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LL Cool J

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James Todd Smith III (born January 14, 1968), better known as LL Cool J, is an American hip hop rapper and actor. LL Cool J stands for "Ladies Love Cool James." He is known for romantic ballads such as "I Need Love" and "Hey Lover" as well as pioneering hip-hop like "I Can't Live Without My Radio", "I'm Bad", "Boomin' System", "Mama Said Knock You Out", and "4, 3, 2, 1". L has also appeared in several films. LL Cool J is one of a few hip-hop stars of his era to sustain a successful recording career for more than two decades. He has released 12 albums and a greatest hits compilation so far, with his next album, Exit 13, set to be released early 2008. The album will be the last for LL's record deal with Def Jam Recordings, a deal which has lasted for over twenty two years, making it the longest single hip hop deal to date. He now resides in Manhasset, NY with his wife and four children.[1]

He has achieved significant commercial success as a rapper, with record sales of over 15 million in the U.S. alone.

Early life

He was born James Todd Smith III in the working-class neighborhood of St. Albans, Queens, and raised between there and Bay Shore, New York on Long Island, the only child of Ondrea (née Griffith) and James Smith, Jr. He spent his youth singing in the church choir, participating in the Boy Scouts and delivering newspapers.

Music career

Radio (1985)

Radio 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.[citation needed] "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and "Rock the Bells" were successful and helped the album go platinum. "Rock the Bells" and another track, "Dear Yvette", both spawned 'answer records' to which L.L. never responded.

Bigger and Deffer (1987)

In 1987, he released Bigger and Deffer. The ballad "I Need Love" was one of the first hit pop-rap songs. Also featured on the album was "Go Cut Creator Go," which pays homage to the DJ. The album was met with commercial and critical acclaim going 2x Platinum. In 1998, The Source Magazine named it as one of the top 100 albums ever. At this point LL was on top of the rap world, and was making frequent appearances on television shows and on radio as he was being featured on other Def Jam artists' work.

"I Need Love" was the second single from LL Cool J's second album, Bigger and Deffer. The song is considered the first rap ballad and was released in the fall of 1987. It reached #1 on the R&B/Hip Hop charts and was a well-received single on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, reaching #14, while becoming one of the first rap songs to enjoy mainstream popularity in the UK, reaching #8 in the UK Singles Chart. The single won a Soul Train Music Award for Best Rap - Single in 1987. The song was parodied in 2000 by Brooklyn rapper Necro in his song "I Need Drugs", which alters the lyrics to a narrative of a man's addiction to crack cocaine. The song ranked #13 on the 100 Greatest Rap Songs.

Walking with a Panther (1989)

LL Cool J would return in 1989 with his third album, Walking with a Panther. The album featured the hit singles "Goin Back to Cali," "I'm That Type of Guy," "Jingling Baby," and "Big Ole Butt." The album was a commercial success, but failed horribly from a critical standpoint. The album was a critical failure due to it being overly commercially oriented. This album came out during a time that the West Coast hip hop scene was beginning to really become popular and its gangsta themes were dominating radio. Despite this, the album still managed to go platinum.

"Don't call it a comeback"

Around the late 1980s, hip hop began experiencing a shift in consciousness away from the music's early themes of partying and braggadocio, to more socially aware issues such as drug abuse, race and racism, and economic empowerment.[citation needed] LL Cool J, as a result, experienced a drop in popularity due to the view that his music was behind the times and materialistic.

Mama Said Knock You Out (1990)

Following this, LL released Mama Said Knock You Out, generally leaning towards a tough street image. The record reestablished his reputation in the hip-hop community. It spawned three hit singles, "The Boomin' System," "Around the Way Girl," and the title track, which 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 (Illegal Search), spirituality (Power of God), his career troubles ("Cheesy Rat Blues"), along with back-to-basics hip-hop party rocking and balladry ("Around the Way Girl"). Mama Said... eventually went on to sell over two million copies. It marked the first of many self-reinventions LL Cool J would undergo to adapt to hip-hop's often changing atmosphere.

14 Shots to the Dome (1993)

14 Shots to the Dome was LL's fifth album. It was more leaning to the west coast gangsta element versus the hardcore east coast sound of his previous release. The album had three singles ("How I'm Comin'", "Back Seat" and the strangely titled "Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag Getting Crushed by Buildings") and guest-featured labelmates Lords of the Underground on "NFA-No Frontin' Allowed". The album was considered a commercial and critical flop. It was criticized for not being original, instead sounding more like the music of Ruthless Records and Death Row Records. Fans turned a deaf ear because of its lack of a pop song or a lack of a single being released. The album still managed to certify Gold.

Mr. Smith (1995)

After acting in The Hard Way and Toys, he released 14 Shots To The Dome (1993) 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 two 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 sampling Michael Jackson's "The Lady in My Life," which eventually became one of the first hip hop music videos to air on American VH1. The song also earned LL a Grammy Award. Yet another single from the album, "I Shot Ya Remix", is notable for providing the opportunity for upcoming rapper Foxy Brown to start her career. In 1996, LL also helped to launch a clothing line named FUBU — an acronym for "For Us, By Us", meaning the clothes were made for, and marketed to, African-Americans by African-Americans. Around this time he became partially involved in the East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry when 2Pac dissed him, apparently in response to LL Cool J's "I Shot Ya" and its remix, both of which were featured on his "Mr. Smith" album. Neither of the songs however mention 2Pac or the simmering East Coast-West Coast conflict.

Life after "Mr. Smith"

Phenomenon and Beef with Canibus (1997)

After the double platinum success of "Mr. Smith", LL began work on his next album. In 1997, he released the album Phenomenon. The first single, "Phenomenon" as well as the autobiographical "Father" were minor hits. The official second single from Phenomenon was "4, 3, 2, 1," which featured Method Man, Redman and introducing DMX and Canibus. In the original version of the song, Canibus rapped "Yo L, is that a mic on your arm? Lemme borrow that", referring to LL's tattoo of a microphone on his arm. LL heard the verse, interpreted it as a diss, and responded to it with his own verse. This essentially created a battle between two MCs in the same song. In an attempt to calm tension, LL later called Canibus to say he saw the line as disrespect, and asked him to change it, to which Canibus complied. LL did not remove his verse, believing that with Canibus' verse gone no one would know who he was referring to in his verse. However, the original version of the song was leaked to the public. This would set up a rivalry. Canibus released his single "Second Round K.O.", containing lyrics dissing LL, who later responded with "Ripper Strikes Back." In this song he not only dissed Wyclef, Canibus' producer, but went on to berate ex-friend Mike Tyson for appearing on "Second Round K.O." LL did another diss, with "Back Where I Belong" featuring Ja Rule. Canibus replied to both tracks with his "Rip the Jacker" using LL's "I'm Bad" backing track.

G.O.A.T. (2000)

In 2000, he released the album G.O.A.T., which stood for the "greatest of all time." It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, giving him his first chart-topper on that chart. Nonetheless, the album failed to produce the numbers of LL's previous releases, stalling at gold. The album featured the infamous diss record "Back Where I Belong," featuring Ja Rule.

10 (2002)

Cool J's next album 10 from 2002, which denoted LL's 10th studio album, did not fare much better than his 9th. Although it included the popular singles "Paradise" (featuring Amerie), "Luv U Better," and the hit 2003 Jennifer Lopez duet, "All I Have," the album only reached gold status.

The DEFinition (2004)

LL's eleventh album The DEFinition was released on August 31, 2004. The album debuted at #4 on the Billboard charts. Production came from Timbaland, Irv Gotti, Jay-Z, and others. The lead single was the Timbaland-produced "Headsprung," which peaked at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100. The second single was the Irv Gotti-produced, "Hush," which stalled at #26. The album sold moderately well and went Gold.

