James Todd Smith (born January 14, 1968), better known as LL Cool J, is an American rapper and actor. LL Cool J stands for "Ladies Love Cool James." He is known for romantic ballads such as "I Need Love" and "Hey Lover" as well as pioneering hip-hop such as "I Can't Live Without My Radio", "I'm Bad", "The Boomin' System", "Mama Said Knock You Out", and "4, 3, 2, 1". L has also appeared in several films. LL Cool J is one of a few hip-hop stars of his era to sustain a successful recording career for more than two decades. He has released twelve studio albums and a greatest hits compilation so far, with his latest album, Exit 13, released September 9, 2008. The album will be the last for LL's record deal with Def Jam Recordings, a deal which has lasted for over twenty two years, making it the longest single hip hop deal to date. He now resides in Manhasset, New York with his wife and four children.
LL spent most of his youth singing in the church choir, participating in the Boy Scouts, and delivering newspapers. At age 16, by using a mixing table purchased by his grandfather, Smith produced and created demos and sent them to various record companies, including Def Jam Recordings.
Under his new stage name, LL Cool J (Ladies Love Cool James), Def Jam released his first record, the 12" single "I Need a Beat". The single sold over 100,000 copies and helped establish LL as a rapper in the music industry. The success of "I Need a Beat" helped lead to a distribution deal with Def Jam and Columbia Records in 1985. Soon after, LL dropped out of Andrew Jackson High School to record his debut album.
was released to critical acclaim, as LL Cool J was one of the first rappers to use conventional song structure to make pop oriented rap. "I Can't Live Without My Radio
" and "Rock the Bells
" were successful and helped the album go platinum with 1,500,000 sales.
Bigger and Deffer (1987)
In 1987, he released Bigger and Deffer
. The ballad "I Need Love
" was one of the first hit pop-rap songs. Also featured on the album was "Go Cut Creator Go
," which pays homage to the DJ. The album was met with commercial and critical acclaim going 2x Platinum. The album sold about 2,300,000 albums. In 1998, The Source Magazine named it as one of the top 100 albums ever. At this point LL was on top of the rap world, and was making frequent appearances on television shows and on radio as he was being featured on other Def Jam
"I Need Love" was the second single from LL Cool J's second album, Bigger and Deffer. The song is considered the first rap ballad and was released in the fall of 1987. It reached #1 on the R&B/Hip Hop charts and was a well-received single on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, reaching #14, while becoming one of the first rap songs to enjoy mainstream popularity in the UK, reaching #8 in the UK Singles Chart. The single won a Soul Train Music Award for Best Rap - Single in 1987. The song was parodied in 2000 by Brooklyn rapper Necro in his song "I Need Drugs", which alters the lyrics to a narrative of a man's addiction to crack cocaine. The song ranked #13 on the 100 Greatest Rap Songs.
Walking with a Panther (1989)
LL Cool J would return in 1989 with his third album, Walking with a Panther.
The album featured the hit singles
"Going Back to Cali
"I'm That Type of Guy
," "Jingling Baby
," and "Big Ole Butt
." The album was a commercial success. This album came out during a time that the West Coast hip hop
scene was beginning to really become popular and its gangsta themes were dominating radio. Despite this, the album went platinum with 1,100,000 sales.
Mama Said Knock You Out (1990)
Following this, LL released Mama Said Knock You Out
, generally leaning towards a tough street image. The record reestablished his reputation in the hip-hop community. It spawned three hit singles, "The Boomin' System
," "Around the Way Girl
," and the title track, which received special notice after LL Cool J's dynamic performance of it during an episode of MTV Unplugged
. It was also featured in the film The Hard Way
. The album included themes of police misconduct (Illegal Search
), spirituality (Power of God), his career troubles ("Cheesy Rat Blues"), along with back-to-basics hip-hop party rocking and balladry ("Around the Way Girl"). Mama Said...
eventually went on to sell over 2,700,000 copies. It marked the first of many self-reinventions LL Cool J would undergo to adapt to hip-hop's often changing atmosphere.
14 Shots to the Dome (1993)
14 Shots to the Dome
was LL's fifth album. The album had three singles ("How I'm Comin'", "Back Seat" and the strangely titled "Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag Getting Crushed by Buildings") and guest-featured labelmates Lords of the Underground
on "NFA-No Frontin' Allowed". The album was considered a commercial failure. Fans turned a deaf ear because of its lack of a pop song or a lack of a single being released. The album still managed to certify platinum.
