LL Cool J Tells Mike Tyson About The Boxing Royalty In His Family (Video)
LL Cool J and Mike Tyson’s relationship goes back nearly 35 years. Cool James name-checked Iron Mike on 1987’s “I’m Bad” with the boxing-inspired bars: “I’m like Tyson, icin’, I’m a soldier at war / I’m makin’ sure you don’t try to battle me no more / Got concrete rhymes, been rappin’ for 10 years / And even when I’m bragging, I’m bein’ sincere.” That was years before L used the art form of boxing to illustrate his Rap victory in 1990’s “Mama Said Knock You Out.” For much of the same time that Mike was the champ of the ring, LL ruled Rap.
These superstars recently reunited for Tyson’s Hotboxin’ podcast, with Eben Britton. In a nearly two-hour interview, LL and Mike revisit some of their overlapping histories, including the Rap star visiting Mike behind bars during his 1990s incarceration. The two celebrities trade stories of meeting Frank Sinatra, Quincy Jones, and others.
However, what may be most interesting in the discussion is LL Cool J opening up about his bloodline. He comes from a pedigree of great fighters, something he learned later in life. In unpacking this personal history, the founder of Rock The Bells radio also shows his passion for the sport.
“Everybody knows that Finding Your Roots is this show with Henry Louis Gates,” begins LL at 8:00. “I went just [as a] normal thing [that was going to uncover the basics].” As Professor Gates grabbed information from LL about his parents, it uncovered some things he did not know. “To make a long story short, my mother was actually adopted, and we didn’t know. Then we found out that my [newly-discovered biological family] weren’t slaves. They got free, and [stayed free]. Then, he started digging deeper and finding all of this information about my boxing family history.”
The guest continues, “I always loved boxing, just naturally.” He points to artwork throughout his career that illustrates this passion. “I’ve always loved it. This is not an act. This is real!” He adds that a boxer’s spirit is more important than toughness, which Mike Tyson soundly agrees with. “Come to find out that my grandfather was a boxer, Nathaniel Christy Lewis. My uncle is actually the first Black Light-Heavyweight Champion in America, period: John Henry Lewis—the first ever lineal Heavyweight Champion, not just a belt-holder, a lineal Heavyweight Champion. Then, through John Henry Lewis, [I] found out in my family I didn’t know about, Tom Molineaux is another ancestor, who was a bare-knuckle champion.”
Tyson reacts to the name. “I might start cryin’,” says the champ regarding the boxer who died in 1818. Choked up, Tyson continues, “He was the best slave fighter in America. Nobody in an American slave plantation could beat him. He won his freedom—but you don’t understand. He won his freedom [in a fight]. They gave him his freedom and $500 in the late 1700s.” LL Cool J says that because of Molineaux, his mother’s side of the family leaves slavery well before Abolition.
Tyson continues, “After [he was freed], he beat all the slaves; he can’t fight slaves no more. So he beats all the American free fighters. He’s the first slave that could beat everybody in the country. He’s a slave; he sleeps on the floor—he beat every man in a fair fight, in America. So they call for him to come all over. He beat everybody in Australia [and other places]. So they call for him to come beat the greatest fighter since the beginning of England. His name is Tom Cribb.” Passionately, Mike describes leaders like Napoleon Bonaparte gambling on the 1810 boxing match. “[During the fight, Tom Molineaux] was handling Cribb with no problem. So he’s beating Cribb; the English people are getting worried. They crack [Molineaux] over the head with an iron pipe. And they let Cribb win; they [did not] stop the fight.” Tyson states, “He’s a Black man [from] America. He doesn’t have no rights? He’s gonna beat the greatest fighter of our era? No way. We’re gonna stop him.”
LL Cool J notes illustrated accounts of the 1810 match. “I’m just going by [history],” Mike clarifies. Both men agree on understanding that Tom Molineaux’s career never recovered. Within the decade, he passed away at the age of 34. “He gave so much inspiration to fighters from that time on,” says Mike Tyson, adding that he was tapped to play the fighter in films.
“Finding this out was the craziest thing in the world, ’cause I just had no idea. I just always loved the spirit of boxing. That’s why I made Mama Said Knock You Out and all these records; I always just loved that vibe. To discover this was [powerful],” the guest admits. LL adds that since Finding Your Roots, he has connected with his newfound family. “My aunt Joan, she was actually one of the first female Black Panthers—female recruit, as a young, 15-16-year-old girl.” He provides some additional history on his bloodline, before returning to boxing.
Elsewhere in the conversation, LL Cool J discusses his health regimen, including some careful work with the heavy bag. Additionally, he explains hand-selecting songs and doing the programming for Sirius XM’s Rock The Bells station.
In April, LL Cool J and Dr. Dre revealed they have recently recorded more than 40 songs together. In that conversation, L interviewed Dre.
#BonusBeat: A clip from LL Cool J’s episode of Finding Your Roots: