LL Cool J Discusses The Importance Of Owning All Of His Music (Video)

LL Cool J is one of Hip-Hop’s first artist-moguls. At the same time he established himself as one of the most dominant MCs of all time, James Todd Smith was adding film, fashion, and more to his resume. Appearing on Sway In The Morning this week, Uncle L also broke down how behind the scenes, he was writing and producing more than the credits suggest. Cool J was also a pioneer in making sure he owned his master recordings—a quality that artists like JAY-Z, Chance The Rapper, and more recently, 2 Chainz have previously boasted about.

At 12:00, LL Cool J asserts that he and Def Jam Records had a symbiotic relationship that allowed each other to be great. He acknowledges rapper T La Rock’s work with Partytime Records and Def Jam Productions. However, L points out that early vinyl pressings of “I Need A Beat” feature hand-etched serial numbers that confirm he’s the first act on Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin’s record label. As he finishes this thought, L admits, “Then, fast-forward, I own my masters.” Sway asks if that is true of all 13 albums. Cool J confirms, “Yeah. I’ve owned ’em for 20-some years.” Sway doubles down, “From Radio to Authentic?” LL responds, “Yes. All of it. So when you hear ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ in a movie and stuff like that, like I’ve licensed those songs. A lot of people don’t know that, though…I own all them joints. Writers get their share, Def Jam gets a lil’ piece for their distributing, so it’s business. But I own it, and I control it. That is something to me that, in this day and age, is something we talk about. We didn’t really talk about it back then.”

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LL then points out Kool Moe Dee rapping, “You used to be a rapper, now turned into a businessman,” on “Let’s Go” as a diss in 1989. “That’s the difference in Hip-Hop today and then. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine trying to insult somebody by calling them a businessman today? That’s the difference!”

Sway In The Morning producer Rich Nice recalls LL Cool J going line-by-line through studio invoices and denying certain expenses that were not his. J explains, “I’ve always tried to live below my means; I don’t live super fancy. [Chuckles] That’s why, if worst came to worst, I can take my ball and go home. [Laughs] I’m good. I’m aiight. We can down-size a lil’ bit and never come outside.”

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He then touches a bit on his charitable vision, especially towards the youth and education. LL helped finance a recording studio at a school and his Jump And Ball Foundation in Queens, which has operated for 15 years. “I think Hip-Hop culture, in general, has been very good to us…and when I look at what we’re doing, the sky’s the limit. We can do anything that we put our minds to. The other thing that I think is important is that the new artists know that the O.G.’s embrace them, that we got love for them. I think that that time of looking down on the young artist and trying to box them out is over. If I do music, I don’t mind you being on a song with me; I don’t mind embracing you. Obviously, it has to make sense. There was garbage early, and there’s garbage late—it’s always some garbage. But there’s always some good sh*t too. So we need to make sure that that respect is mutual.”

At 7:00, Sway Calloway brings up that LL was a writer for himself and others. “I’ve written for some people.” He confirms writing MC Lyte’s “Self Destruction” verse. “You’ve got to understand—Lyte, at that time, she was creative and open, and willing to do that. Guys like Run-D.M.C., when they did ‘Walk This Way,’ they were doing something different, creatively. Lyte writes as well; she’s talented—don’t get it twisted…she probably performed that rhyme better than I would have. [Chuckles] She killed the sh*t!” He then performs along with the track as DJ Wonder plays the Lyte verse. LL adds that he missed the opportunity due to touring at the time. “I remember, at that time, people thought, ‘Oh, L just don’t want to be a part of it,’ bullsh*t! It ain’t got nothin’ to do with that; I was just busy…at the same time, I’m glad that at least I got to contribute to it, and Lyte represented the way she did.”

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He continues that he penned the chorus to Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.” “Originally, I had did it for a remix. Then Teddy [Riley] took it and said, ‘Let’s incorporate it into this Blackstreet record.'” He adds that the track featuring collaborator Dr. Dre as well as Queen Pen “came out amazing. I just [recently] decided to share some of those stories because I think—and there’s other things—because I think a lot of people didn’t know that part of my career. Also, even a lot of the music I did—a lot of the beats I made ’em myself. Like, the ‘Jingling Baby (Remix),’ I looped up the basslines on that. Even ‘I’m That Type Of Guy,’ I totally programmed that myself, the whole thing—a lotta records, a lotta joints.” He says he chose the sample in “Jack The Ripper” before Bobcat flipped it. “Even ‘Rock The Bells,’ like I didn’t program the drums physically, but I mouthed it and told Rick [Rubin] what to play. A lot of my records—like ‘I Need Love,’ I hummed the melody, ‘Hey Lover,’ I wrote that chorus and had [Boyz II Men] sing it. So there’s a lot of my music and a lot of my creativity that people don’t [realize].”

“For me, it was about making the records, and I really didn’t care about credit. I’m just being honest. I was like, ‘You know what? Marley [Marl], you take the credit. You go ‘head; you get that. I’m just gonna go do my thing. Muffla from L.A. Posse, you take the credit; I’m just gonna do my thing. Bobcat [was the same]. Mind you, they did contribute; I don’t want to make it seem like I was a one-man band, ’cause I wasn’t. But I really did, like for real, produce a lot of the records.” LL also points out that he co-directed the “Mama Said Knock You Out” music video. His collaborator, Paris Barclay, went on to become President of The Directors Guild. “And I put him in the game at that time.” Barclay also won two Emmy Awards for NYPD Blue.

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Elsewhere in the candid interview, LL Cool J credits Canibus as being the best challenger among his famous Rap battles on wax. He opens up about past tensions with JAY-Z, and explains why he did not feel slighted when Jay became Def Jam’s president. Cool J then gives his onetime label-mate props for all that he has accomplished professionally and personally. L also describes programming Rock The Bells Radio’s songs and providing exposure and increased song revenue to deserving Hip-Hop peers.

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