Deriving his name from the statement “Ladies Love Cool James,” LL Cool J became a superstar rapper after his Def Jam debut in 1984. He mixed a hardcore hip-hop style from songs like “I’m Bad” with R&B style on songs like “I Need Love,” which led him to multi-platinum success and several awards. He would later venture into movies and television, write several books, and start different business ventures.
Born January 14, 1968, Queens, New York native James Todd Smith began rapping at the age of nine and started to seriously pursue rapping when he was 16 years old after his grandfather bought him music equipment, which he used to create a demo tape that was sent to numerous labels. He was signed by upstart independent label Def Jam, working with founders Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin to release his debut single “I Need a Beat” in 1984, which sold over 100,000 copies. This success helped Def Jam secure a distribution deal with Columbia Records.
LL released his debut album Radio in 1985, which achieved platinum status with help from the hit singles “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” and “Rock the Bells.” After working exclusively with Rick Rubin on his debut, LL worked with the West Coast production crew L.A. Posse on his second album Bigger and Deffer, released in 1987. The album featured two of LL’s signature songs: the hard-edged “I’m Bad” and the “rap ballad” “I Need Love,” which was a Top 20 pop hit, helping the album achieve double platinum status.
His third album, 1989’s Walking with a Panther, was another platinum hit, featuring the singles “Going Back to Cali,” “Big Ole Butt,” “I’m That Type of Guy,” and “Jingling Baby.” LL came right back a year later with the Marley Marl-produced Mama Said Knock You Out, a double platinum success featuring “The Boomin' System,” the Top 10 pop hit “Around the Way Girl,” and the explosive title track, which won LL a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance in 1991.
While his 1993 album 14 Shots to the Dome didn’t make much noise, his 1995 follow-up Mr. Smith brought LL back to double platinum success with the hits “Doin' It,” “Loungin' (Who Do Ya Luv Remix),” and the lead single “Hey Lover” with Boyz II Men, which won LL another Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance in 1996. LL went on to release several albums, including his All World: Greatest Hits collection in 1996.
In 2000, LL titled his album G.O.A.T., proclaiming himself the Greatest Of All Time in the rap game. LL’s braggadocios bravado had him involved in several beefs throughout his career. His first major beef came against Kool Moe Dee, with Moe Dee’s main attack coming from “How Ya Like Me Now” in 1987 and LL responding with “Jack the Ripper.” LL then responded to jabs from Moe Dee, Ice-T and MC Hammer in 1990 on “To Da Break of Dawn.” In 1997, LL had a misunderstanding with Canibus over one of his lines on LL’s “4, 3, 2, 1,” causing Canibus to be removed from the song and LL changing his verse to subliminally diss Canibus. This led to Canibus dissing LL on “Second Round K.O.” and LL responding with “The Ripper Strikes Back.”
LL made his acting debut in the 1985 movie Krush Groove and would later star in several films such as Deep Blue Sea, In Too Deep, and Any Given Sunday among others. From 1995-99, LL starred in his own NBC sitcom, In the House, starred in the CBS drama NCIS: Los Angeles for ten seasons from 2009-19, and he hosted the karaoke competition Lip Sync Battle. He released his autobiography I Make My Own Rules in 1998, he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2016, he became the first rapper to be a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2017, launched the Rock the Bells Radio classic hip-hop channel on SiriusXM in 2018, and he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2021.