LL COOL J BIOGRAPHY:
James Todd Smith III was born on January 14, 1968 in Bay Shore, Long Island, New York. Better known by his stage name of LL Cool J, which stands for "Ladies Love Cool James", LL grew up in the working-class neighborhood of St. Albans, Queens, as the only child of James Smith, Jr. and Ondrea Smith.
Unfortunately, LL's parents had a troublesome and often violent, relationship. As a result, his mother left his father when LL was four years old and they moved in with her parents in St. Albans. The relationship then turned bloody, late one night in 1972, when his father shot his mother after she returned home from work. According to LL Cool J, who recounted the event in the song "Father" from his Phenomenon album, his dad was seeking revenge after being abandoned by his family. LL's father shot his mother as she ran into her parents' house for safety, taking bullets to her legs and back. LL's grandfather was also shot in the stomach but both survived the shooting.
LL Cool J lived in North Babylon, Long Island, New York with his mother in his junior high years. After the shooting his mother began dating a man who would also bring much pain into the young rapper's life. The man, whom LL named Roscoe in his autobiography, would routinely beat him, often while his mother was at work. These beatings had a profound effect on young LL. He stated that around this time he began compulsively wearing hats. LL found that hip hop music and rapping were ways of escaping his problems. He grew up in a musical family; his grandfather played tenor saxophone, his mother played accordion and his grandmother, Ellen Griffith, sang in the choir. LL Cool J followed in his grandmothers footsteps also singing in the church choir. But by thr age of 11, LL turned his attention fully on rapping, and by the age of 12, he had made his first studio recording.
LL Cool J used to hip hop records and get the label's address from those albums, in order for him to send them his own demo tapes when he was young. After he sent a tape to Def Jam, Ad Rock, a member of the Beastie Boys, found his tape while in Rick Rubin's dorm room and convinced Rick & Russell Simmons to sign LL.
LL Cool J was the first artist signed to Def Jam in 1984 and released the underground hit "I Need a Beat". The song was the first hit record for Def Jam, and its success persuaded him to drop out of school to record his debut, entitled Radio which hit the streets on November 18, 1985. He was seventeen years old when it was released.
The 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. "Rock the Bells" and another track, "Dear Yvette", both spawned 'answer records' to which L.L. never responded. Rick Rubin's sparse production was also influential; its stripped-down beats and gritty sound inspired The Bomb Squad (best known for producing Public Enemy) and several other future hip-hop producers. "I Want You" and "I Can Give You More" are often considered the first hip hop ballads.
Radio peaked at #6 Billboard's Top R&B;/Hip Hop Albums chart. It ranks at #69 on Rolling Stone magazine's "100 Best LPs of the 80s", and in 2003, the album was ranked number 478 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In 1998, the album was also selected as one of The Source Magazine's 100 Best Rap Albums.
"Rock the Bells" was supposed to be the music video for the first album, but LL Cool J overslept the first day of shooting the video. Afterwards, Rick Rubin said that there will be no music video of "Rock the Bells".
In 1987, LL followed up his debut release with the album Bigger and Deffer, released on July 1, 1987. The front cover photograph on the album Bigger and Deffer was taken in front of LL's local high school, and the back cover was shot in his grandmothers basement where he was living at the time. The album contained the ballad "I Need Love", which was one of the first hit pop-rap songs. It also contains the single "Go Cut Creator Go", which pays homage to his DJ, and the breakthrough single in the U.K. "I'm Bad".
In 1998, the album was selected as one of The Source Magazine's 100 Best Rap Albums. Although the album was a strong follow up from his debut Critics generally denounced the albums direction, and by the release of LL's third album, Walking With a Panther, he was booed at a Harlem rally for slain teenager Yusef Hawkins.