Todd Smith (2006)

LL's latest studio album, Todd Smith, was released on April 11, 2006. It includes collaborations with 112, Ginuwine, Juelz Santana, Teairra Mari and Freeway. The first single was the Jermaine Dupri produced "Control Myself," another song with singer Jennifer "J-Lo" Lopez. Cool J and J.Lo shot the video for "Control Myself" on January 2, 2006 at Sony Studios, New York. The second video, directed by Hype Williams, was "Freeze" featuring Lyfe Jennings. LL's has blamed disappointing sales of the album on Def Jam President Jay-Z.[2]

Exit 13 (2008)

In July 2006, LL 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 will reportedly be executively produced by fellow Queens rapper 50 Cent. The duo have worked together previously on the remix to the single "Freeze" from the Todd Smith LP, which was titled "Bump This". Exit 13 had been slated for a fall 2006 release, however, the album did not emerge and now seems likely to surface in 2008 instead. It will be LL's final Def Jam Album. [3]

Other works and ventures

Fashion

Cool J launched a clothing line (also called Todd Smith), which is aimed towards the higher end of the market while 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 clothes line is to be oriented towards the clothing rather than LL Cool J. Smith had previously dabbled in fashion, having worked behind the scenes with the mid-eighties Hip-Hop sportswear line TROOP[4] and, as mentioned earlier, he helped launch the Hip-Hop fashion line FUBU in the 1990s. The future face of Todd Smith fashion line is rumored to be Sean John/Ralph Lauren model Kevin Navayne.

Books

LL Cool J has authored three books, with his first venture in 1998 “I Make My Own Rules”, his autobiography co-written with Karen Hunter. His second venture into the literary world came with the children-oriented book called “And The Winner Is...” in 2002. In 2006, LL and with his personal trainer, Dave "Scooter" Honig wrote a book "The Platinum Workout".

Businessman and entrepreneur

LL has started his own businesses in the music industry such as the music label in 1993 called P.O.G. (Power Of God) and formed the company Rock The Bells to produce music. With the Rock The Bells label, LL had artists such as Amyth, Smokeman and Simone Starks.[5] LL's involvement with the artists would extend to co-producing and writing songs for his artists. LL has sold his part ownership of Def Jam [1] and turned down the Def Jam president job 10 years ago (as of year 2007) based on LL not believing he was qualified enough.[2]LL Cool J signed Scola as a solo artist.

Acting career

LL has had his share of acting roles and cameos in various television shows and movies. LL has stated that his main inspiration and influence for becoming an actor is from the late martial artist Bruce Lee.[6] His first major acting role was as Captain Patrick Zevo, the militant cousin of Robin Williams in the cult classic Toys, although previously he had a non acting cameo in the 1985 hip-hop movie, Krush Groove. He also had a strong supporting role in the Renny Harlin flick Deep Blue Sea as Preacher, a recovering alcoholic who had found religion and worked as the chef for the wet-lab.

LL has appeared in many TV series, with one of his earliest guest appearance as the teacher Mr. Throneberry on the cult Nickelodeon children's series The Adventures of Pete & Pete, to more recent as a death row convict on the show House. His most notable role on television was the role he played as Marion Hill in the NBC and UPN sitcom In the House for five seasons before the show was cancelled. They originally centered around the interaction between Marion and Jackie Warren (Debbie Allen), but with the introduction of new characters the show turned to the story behind his sport clinic. The show received rave reviews for its depiction of African-American males (Marion was a vegetarian, meditated, and rarely swore). In 1999, LL starred as a ruthless drug kingpin Dwayne Gittens, who called himself "God", in the movie In Too Deep. LL also co-starred in the 2003 featured film remake of 1975 TV series S.W.A.T. Playing "Deacon 'Deke' Kay". LL has also expanded his career with providing voice-over for animations where he was originally in the film Rugrats Go Wild! as the voice of a Piki doll, but his character was removed from the final cut.

LL is currently working on a CBS pilot called The Man with The OC's Melinda Clarke.

Discography

Filmography

2005 (Film) Slow Burn Luther Pinks
Year Title Role Notes
1985 Krush Groove Himself
1986 Wildcats
1991 The Hard Way
1992 Toys
1995 Out-of-Sync
1997 Touch
1998 Caught Up
Woo
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
1999 Deep Blue Sea
In Too Deep
Any Given Sunday
2000 Charlie's Angels
2001 Kingdom Come
2002 Rollerball
2003 Deliver Us from Eva
S.W.A.T. Officer Deacon "Deke" Kaye
2004 Mindhunters Gabe
2005 Edison
2006 Last Holiday
2007 Heartland
2008 The DealBobby Mason

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