Mr. Smith (1995)
After acting in The Hard Way
, he released 14 Shots To The Dome
(1993) to muted sales and mixed reviews, despite producing the small hit "Back Seat of My Jeep." He starred in In the House
, an NBC sitcom
, before releasing Mr. Smith
(1995), which went on to sell over two million copies. Its singles, "Doin' It
" and "Loungin
", were two of the biggest songs in 1996 and both songs' music videos
were hugely successful on MTV
. Another of the album's singles, "Hey Lover
", featured Boyz II Men
sampling Michael Jackson
's "The Lady in My Life," which eventually became one of the first hip hop music videos to air on American VH1
. The song also earned LL a Grammy Award
. Yet another single from the album, "I Shot Ya Remix", is notable for providing the opportunity for upcoming rapper Foxy Brown
to start her career.
Phenomenon and beef with Canibus (1997)
After the double platinum
success of Mr. Smith
, LL began work on his next album. In 1997, he released the album Phenomenon
. The first single, "Phenomenon
" as well as the autobiographical
"Father" were minor hits. The official second single from Phenomenon
was "4, 3, 2, 1," which featured Method Man
& Master P
and introduced DMX
. In the original version of the song, Canibus rapped "Yo L, is that a mic on your arm? Lemme borrow that", referring to LL's tattoo
of a microphone on his arm. LL heard the verse, interpreted it as a diss, and responded to it with his own verse. This essentially created a battle between two MCs in the same song. In an attempt to calm tension, LL later called Canibus to say he saw the line as disrespect, and asked him to change it, to which Canibus complied. LL did not remove his verse, believing that with Canibus' verse gone no one would know who he was referring to in his verse. However, the original version of the song was leaked to the public. This would set up a rivalry. Canibus released his single "Second Round K.O.", containing lyrics dissing LL, who later responded with "Ripper Strikes Back." In this song he not only dissed Wyclef
, Canibus' producer, but went on to berate ex-friend Mike Tyson
for appearing on "Second Round K.O." LL did another diss, with "Back Where I Belong" featuring Ja Rule
. Canibus replied to both tracks with his "Rip the Jacker
" using LL's "I'm Bad" backing track.
In 2000, LL Cool J released the album G.O.A.T.
, which stood for the "greatest of all time." It debuted at number one on the Billboard album charts, giving him his first chart-topper on that chart. The album produce the numbers of LL's previous releases going platinum. The album featured the infamous diss record "Back Where I Belong," featuring Ja Rule
. Ironically, LL thanked Canibus in the liner notes of the album, "for the inspiration".
LL Cool J's next album 10
from 2002, which denoted LL's 9th studio (the nomenclature behind the album's title apparently includes his greatest hits compilation All World), did fare much better than his 8th. Although it included the popular singles "Paradise
" (featuring Amerie
), "Luv U Better
," and the hit 2003 Jennifer Lopez
duet, "All I Have
," the album reached platinum status.
The DEFinition (2004)
LL Cool J's 10th album The DEFinition
was released on August 31, 2004. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts. Production came from Timbaland
, 7 Aurelius
, R. Kelly
, and others. The lead single was the Timbaland-produced "Headsprung," which peaked at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100. The second single was the 7 Aurelius
-produced, "Hush," which peaked at #26 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Todd Smith (2006)
LL Cool J's studio album, Todd Smith
, was released on April 11, 2006. It includes collaborations with 112
, Juelz Santana
, Teairra Mari
. The first single was the Jermaine Dupri
produced "Control Myself" aka the "zzz song" which was with singer Jennifer "J-Lo" Lopez
. Cool J and J.Lo shot the video for "Control Myself
" on January 2, 2006 at Sony Studios, New York
. The second video, directed by Hype Williams
, was "Freeze" featuring Lyfe Jennings
. The album didn't perform well as some of its predecessors. LL has shifted the blame of the disappointing album on his own lack of focus in addition to Def Jam and the former President, Jay-Z
Exit 13 (2008)
In July 2006, LL announced details about his final album with Def Jam recordings, the only label he has ever been signed to. The album is titled Exit 13
. The album was originally scheduled be executively produced by fellow Queens rapper 50 Cent
. Exit 13
was originally slated for a fall 2006 release, however, after a 2 year delay, it was released September 9, 2008 without 50 as the executive producer. Tracks that the two worked on were leaked to the Internet and some of the tracks produced with 50 made it to Exit 13.
