LL Cool J was one of the first hip hop artists to go platinum but he’s not one to rest on his laurels
Born January 14th 1968, James Todd Smith III -the only child of James Smith, Jr. and Ondrea Smith- grew up in a working-class neighbourhood of St. Albans, Queens, New York.
He spent his youth singing in the church choir, hanging out with the Boy Scouts, delivering papers to make some pocket money… But things weren’t too rosy at home. James’ parents had a turbulent relationship, his mother left his father when he was four and James went to live with his mother at his grandparents’ house in St. Albans. The relationship turned bloody when, late one night in 1972, his father shot his mother as she returned home from work, hitting her in the legs and back ran as she ran into her parents' house for safety.
According to James, who recounted the event in the song, ‘Father’, James senior was seeking revenge after being abandoned by his family. His mother survived the ordeal.
As he grew older, James found a way to escape his problems at home: He fell in love hip-hop at the age of nine, and by 11 he was writing lyrics and making his own songs with some DJ equipment his grandfather gave him. At 15, he and one of his best friends came up with his present stage name, L.L. Cool J, ‘Ladies Love Cool James’.
In March 1984, when L.L. was 16, he sent some of his music to the newly-founded Def Jam label who snapped him up. He and Rick Rubin released his first official record ‘I Need a Beat’ soon after. The same year he made his first professional concert appearance at Manhattan Centre High School.
The following year LL teamed-up with producer Marley Marl to collaborate on his next album, ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’. The record featured pop crossover smash "Around the Way Girl," as well as the hugely popular title track that won LL the Grammy Award for ‘Best Rap Solo’ that year. LL Picked up his second Grammy award in 1996 in the "Best Solo Rap Performance" category for his platinum single "Hey Lover."
‘Mr. Smith’ (1995), went on to sell over two million copies. Its singles, ‘Doin' It’ and ‘Loungin’’, were two of the biggest songs in 1996. After the double platinum success of ‘Mr. Smith’, LL began work on his next album, 1997’s ‘Phenomenon’, which featured the autobiographical track ‘Father’.
Movie work has also won LL Cool J some positive attention, after making his film debut playing a cop in the Michael J. Fox/James Woods crime thriller ‘The Hard Way’ (1991) LL memorably co-starred with Robin Williams in ‘Toys’ (1992).
In 1995, he starred as a down-and-out disc jockey in Debbie Allen's directorial debut ‘Out of Sync’ and as one of the rap stars in music documentary ‘The Show’. In 1998 he got a part in ‘Halloween: H20’.
His performance as a cook on a doomed scientific vessel in ‘Deep Blue Sea’ (1999) was particularly well-received leading to a series of similarly dramatic roles, such as the NFL pro in Oliver Stone's ‘Any Given Sunday’ (1999) a nefarious drug dealer who fancies himself as god in the crime drama ‘In Too Deep’ (1999). All this while keeping his musical career very much in check.
In 2000 LL released ‘G.O.A.T’ (Greatest Of All Time) which debuted at number one on the Billboard Album charts and went platinum. 2002’s offing ‘10’ featured singles ‘Paradise’ and ‘Luv You Better’ produced by Pharell and The Neptunes plus the Jennifer Lopez duet ‘All I have’. Again, the album went platinum.
‘The DEFinition’ followed two years later with production from Timbaland and R Kelly among others. LL's 11th studio album, ‘Todd Smith’, was released in 2006. It includes collaborations with 112, Ginuwine, Juelz Santana, Teairra Mari and Freeway
In 2008 LL released his last album with Def Jam, ‘Exit 13,’ featuring tracks produced by 50 Cent. In addition to his mixtape album with DJ Kay Slay his latest album, ‘Authentic’ came out in 2013, the same year that The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced LL as a nominee for inclusion in 2014.
In addition to his prodigious musical output he’s a regular on TV, an author of four books and as popular as ever.