Who can forget him in the 1985 hip-hop drama Krush Groove? The lanky teenage rapper sportin’ a baby blue Le Tigre polo, a matching Kangol and Pumas. Even then, James Todd “LL Cool J” Smith was making his mark. His lyrical prowess has boomed in our systems for 15 years and he’s still doing it well. With classic cuts like Radio (you know you had him on your boom box), Around the Way Girl (what sister didn’t proclaim to be one?) and Mama Said Knock You Out (wasn’t the sexy L all the boxing champ we needed?), LL has stood the test of time. He’s blessed us with nine albums, garnered two Grammy Awards and has a flourishing film career with 18 movies to date including blockbusters like Deep Blue Sea, Any Given Sunday, and In Too Deep.
Now the 32-year-old rapper-turned-actor stars in the new comedic drama Kingdom Come (Fox Searchlight), which is a Who’s Who list of Black Hollywood — Whoopi Goldberg, Vivica A. Fox, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Cedric the Entertainer and Anthony Anderson. LL holds his own as the level-headed patriarch of the Slocumb family, Ray Bud, who manages to keep his outrageous family together. Undoubtedly, this is L’s best piece of film work. In August, he’ll appear in the remake of the 1975 flick Rollerball. Meantime, here are a few things you should know about “The Greatest [Rapper] of All Time.”
What’s in a name?
We all know that the sexy rap veteran’s moniker LL Cool J means the “Ladies Love Cool James.” What you might not know is that L, born James Todd Smith, prefers to be addressed by his middle name when he’s acting. This way he leaves his [alter-]ego behind and can be himself when working with Tinseltown’s finest.
A Blockbuster knight
In addition to being one of hip-hop’s innovators, L is getting his props in Hollywood. This year he nabbed a Blockbuster Award for his role as the spiritually challenged ex-convict-turned-chef in the thriller Deep Blue Sea.
Straight from the dome
For years, LL Cool J kept his head under wraps — rocking Kangols, baseball caps, du-rags and scullies — because it was an integral part of the mystique of his music. He debuted his gleaming, and sexy, bald-head in the 1995 film Out of Sync.
In April 1997, LL was the only rapper invited to the Presidential Summit in Washington, D.C., where he schmoozed with the likes of then-President Bill Clinton, as well as Jimmy Carter and George Bush.
Rated PG and X
The lyrical maestro is not only an accomplished actor, but in 1997 he assumed the title of author when he penned his autobiography, I Make My Own Rules, with Karen Hunter. Two versions of the racy tell-all book were published — one for all ages and an adults-only copy, which details some of LL’s sexual exploits.
New York state of mind
Last year, the Queens native left his Beverly Hills, Calif., digs and returned to his stomping grounds to work on his ninth album, The G.O.A.T. He got his creative juices flowing in his grandmother’s basement, just as he did with his first album.
Anchoring an empire
LL was Def Jam’s premiere artist and the foundation of today’s number one hip-hop label. After receiving such an overwhelming response to LL’s 1985 single “Radio,” the fledgling record label took off.
Is this the end?
LL is contracted to do one more album for Def Jam, but one music mag says he may do something special with his last project, like put out a triple album.
LL was born with music in his blood — his grandfather played tenor sax; his mom played accordion and his grandmother sings in the choir. By age nine, he was spitting rhymes, and when he was 13, he made his first studio recording.
Art imitates life
Like most good artists, LL speaks candidly about his life experiences. The heart-wrenching cut “Father Figure,” from his 1997 Phenomenon, is the rapper’s most autobiographical track. The song details the rapper’s life growing up in New York and his personal struggle with child abuse.
When a man loves a woman
LL has been married to his childhood sweetheart, Simone Johnson, for five years. They have four children together — a boy and three girls. In addition to being a model spokesman for FUBU, he’s been a huge supporter of his wife’s fashion endeavors. Currently, Simone designs jeweled headscarves called Ms. Got Rocks, which her hubby has been seen donning on BET and The Rosie O’Donnell Show.