Released on March,28 1989, LL Cool J's tird album Walking With A Panther was a commercial success, with several charting singles ("Going Back to Cali," "I'm That Type of Guy", "Jingling Baby," "Big Ole Butt"), but despite this success the album was often criticized by the hip-hop community as being too commercial, and focusing too much on love ballads, albeit with some highly danceable songs. Around the late 1980s, hip hop began experiencing a shift in consciousness away from the music's early themes of partying, to more socially aware issues such as drug abuse, race and racism, and economic empowerment. LL Cool J, as a result of Hip Hop's transformation, began to experience a drop in popularity, mainly due to the view that his music was behind the times and too materialistic.
LL reacted to this drop in popularity with his next release in 1990, Mama Said Knock You Out. The album generally leaned more towards a tough street image, and got its title due to many people feeling that LL Cool J's career was waning, yet his grandmother, who still believed in his talent, told him to "knock out" all the critics. Released on September 18, 1990 after the fallout of the ongoing feud with Kool Moe Dee, the album marked the first of many self-reinventions LL Cool J would undergo during his long career, in order to adapt to hip-hop's ever changing atmosphere. Made as a comeback album after the critics destroyed his previous release, Walking With a Panther, Mama Said Knock You Out revived the hardcore image of LL Cool J's early days which were damaged by his previous album. It was a critical and commercial success, and helped restore his reputation as a hip-hop icon.
The album spawned four hit singles: "The Boomin' System," "Around the Way Girl," the hard-hitting title track itself (which received huge attention after LL Cool J's dynamic performance of it during an episode of MTV's Unplugged), and "6 Minutes Of Pleasure." The diss record "To Da Break Of Dawn" from the album was named number 11 on XXL's 20 greatest diss records of all time. The album included themes of police misconduct, spirituality, aswell as back-to-basics hip-hop party rocking. All tracks on the album were produced by hip hop legend Marley Marl, except for "Jingling Baby (Remixed But Still Jingling,)" which was produced by LL himself. The album reached No. 16 in the U.S. charts, and eventually went on to sell over two million copies according to the RIAA. In 2005, comedian Chris Rock listed it as the sixth greatest hip-hop album ever in a guest article for Rolling Stone. The album also recieved a 5 star rating in the All Music Guide.
The albums title track, Mama Said Knock You Out, produced by Bobby "Bobcat" Ervin and DJ Marley Marl, won Best Rap Solo Performance at the Grammy Awards of 1992. The tracks music video features LL Cool J in a boxing ring, rapping into a microphone similar to what an announcer would use in a boxing bout. Since its release the song has become synonymous with boxing. The song's famous beginning is "Don't call it a comeback / I've been here for years", this addressed the fact that most people in hip hop beleived LL was on his way out, this album proved to them he was here to stay. The Song is also featured in the popular video game "Def Jam: Fight For NY" released in 2004.
For the two years after Mama Said Knock You Out, LL turned his attention to acting and landed roles in the action-comedy film The Hard Way, released in 1991, and Toys in 1992, a surreal black comedy film starring Robin Williams. He then released the album '14 Shots To The Dome' on March 16, 1993. The album struggled to match the success of his previous, and highly successful "comeback" album Mama Said Knock You Out. Unlike that release, which saw him have success on his own terms, 14 Shots sees LL adopting the sound of artists within the West coast gangsta rap scene, especially that of Ice Cube, Dr Dre and Cypress Hill. Many fans believed it would even result in LL's departure from hip hop, and the album met mixed critical and commercial response, going only Gold, despite producing the small hit "Back Seat of My Jeep."
Before the release of LL's next album, he starred in In the House, an NBC sitcom, in which he plays a former professional football player with the Los Angeles Raiders. Because of his financial predicament, LL's character, Marion, is forced to rent out most rooms in his house to single a mother and her two children. The sitcom premiered April 10, 1995 originally on NBC, and ran for 5 seasons, its last episode aired on August 11, 1999 on UPN.
After completing the first series of In The House, LL released his sixth solo album, Mr. Smith, on November 21, 1995. After the commercially disappointing 14 Shots To The Dome, it was again a bit of a comeback effort for LL. The album was a success going 2x Platinum, spawning hit singles, and unlike his previous release, 14 Shots To The Dome, which focused on hardcore rap, this album sees LL concentrating on the ballads for which he is now famous. Its hit singles, "Doin' It" and "Loungin", were two of the biggest songs of 1996 and the music videos for both songs were hugely successful recieving regular rotation on MTV. Another of the album's singles, "Hey Lover", featured Boyz II Men sampling Michael Jackson's "Lady of my Life," which eventually became one of the first hip hop music videos to air on American VH1, and the song also earned LL a Grammy Award.
In 1996, LL also helped to launch a clothing line named FUBU. Today the clothing line is one of hip hop's biggest, and at its peak, FUBU grossed over $350 million dollars in annual worldwide takings. Around this time LL Cool J became partially involved in the East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry that was taking over Hip Hop at the time, a dispute remembered mostly for the war between two rival artists Notorious BIG (Biggie Smalls), and Tupac Shakur (2Pac).
when 2Pac dissed LL Cool J directly, it was in response to LL Cool J's tracks "I Shot Ya" and its remix, both of which were featured on his "Mr. Smith" album. Neither of the songs however mention 2Pac directly or the simmering East Coast-West Coast conflict. Tupac admired LL and even gave him a shout out on his song "Old School" in which 2pac praises all the rappers that influenced him, and who helped rap. But it seems LL didn't seem to be pleased with the whole Tupac situation and recorded a remix of his song "I Shot Ya", which brings to mind a song by Notorious BIG called "Who Shot Ya", which was a blatant diss at Tupac and his earlier shooting. Tupac thought LL's song was also about him being shot in New York. Tupac retaliated in tracks like "My Little Homies", saying "Say what nigga, I rock your motherfucking bells", referring to LL's song "I Rock The Bell". The song was only ever released after Tupac's death, later in 1996, yet like many rappers Tupac beefed with, LL continued to take shots at Tupac after he had passed away. On LL's later album "Phenomenon", he says: "She says she loves Tupac but hates LL. Do you really want a Thug or do you want love", albeit this line is not too distastefull, but LL is still dissing Tupac when he can no longer defend himself!
After the double platinum status of "Mr. Smith", Cool J's albums have not been able to regain the same levels of success. On October 14, 1997, he released the album Phenomenon, which was executively produced by Sean "Puffy" Combs and therefore features production from his in-house roster of producers The Hitmen. The first single, "Phenomenon" was a minor hit but the autobiographical single "Father" was a major hit. The other single off the album, "I Shot Ya Remix", provided the opportunity for upcoming rapper Foxy Brown to start her career. The album followed the same basic principles of LL's previous successful album, Mr Smith, with several R&B-influenced; tracks, and a couple of more hardcore Rap tracks, and although Phenomenon wasnt as big of a success as Mr Smith was, the album still went Platinum.
The second single from Phenomenon was "4, 3, 2, 1" which featured Method Man, Redman, DMX and Canibus. In the original version of the song, Canibus rapped "Yo L, is that a mic on your arm? Lemme borrow that", referring to Cool J's tattoo of a microphone. Cool J heard the verse, and believed this was a diss at him, and so LL responded to it with his own verse. This essentially created a battle between the two MCs in the same song. In an attempt to calm tension, Cool J later called Canibus to say he saw the line as disrespect, and asked him to change it, to which Canibus complied. Despite Canibus removing his verse, LL Cool J did not remove his own, or change it in any way, 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 and this then resulted in a rivalry between the two artists. Canibus released his single "Second Round K.O.", containing lyrics dissing Cool J, who later responded with the track, "Ripper Strikes Back." In this song LL Cool J not only dissed Wyclef, who at that tijme was Canibus' producer, but went on to berate ex-friend Mike Tyson for appearing on Canibus' "Second Round K.O." Cool J did another diss, with "Back Where I Belong" and Canibus replied to both tracks with his "Rip the Jacker" using LL's "I'm Bad" as a backing track. You can read more about this beef between LL Cool J and Canibus in or Canibus beef section here.
