Happy 50th Birthday To LL Cool J. Celebrate The Original G.O.A.T. (Video)
Today marks the 50th birthday of James Todd Smith, best known as beloved Queens, New York MC, LL Cool J. Born January 14, 1968, “Ladies Love Cool James” has always had an undeniable impact in Hip-Hop.
As an adolescent, LL Cool J reportedly recorded his own demos using a mixer his grandfather had purchased for him as a gift, sending them to labels throughout New York City in hopes of getting signed. After allegedly grabbing Rick Rubin’s phone number from the back cover of a T La Rock’s “It’s Yours” 12″ single, LL went on to impress Rubin and Def Jam Records co-founder Russell Simmons in a studio session that gave birth their first single, “I Need A Beat.” The single was released in 1984 and was a commercial success that helped Def Jam nab a pivotal distribution deal with Columbia Records.
LL recorded and released his debut record, Radio, in 1985. The record was a massive commercial success for Hip-Hop at the time, selling half a million records within the first five months of its release. With LL’s aggressive, braggadocio Rap style and Rick Rubin’s minimalist production, Radio joined the work of Run-D.M.C. in signaling a new wave of sound for the culture and genre.
Following Radio was 1987’s Bigger And Deffer, selling over 3 million copies sold in the United States alone. He continued his successful run 1989’s Walking With A Panther and 1990’s esteemed follow-up Mama Said Knock You Out, an album with a title track that birthed one of the most influential lines in Rap history: “Don’t call it a comeback / I’ve been here for years.” That vocal upper-cut, produced by the Juice Crew’s Marley Marl, would grab LL his first taste of Grammy gold.
It is that spirit that has always resonated with the living legend. LL Cool J, while accessible to and recognized by the mainstream, maintained the bravado and competitive spirit associated with early and pure Hip-Hop. From battling an established and Rap mainstay five years his senior in Kool Moe Dee to attacking late-’90s sensation Canibus, L is a ready-to-rumble MC who always kept it on wax. He built his exceptional battle record on bars.
LL also endured another shift in Rap music’s sound and narrative in the mid-’90s. His double-platinum late ’95 effort Mr. Smith played with R&B guests and sampling in an innovative way. The Boyz II Men-assisted “Hey Lover” snagged a second Grammy, while J dusted off his mastered “I Need Love” formula for a series of hit Rap records about romance in an era of flexing and machismo.
During the pivotal ’90s period, Uncle L also focused on an acting career that dated back to Krush Groove, starring in films such as The Hard Way and Toys, and starring in films as Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, Deep Blue Sea and In Too Deep. After leading In The House in the era of the family sitcom, LL Cool J is now a lead in NCIS: Los Angeles and hosts Lip Sync Battle on Spike. LL has also published a series of books, including fitness guides as well as memoir I Make My Own Rules.
The self-proclaimed “G.O.A.T.” MC hosted the Grammy Awards (after two wins in the ’90s) for five consecutive years from 2012 through 2016. He nabbed a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2016. Last year, LL Cool J became the first rapper to be celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors. He also received Harvard University’s W.E.B. DuBois Medal.
A big salute to LL Cool J on celebrating 50 years of a healthy, prosperous life. This Rap architect has given Heads nearly 35 years of great albums, incredible records, and culture across the mediums. Reportedly more than 10 songs in on something with Dr. Dre (his first project in close to five years), James Todd Smith is still “B.A.D.” on the M-I-C.