LL Cool J partnered with DJ Kay Slay to release a mixtape called The Return of the G.O.A.T.. It is LL's first mixtape of his 24 year career. The mixtape includes LL freestyling on new beats in addition to other rappers giving their rendition of classic LL songs. A track entitled "Hi Haterz" was leaked onto the internet on June 01, 2008. The song contains LL Cool J rapping over the instrumental to Maino's "Hi Hater". He will be touring with Janet Jackson on her Rock Witchu Tour, confirmed on Jermaine Dupri's YouTube account videos.
Other works and ventures
Smith had previously dabbled in fashion, having worked behind the scenes with the mid-eighties Hip-Hop sportswear line TROOP.
In the mid 90's, LL also helped to launch a clothing line named FUBU — an acronym for "For Us, By Us", meaning the clothes were made for, and marketed to, African-Americans by African-Americans. LL was a spokesperson for the brand in addition to being a model for the clothing. Unbeknownst to many, LL was also part owner of FUBU as well.
LL Cool J launched a clothing line (also called Todd Smith). The initial concept of the brand seemed to focus towards the higher end of the market with a less expensive brand called "T.S". The aim of marketing for the clothes line is to be oriented towards the clothing rather than LL Cool J. It now seems that the brand has shifted to quality urban apparel.
LL was featured on the front cover of the August 2008 Men's Fitness magazine.
LL Cool J has authored four books, with his first venture in 1998 "I Make My Own Rules", his autobiography co-written with Karen Hunter
. His second venture into the literary world came with the children-oriented book called "And The Winner Is..." in 2002. In 2006, LL and with his personal trainer, Dave "Scooter" Honig wrote a fitness book, "The Platinum Workout". His fourth book "LL Cool J (Hip-Hop Stars)" was co-written in 2007 with hip-hop historian Dustin Shekell
and Public Enemy
's Chuck D.
Businessman and entrepreneur
LL has started his own businesses in the music industry such as the music label in 1993 called P.O.G. (Power Of God) and formed the company Rock The Bells
to produce music. With the Rock The Bells label, LL had artists such as Amyth, Smokeman and Simone Starks. LL's involvement with the artists would extend to co-producing and writing songs for his artists. Rufus "Scola" Waller
was also signed to the label, but was released when the label folded. LL has since founded another record label, "Platinum Harvest," and also signing a 15 year old rapper named, Nicolette. In the midst of his controversial comments concerning then-Def Jam President Jay-Z
, LL admitted that he was once part owner of Def Jam but has since sold his ownership. He was offered the role as President of Def Jam, but he reportedly turned down the position 10 years ago (as of year 2007) based on his belief that he was not qualified enough.
LL has had his share of acting roles and cameos in various television shows and movies. LL has stated that his main inspiration and influence for becoming an actor is from the late martial artist Bruce Lee
. His first major acting role was as Captain Patrick Zevo, the militant cousin of Robin Williams
in the cult classic Toys
, although previously he had a non acting cameo in the 1985
hip-hop movie, Krush Groove
. He also had a supporting role in the Renny Harlin film Deep Blue Sea
as Preacher, a recovering alcoholic who had found religion
and worked as the chef for the wet-lab.
LL has appeared in many TV series, with one of his earliest guest appearance as the teacher Mr. Throneberry on the cult Nickelodeon children's series The Adventures of Pete & Pete, to more recent as a death row convict on the show House. His longest role on television was Marion Hill in the NBC and UPN sitcom In the House for five seasons before the show was cancelled. In 1999, LL starred as a drug kingpin Dwayne Gittens, who called himself "God", in the movie In Too Deep. LL also co-starred in the 2003 featured film remake of 1975 TV series S.W.A.T. Playing "Deacon 'Deke' Kay".
MTV Video Music Awards
NAACP Image Awards
- 1996 - Best Rap Artist, for "Mr. Smith"
- 1997 - Best Rap Artist, for "Mr. Smith"
- 2001 - Outstanding Hip-Hop/Rap Artist, for "G.O.A.T."
- 2003 - Outstanding Male Artist
Soul Train Music Awards
Blockbuster Entertainment Awards
The New York Music Awards
Soul Train Awards
Rock The Vote Award
- 1997 - "Patrick Lippert Award"
- 2003 - Source Foundation Image Award, for "his community work"
Long Island Music Hall of Fame
- 2007 - Inducted as part of the Inaugural Class of Inductees for his contribution to Long Island's rich musical heritage