LL Cool J

LL Cool J , 1968- , African-American rapper and actor, b. Queens, N.Y., as James Todd Smith. Smith had a tragic upbringing, with his father shooting both his mother and grandfather when he was just four years old; both nearly died from their injuries. He began rapping when he was 10 years old, influenced by the success of Grandmaster Flash. Taking the name of LL Cool J (“Ladies Love Cool James”), Smith signed with Def Jam records, scoring success with his first release, “I Need A Beat” (1984). His album Radio (1985) is considered among his best work, noteworthy for its innovative production and his powerful rapping. His follow-up, Bigger and Deffer (1987), featured his first #1 R&B hit, “I Need Love.” With his commercial success, Cool J started to feel pushback from more hardcore fans who accused him of selling out. However, he returned to his more hard-edged roots with the album Mama Said Knock You Out (1990), with its title track winning a Grammy for Best Solo Rap Performance in 1992. His albums continued to sell well through the next decades, with his last major release, Authentic, appearing in 2013; since then, he has announced several albums as forthcoming but also hinted that he might retire from music. Along with his musical career, Cool J began acting, starring in the television sitcom In the House (1995-99) and in a series of movies and guest TV appearances. In 2009, he began his long-running role on NCIS-Los Angeles. LL Cool J was the first rapper to be honored at the Kennedy Center (2017) and he was inducted for Musical Excellence into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2021).

See his I Make My Own Rules (1997, with K. Hunter).

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