LL Cool J

LL Cool J

Synopsis of Pop Music

”I’m gonna knock you out (HUH!),
Mama said knock you out (HUH!)...”

Although hip-hop has become an important part of the pop music scene, it hasn’t produced a lot of superstars. In fact, hip-hop is notorious for producing artists who tend to have short careers. Just the same, there are exceptions to this rule, and the best one is provided by LL Cool J. This gifted rapper began spinning hits at the age of 16 and soon expanded his horizons to become a popular actor on television and in films. While juggling these careers, he has managed to record a series of rap classics that paved the way for the hip-hop renaissance of the 1990’s.

LL Cool J was born James Todd Smith in the Queens borough of New York. He enjoyed music as a child and began seriously pursuing music as a career at age 14 when his grandfather gave him a DJ system as a gift. He began making tapes of his own homegrown raps and adopted the moniker LL Cool J, which stands for ‘Ladies Love Cool James.’ He got lucky when one of his tapes attracted the attention of impresario Rick Rubin. He signed LL Cool J and made his song “I Need A Beat” the first Def Jam Records release. This song was also featured prominently in the film Krush Groove.

The next year, LL Cool J went on a 50-city tour with hip-hop legends the Fat Boys and Run DMC. He became good friends with Run DMC and contributed the song “Can You Rock It Like This” to their classic King of Rock album. That year, he also released his debut album, Radio, a cool combination of minimalist beats and hard-rock riffs (used memorably on “Rock The Bells”) that became a big hit with critics and b-boys alike. LL Cool J continued successfully in this vein with his next album, Bigger and Deffer. This album contained one of his all-time biggest hits in “I Need Love,” a song that took many a tough rapper by surprise with its sweet ballad lyrics and LL’s smooth delivery.

In 1989, LL Cool J released the Walking With A Panther album, which contained a big hit in the slick, bass-heavy rap tune “Going Back To Cali,” also featured in the film Less Than Zero. The album also boasted a notable follow-up hit in “I’m That Kind Of Guy.” The next year, LL Cool J toughened up his sound with the hard-hitting Mama Said Knock You Out. This album gave LL Cool J another serious crossover smash with the Top-10 “Around The Way Girl,” which mixed smooth rapping with a New Jack Swing beat. Meanwhile, the title track earned LL Cool J a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo, while LL himself became one of the few rap artists willing to turn off the turntables and fancy electronics for an MTV Unplugged appearance.

LL Cool J set his sights on acting success in 1991 and struck gold with well-received performances in the films The Hard Way and Toys. In 1993, he returned to music to score his fifth consecutive platinum album with 14 Shots To The Dome. This album broadened his style with some cool samples from jazz records and experiments like the use of a string section on the song “Crossroads.” He also played President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993 and became the first rap artist to have his life chronicled in an MTV Rockumentary.

Television stardom came LL Cool J’s way when he took the role of Marion Hill in the NBC hit In The House. He won critical raves and good ratings with his performance on this long-running hit. In 1995, he released the album Mr. Smith and scored another singles success with “Hey Lover,” a duet with harmony kings Boyz II Men. The next year he collected his many hits on the best-of album All World. He scored another album hit in 1997 with Phenomenon, an album that featured cameos from r&b stars Keith Sweat and Ralph Tresvant.

In recent years, LL Cool J has focused on his acting career with high-profile roles in films like Halloween: H20, Deep Blue Sea and Any Given Sunday. Just the same, he has already made an important mark on popular music by helping to bring the underground sounds of the hip-hop world into the pop-music mainstream. And by managing to stay relevant in the rap world at the same time, LL has become one of a rare breed: a long-lasting, crossover rap artist/actor who can't be dismissed, ignored or forgotten.

Artist Release History

1985 - Radio
1987 - Bigger and Deffer
1989 - Walking With A Panther
1990 – Mama Said Knock You Out
1993 – 14 Shots To The Dome
1995 – mr. smith
1996 – All World: Greatest Hits
1997 – Phenomenon
2000 – Greatest of All Times

Pop Sub Categories

hip hop

Essential Music Albums

All World: Greatest Hits (Def Jam)

Band Members

LL Cool J vocals

Other Pop Music Links