LL Cool J Will Be Hip-Hop’s First Kennedy Center Honoree
For nearly 40 years, the Kennedy Center Honors have celebrated people in the performing arts who have made significant contributions to American culture during their lifetimes. Unlike the Grammy Awards, Academy Awards and other such award shows, the Kennedy Center Honors do not focus on a single art form. Instead, they cover the entirety of the artistic world, from classical musicians to acclaimed film directors to celebrated playwrights. Each year, five recipients are chosen, with past honorees including such luminaries as Oprah Winfrey, James Brown, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Marilyn Monroe and Robert Deniro, to name a few. However, out of the nearly 200 honorees, none have represented Hip-Hop, until now.
Today, the 2017 Kennedy Center Honorees were announced and, among them, was LL Cool J. LL is joined by Lionel Richie, Gloria Estefan, choreographer Carmen de Lavallade and television producer Norman Lear (All In The Family, The Jeffersons, Good Times).
From the moment he burst onto the scene with his show-stopping cameo in the film Krush Groove, LL Cool J was larger than life. In the 1980s, LL became Rap’s first bonafide solo superstar, taking the torch from icons like Kurtis Blow and Kool Moe Dee, and running with it. Not only was LL bad, ladies truly did love cool James Todd Smith. At a time when Rap was still taken for a fad, LL was able to remain in the spotlight for his music for nearly 20 years. That was a feat reserved for a very select few in any genre, and it earned him the right to coin the phrase and dub himself the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all-time).
While LL stepped away from music in the early 2000s, he did not step away from the spotlight. He began to build on his acting career that also began with Krush Goove, eventually landing a starring role on CBS’ NCIS: Los Angeles, that has endured since 2009. In between his acting, he became a recurring host of the Grammy Awards and is even reported to be making new music with Dr. Dre.
In a statement, LL said of the honor “My late grandmother passed some wise advice to me: ‘If a task is once begun, never leave it ’til it’s done. Be thy labor great or small, do it well or not at all.’ That adage has guided everything I have ever done in my life and I couldn’t be more grateful because it has led me here. To be the first Rap artist honored by the Kennedy Center is beyond anything I could have imagined. I dedicate this honor to the Hip-Hop artists who came before me and those who came after me. This simply proves that dreams don’t have deadlines. God is great.”
The Kennedy Center Honors gala will take place on December 3, and will air on CBS on December 28. Given the gala’s location in Washington, D.C., it has been customary for the President of the United States to attend the event and host an accompanying reception. This year, Donald Trump, and First Lady Melania Trump, will continue the tradition, and it has already caused some controversy. Lear, whose work often rose to political satire, has already said he will not attend the gala. In a statement to the New York Times, LL refused to let the presidency cast a shadow on his honor. “I don’t have any stunts planned. I’m not saying I need to be there backslapping and all of that, but this time, this one ain’t about him,” LL said of Trump. “I’m not going to block my blessings or let the political divide stop me from embracing my art. I’m banking on the goodness and the optimism of people to say: ‘You know what? I get it. Let this guy have this honor.’”
Last year, Q-Tip was named the first Artistic Director of Hip-Hop Culture for the Kennedy Center. When the appointment was announced, Q-Tip issued a statement that has now become prophetic. “We see Hip-Hop in our films, we see it in our commercials, we hear it everywhere. We cannot escape that beat. That beat, that pulse is what we’re going to connect to at the Kennedy Center,” he said. It is poetic that LL, the first Kennedy Center Hip-Hop honoree, entered into the music business with the single “I Need A Beat.” Indeed, his beat has connected and has now made history.