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Rap Biographies: LL Cool J

LL Cool J
There is no denying that LL Cool J has left a distinct impression on Hip Hop culture. In his thirty three years, LL has touched the lives of millions through his music and movies. With nine consecutive multi-platinum albums, L.L. is considered one of a select few artists that brought rap from the underground to the mainstream. As one of the few commercially viable artists one can truly call a veteran, LL has come a long way from his origins in St. Albans, Queens. From his early days of rapping LL has always been determined to be a winner in the game. Beginning his career with the masterful 1985 debut album RADIO, which was the first Def Jam disc ever released, LL Cool J has refused to slow his roll.

LL became the first rap artist to have 6 consecutive million-selling LPs. His career image has seen him transcend from streetwise rapper, to sitcom actor, and back to streetwise rapper. What separates LL from other rappers today (besides longevity) is his ability to rap about life's highs and lows without continuous intense and offensive language. By doing this, LL has achieved more admiration, and in turn, credibility, than many of his fellow rap artists.

Unlike many rappers who boast of their "gangsta" affiliations, LL has steadfastly refused to glorify violence or misogyny in his music - to the contrary, he has pioneered a soulful brand of hip-hop which melds inner-city macho with gentlemanly, old world charm and love.

James Todd Smith came into this world on January 14th, 1968, in Queens, New York. Small Todd sang in the church choir, played football and was in the Boy Scouts. After hearing revolutionary music from Afrika Bambaataa and Sugar Hill Gang, little James grew to love the rap scene. His grandfather bought him his first DJ set when he was nine years old. By 13, he was already out on the streets selling his demos. The first one to notice this budding talent was Rick Rubin of the then-new Def Jam Records. At 16 years old, Smith, now known as L.L. Cool J (short for Ladies Love Cool James), had a contract with the upstart label and released its first single ever, "I Need A Beat," in 1984.

Releasing his first hit, "I Can't Live Without My Radio," in 1985 when he was just 17 years old, LL initially was a hard-hitting, street-wise b-boy with spare beats and ballistic rhymes. He quickly developed an alternate style, a romantic -- and occasionally sappy -- lover's rap epitomized by his mainstream breakthrough single, "I Need Love." On a frenetic pace and not even out of adolescence yet, L.L. padded his bare-chested, gold chain-wearing image with his sophomore album, 1987's Bigger and Deffer. Almost single-handedly, he was making Def Jam a major label, as "I Need Love" became a huge chart hit across the board.

Released in 1985, Radio was a major hit and it earned considerable praise for how it shaped raps into recognizable pop-song structures. On the strength of "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and "Rock the Bells," the album went platinum in 1986.

LL's knack for making hip-hop as accessible as pop was one of his greatest talents, yet it was also a weakness, since it opened him up to accusations of him being a sellout.

The following year, his second album, Bigger and Deffer, shot to number three due to the ballad "I Need Love," which became one of the first pop-rap crossover hits.

Between concerts and some controversial incidents by L.L.'s crew that left his image a tad tainted; he teamed up with talented producer Marly Marl to make Mama Said Knock You Out in 1990. The album blew up around the world, with the title track getting him his first Grammy in the Best Rap Solo Performance category. His fierce lyrics and catchy duet ballads with various R&B groups appealed to a wide range of people, further broadening rap's popularity.

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. 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.

As the awards from MTV, Soul Train and other institutions poured in, L.L. took a step toward acting. In 1992, he appeared in Toys with Robin Williams, the beginning of what was to be a successful career in film. LL made his acting role debut as an undercover cop in the feature film, "The Hard Way," which starred Michael J. Fox and James Woods. Lately, LL has added the role of pitchman to his expansive resume.

14 Shots To The Dome is the rapper's fifth album released in 1993 which met mixed critical and commercial response. Later he starred in In the House, an NBC sitcom (the role he played mirrors LL's real-life persona), 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 his second Grammy Award.

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 fair much better. Although it included the popular singles. His latest album, The DEFinition, released in 2004, is perhaps LL's most complete and cohesive album of his post-"Mr. Smith" offerings. LL's 12th studio album, Todd Smith, is expected for April 11, 2006. It will include collaborations with many various artists.

In general LL Cool J won 15 New York Music Awards. Perhaps one of his most distinguished honors was being selected to perform at both Presidential Inaugural celebrations as well as the 50th Birthday celebration for President Clinton. In addition to the previous honors bestowed upon LL, he has been selected as the recipient of the 1997 MTV Video Vanguard Award which honors lifetime achievement in music videos.

Being a dedicated family man, he lives both in New York and Los Angeles with his wife, Simone, and their four children.

LL Cool J is the author of two books, with the children orientated book called "And The Winner Is..." and his autobiography co-written with Karen Hunter, "I Make My Own Rules". With his own line of footwear called Najee hitting stores, another record label on the way and his new album X making waves with the first single, "Luv U Better," L.L. Cool J has evolved from a 16-year-old rapper who got a lucky break to a full-fledged icon.

LL Cool J represents an important figure within the hip hop community, and is currently one of the few hip-hop stars of his era to sustain a successful recording career for more than a decade.
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