off just as much as the female models in their videos, the Queens MC had to provide his "nummm-berrr one" with some alternative eye candy.
"I don't want my wife sitting down all day watching MTV and it ain't me she's looking at," he said, laughing. "I can't be having that. [Other rappers are] getting their bodies right, and L's gotta get his body right as well. All that inspires me, when I see guys getting in shape, and I hope it inspires the guys at home to get in shape. That's the best part of it, just the challenge. I just love the challenge of getting right and feeling right, because your mind operates better."
Like Madonna, L always seems to reinvent himself. On his last LP, 2000's G.O.A.T., he focused most his attention on the street. For the profanity-free 10, he goes back to his roots and kicks material for the ladies.
Just as L switched up, so did his producers. On "Luv U Better," for example, the Neptunes flipped their sought-after steelo of futuristic bleeps and bling sounds.
"It was a lot of fun," L remembered of working with the Neptunes. "We gel real good. We went [to Virginia Beach] to make one song. We ended up making, I don't know ... four, five, six records. I don't know how many we made. We worked together on my last project, but the records never came out.
"I didn't go to the Neptunes to make a record that sounded like every other record they produced," he said. "I went to them [so we could] share our talent, our mutual talent, and get together and create something fly. Sometimes that gets me in trouble, 'cause I don't imitate. That's why sometimes I make albums and they don't blow up and they don't get the response that other albums get."
LL Cool J collaborated another cat who knows a few things about innovation, P. Diddy, on "After School."
"He just rhymed on it," L said of his friend. "It was produced by the Dream Team, and I arranged it. It was a lot of fun. Puff, you know, is one of my best friends in the industry. We like to go out and eat and talk, and he likes to tell me how much money he has, like I'm not rich. Like I care. Like I'm not getting paid, Puff," he joked. "We had a good time in the studio. We were just wilding out, going crazy."
L said he didn't expect everybody to wild out when he proclaimed himself the best to grab the mic with the title of his last LP, G.O.A.T. Featuring James T. Smith: The Greatest of All Time.
He echoes those sentiments now when considering where he stands among rap's legends.
"I just admire cats like Big Daddy Kane, I think my man is absolutely blazing," he said. "I love his lyrics and he cooks some mean fish, Kane. Rakim, I just seen him out in L.A., another cat that I think is real gifted. Pharoahe Monch, he's an artist whose moment is coming. It hasn't arrived for him yet, but it's coming, 'cause he's really talented. My man got some hot lyrics. The stuff that he did on that P.O.D. remix album was crazy. There are a lot of cats out there that are hot.
"I'm just one of the really good ones," LL said of his position in hip-hop's annals. "Not any better then anybody else. It's never a fair comparison, because first of all, there's so many great artists. I mean, Biggie and Pac were such tremendous artists, and they didn't even get a chance to mature in their careers. So I don't know what Biggie's 10th album would have sounded like, or what Pac's 10th album would have sounded like. It might have been even more amazing than the first two. There's so many great artists out there. I really don't even think about that as much as people would believe."
LL Lover Has To Cool It
HUNKY hip-hop star LL Cool J has scored his latest hit - while filming an ad for Virgin mobile.
The US rapper spent the whole shoot being pestered by a production worker who'd taken quite a shine to the 36-year-old.
According to our mole: "It was embarrassing. A woman working behind the scenes fancied him and just wouldn't leave him alone."
Cool J was in Miami filming the ad, which shows him helping a pal move his dead grandmother's things... only to be caught with her pants on his face!
Another ad in the series shows Missy Elliott caught in an equally embarrassing situation.
Our spy said: "Cool J was a great sport, but he was a bit put out by his new fan. She practically licked his biceps at one point.
"She was saying she was determined to get the star into bed."
Happily, 3am can reveal the stalker failed in her lustful mission.
"He was eventually rescued," says our source, "He was a true professional and only there to shoot the clip and then leave.
"It goes without saying the lady in question was very disappointed."
Sounds like the rapper had a lucky escape!
LL Cool J Fights Off Persistent Female Admirer
Hip hop rapper LL COOL J was the centre of unwanted attention during the filming of a recent TV commercial, after an over-zealous production worker refused to leave him alone.
The ROCK THE BELLS singer had to literally fight off his new fan's advances as he shot the mobile phone advertisement for VIRGIN in Miami, Florida.
A source says, "It was embarrassing. A woman working behind the scenes fancied him and just wouldn't leave him alone.
"Cool J was a great sport, but he was a bit put out by his new fan. She practically licked his biceps at one point."
LL Cool J: 'I'm Not Too Old To Rap'
Rapper LL COOL J has blasted claims he's too old to make hip-hop music insisting he produces better albums than most young artists.
The 36-year-old hunk refuses to retire from the music industry because, like his idol MICHAEL JACKSON, he believes his music get better with age.
He says, "You tell me how many 20-year-olds have got better albums than me. You can't name that many. You gotta remember I started when I was very young.
"There's others who came out way before me who are older, but people look at me like I'm the old guy. It's crazy. When Michael Jackson made OFF THE WALL everyone asked him how he could follow it, and he dropped THRILLER.
"I think my best stuff is still in front of me."
LL Cool J: 'My Fans Can Be Anyone'
Hip-hop star LL COOL J's fanbase no longer has a specific demographic now he's approaching middle-age.
The AIN'T NOBODY rapper, who has also acted in a number of movies including S.W.A.T. and ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, is amazed by how eclectic his fans are, but claims this is to be expected considering he released his first album, RADIO, in 1985.
The 36-year-old says, "It's anything from eight years old to 65 or 70, a really broad mix.
"I have two different interviews. There's the older guys who don't understand how I'm doing it anymore because maybe they're not as intense about rap as they were.
"Then I got the 19 or 20-year-olds, going, 'I love LUV U BETTER, that remix you did with J.LO was hot.'
"Just because the guys who grew up with my music and became mailmen are paying their bills and maybe don't listen to the radio, that doesn't mean that LL Cool J goes away. All of my albums are multi-platinum."