Before dropping his next album, LL visited the inmates at Rikers Island a week before writing material for the album, he then returned to the basement of his grandmotherís house to write some of the tracks. On September 12, 2000 that album was released, entitled "G.O.A.T.", which stood for the "greatest of all time." The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart, giving him his first chart-topper on that chart. But despite this G.O.A.T. failed to produce the numbers of Cool J's previous releases, stalling at gold status.
Two years later LL then released his 10th studio album, entitled "10", on October 15, 2002. The album peaked at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200. The album spawned chart topping hit singles including "Love U Better", produced by The Neptunes, which topped the R&b;/Hip Hop singles chart, which was also later sampled by Jay-Z in the song Excuse Me Miss. "Paradise" is the second single taken from the album, featuring R&B; singer Amerie. It also appears on the soundtrack to the 2003 film Deliver Us from Eva (in which LL Cool J stars alongside Gabrielle Union). Singer Tweet was originally slated to provide vocals but they instead went with Amerie.
"All I Have" was the next single, for Jennifer Lopez's third studio album, This Is Me... Then, which features LL Cool J. Released as the album's second single in early 2003, the song reached number one in the United States, New Zealand, and Mexico, and entered the top ten in Australia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, and Taiwan. The single was one of the most popular pop and R&B; singles of the spring of 2003, remaining on the top ten for twelve weeks; nineteen weeks on the top thirty; and twenty-one weeks on the top fifty. "All I Have" became Lopez's fourth U.S. number one, and the first for LL Cool J. But despite these hit singles the album did not do much better than his previous effort in terms of album sales figures.
His 11th album, The DEFinition, was released on August 31, 2004 and peaked at #4 on the U.S. Billboard 200. The album saw some hits and went gold as well.
Cool J's latest studio album, Todd Smith, was released on April 11, 2006. It includes collaborations with 112, Ginuwine, Juelz Santana, Teairra Mari and Freeway. The first single was the Jermaine Dupri produced "Control Myself," another song with singer Jennifer "J-Lo" Lopez. "Control Myself" was originally set up to feature Fergie (from The Black Eyed Peas), however a difference in terms of payment resulted into her being replaced by Jennifer 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. Cool J has blamed disappointing sales of the album on Def Jam President Jay-Z. The two rappers are rumoured to have been on bad terms before hand, especially since LL came under scrutiny for never developing a new artist despite his longevity in the rap game, an issue which may have come to the forefront when Jay-Z was chosen as President of Def-Jam over LL, despite LL been the labels first signed artist, and remaining loyal to Def Jam for over 20 years.
Todd Smith scored horrible reviews, even though most critics enjoyed the tracks "Preserve The Sexy" and "Freeze". The album shipped 500,000 copies but sold just 367,000 copies. Despite the fact the album debuted at number-six, it quickly fell off in 6 weeks which makes Todd Smith the only LL Cool J album to fall off the Billboard 200 Chart without going Platinum. The album premiered on the Billboard charts at #6, selling 116,000 units and premiered at #79 on the UK albums chart and #40 in Canada.
In July 2006, LL announced details about his final album with Def Jam recordings, the only label he has ever been signed to, a deal which has lasted over 20 years. The album is titled Exit 13, because it is his 13th album to date and it will be his exit from Def Jam records. The album will reportedly be executively produced by fellow Queens rapper 50 Cent. The duo have worked together previously on the remix to the single "Freeze" from the Todd Smith LP, which was titled "Bump This".
Exit 13 had been slated for a fall 2006 release, however, the album did not emerge and now seems likely to surface in late 2007 instead. This album will also be the first LL Cool J album since G.O.A.T. to contain parental advisory lyrics. Also, to much surprise, LL Cool J and rapper, Kool Moe Dee have ended thier beef and are shockingly recording a song together called "Ghetto Love".
When LL becomes a free agent he has been rumored to be signing deal with Columbia Records or G-Unit Records.
Get More Info & Media For LL COOL J In Our Hip Hop Forum »