LL Cool J Biography
LL Cool J was born in Westchester County, New York and grew up in the working-class section of Hollis, Queens, New York, the only child of James and Ondrea Smith. Todd sang in the church choir, played football and was in the Boy Scouts.
Unfortunately, LL’s parents had a troublesome, often violent, relationship. As a result, his mother left his father when LL was four and they moved in with her parents in St. Albans, Queens. The relationship turned bloody, when late one night in 1972, 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, the elder James was seeking revenge after being abandoned by his family. LL’s father shot his mother as she ran into her parents’ house for safety. She was hit in the legs and back. LL’s grandfather was also shot in the stomach. Both survived the attack. Unfortunately, LL, who was only a toddler at the time, would experience more hardships in the years to come.
LL’s mother later began dating a man who would also bring pain into the young rapper’s life. The man, who LL named Roscoe in his autobiography, would routinely beat him, often while his mother was at work. He was often stripped naked and beaten for the crimes of being hungry, watching TV, or looking at Roscoe the wrong way. These beatings had a profound effect on young LL. This is the time, he remembers that 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 sax, his mother played accordion and his grandmother (Ellen Griffin) sang in the choir. By age 9, LL was rhyming. By age 13 he’d already made his first studio recording.
Building the Def Jam empire: LL Cool J signed to Def Jam in 1984 and released the underground hit “I Need a Beat” (see 1984 in music). The song was the first hit record for Def Jam, and its success persuaded him to drop out of school to record Radio (1985 in music).
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. In 1987, he released Bigger and Deffer. The ballad “I Need Love” was one of the first pop-rap songs to be a hit. Critics scoffed at his new direction, though, and by the release of Walking With a Panther (1989), he was booed at a Harlem rally for slain teenager Usef Hawkins.
Don’t call it a comeback: Around the late 1980s, hip-hop began experiencing a shift in concsiousness away from the music’s early themes of partying and braggadocia, to more socially aware issues such as drug abuse, race and racism, and economic empowerment. LL Cool J, as a result, experienced a drop in popularity due to the view that his music was behind the times, materialistic and narcissistic.
Eager to regain his audience, LL released Mama Said Knock You Out, easily the hardest record he had made, which re-established his reputation in the hip hop community. It spawned three hit singles, “The Boomin’ System,” “Around the Way Girl,” and the hard-hitting title track, which is arguably his signature tune, and received special notice after LL Cool J’s dynamic performance of it during an episode of MTV Unplugged.
It was also featured in the film “The Hard Way.” The album included themes of police misconduct, spirituality along with back-to-basics hip-hop party rocking. Mama Said… eventually went on to sell over 2 million copies. It marked the first of many self-reinventions LL Cool J would undergo to adapt to the hip-hop’s often changing atmosphere.
After acting in The Hard Way and Toys, he released 14 Shots To The Dome to muted sales and mixed reviews, despite producing the small hit “Back Seat of My Jeep”. He starred in In the House, an NBC sitcom, before releasing Mr. Smith (1995), which went on to sell over 2 million copies. Its singles, “Doin’ It” and “Loungin”, were two of the biggest songs in 1996 and both songs’ music videos were hugely successful on MTV. Another of the album’s singles, “Hey Lover”, featured Boyz II Men and eventually became one the first rap music videos to air on American VH1. The song also earned LL a Grammy.
In 1996, LL also helped to launch a clothing line named FUBU; the name is an acronym for “For Us, By Us”, meaning that the clothes were made for and marketed to black people by a black person.
Life after “Mr. Smith”: After the double platinum status of “Mr. Smith”, LL’s albums have not been able to regain the same levels of monetary success. In 2000, he released the album G.O.A.T., which stood for “Greatest of All Time.” The critically acclaimed album debuted at Number One on the Billboard 200, giving him his first chart-topper on that chart. Nonetheless, the album failed to do the numbers of LL’s previous releases.
His next album 10 from 2002, which denoted LL’s 10th studio album, did not fare much better. Although it included the popular singles “Paradise” (featuring Amerie), “Luv U Better”, and the hit 2003 Jennifer Lopez duet, “All I Have”, the album also failed to reach platinum status.
His latest album, The DEFinition, released in 2004, is perhaps LL’s most complete and cohesive album of his post-”Mr. Smith” offerings. His biggest hit from the album is the song “Headsprung”. Other hits include “Hush” featuring 7 Aurelius.
LL’s 12th studio album, Todd Smith, is expected for April 11, 2006. It will include collaborations with Ginuwine, Juelz Santana, Teairra Mari and Freeway. The first single will be the Jermaine Dupri produced “Control Myself”, another song with singer Jennifer Lopez. LL and J.Lo shot the video for “Control Myself” on January 2nd, 2006 at Sony Studios, New York.
LL is launching a clothesline called “Todd Smith” this Autumn, which is aimed towards the higher end of the market whilst a less expensive range will be released called “T.S”. Consultancy work by Dolce & Gabbana and Marks & Spencer is an influence on the designs.
LL partnered with fashion executives, Ronald and William Gallo to form a company called Standard Fashion, where Ronald & Smith are both co-managing directors. The aim of marketing for the clothesline is to be orientated towards the clothing rather than LL Cool J. Smith has previosuly dabbled in fashion, having worked behind the scenes for T.R.O.O.P., a nonfashion, insider hip-hop line, in the late-Eighties.
LL and with his personal trainer, Dave “Scooter” Honig are currently working on a book called “LL Cool J’s Platinum Body”which will give people detailed information on how and what LL does physically in terms of his diet, workout, philosophy and ideology. The book is to be published by Rodale and scheduled to be released in January 2007.
In July 2006, LL Cool J announced details about his final album with Def Jam recordings, the only label he has ever been signed to. The album is titled Exit 13. The album was originally scheduled to be executively produced by fellow Queens rapper 50 Cent. Exit 13 was originally slated for a fall 2006 release, however, after a 2 year delay, it was released September 9, 2008 without 50 Cent as the executive producer. Tracks that the two worked on were leaked to the Internet and some of the tracks produced with 50 made it to Exit 13.
LL Cool J partnered with DJ Kay Slay to release a mixtape called “The Return of the G.O.A.T.”. It was the first mixtape of his 24 year career and includes freestyling by LL Cool J in addition to other rappers giving their rendition of his songs. A track entitled “Hi Haterz” was leaked onto the internet on June 1, 2008. The song contains LL Cool J rapping over the instrumental to Maino’s “Hi Hater”. He toured with Janet Jackson on her Rock Witchu tour, only playing in Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, and Kansas City.
In September 2009, LL Cool J released a song about the NCIS TV series. It is a single and is available on iTunes. The new track is based on his experiences playing special agent Sam Hanna. “This song is the musical interpretation of what I felt after meeting with NCIS agents, experienced Marines and Navy Seals,” LL Cool J said. “It represents the collective energy in the room. I was so inspired I wrote the song on set.”Related Information: