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LL Cool J: 'I'll Never Retire'

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Just in time for Black Music Month, we got up with LL Cool J after his show-stopping performance at the T-Mobile Grammy Celebration Concert Tour in New York. It's been 25 years since the birth of Def Jam, and The G.O.A.T. shares his thoughts with ESSENCE.com on today's hip-hop, why dreams are never deferred, and what's next up his sexy sleeve.

ESSENCE.COM: Def Jam, the label that you helped put on the map, recently celebrated 25 years in the biz. After more than two decades as an artist, how would you grade hip-hop today?
LL COOL J:
An A. It's been over 25 years and hip-hop is at the zenith. Obviously the music industry has changed and that has impacted certain things. This genre completely affected pop culture in such a major way. Throughout my career I got to start it and see it mature. Now, when we start talking about current music and all, that's another conversation.

ESSENCE.COM: So are you a fan of any other artists or songs now? Are you "kissing through the phone"?
LL COOL J:
(Laughs.) I like [Soulja Boy's] "Kiss Me Through the Phone." I like a lot of music that's out now. I like Drake's "Best I Ever Had." That's hot. He's coming strong.

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ESSENCE.COM: You've got a clothing line, the music and movies. Is there anything you haven't done yet that you are itching to do?
LL COOL J:
For me, dreams don't have deadlines, and every time you achieve one goal, you set new ones. I'm about to start a new TV show in the fall, "NCIS: Los Angeles" on CBS. That's next for acting and I'm looking forward to it. Also, right now my digital distribution network Boomdizzle.com is really important. We did a deal with iTunes and working on others so I can give other young artists an opportunity to get their music out there instead of focusing on LL albums. I'm pouring all my energy into this new generation to make their musical dreams come true.

ESSENCE.COM: You are such a busy man, and have been with your wife, Simone, for more than 20 years. How are you still able to make her feel special?
LL COOL J: At the end of day, it's really as simple as saying "I love you," expressing your passion, being centered and prioritizing your life. I'm not perfect, but I try and I think that works. Love conquers all. If I can show you that I love you and you feel the passion and feel connected, it works.

ESSENCE.COM: Will LL ever retire?
LL COOL J:
You don't retire from being an artist. That's not realistic. It isn't like a carpenter, or even an athlete where the physical limitations stop you. I'm just an artist. Obviously, I'm not trying to compete on the same level in terms of releasing albums. I know who I am. I'm not pretending to be 19 but I have no reason to not love my art and do my music, but just in a different way.

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