LL Cool J’s been “doin’ it and doin’ it and doin’ it well” for nearly 20 years now, and the greatest of all time is back to claim his throne with the release of his 10th album- X. LL’s new joint is laced with his signature style: a smooth sexy voice rapping strong lyrics over infectious beats. Although LL strays from his proven hit formula and delves into hard-core hip-hop tracks, X is still sure to be a timeless CD.
His first single, “Luv U Better,” a laid-back track with a repetitive strings melody acts as a heartfelt message to a neglected lady. “It was inspired by my personal relationships but it just comes from my heart-from me as an artist” LL says. Other tracks sure to hit home with fans include “Lollipop,” a hypnotic nursery-rhyme-style groove that’s playful and flirtatious; “Mirror Mirror,” a musical gumbo featuring lyrics from past songs, which serve as a testament to his longevity; and “Fa Ha,” a wild in-your-face bass-heavy track about the things a man does for his woman.
Who knew that the release of the 1985 single “I Need A Beat” would result in Uncle L churning out hit after hit, establishing a musical catalog that could rival the likes of Frankie Beverly and Maze’s. From “I Need Love” to “Around the Way Girl” to “Goin’ Back to Cali,” LL, who describes himself as strong, humble, faithful and focused, does things his way regardless of what other rappers are doing. “I’m just LL Cool J, and I think that’s enough,” says LL. “I mean why compare myself to someone else. I see no reason to.”
LL né James Todd Smith has provided the community with his musical prowess and acting ability-his next two films Deliver us from Eva and Mind Hunters will hit theaters in early next spring and he’s in the midst of filming S.W.A.T. with Samuel L. Jackson- and he has recently added a children’s book- And the Winner Is- to his repertoire. With all that he has going on, the fearless rapper sees no end to his career. “I think when artist are fearful that they are not going to be able to perform at a certain level for a long period of time, they start setting the whole world up so that they can have an exit. I don’t have that fear. There is no reason why I shouldn’t make records as long as Steven Tyler (Aerosmith) and Mick Jaggar (Rolling Stones) have.”
LL is not only a career-minded individual, but a family man as well. Living with his wife Simone and his children, LL always has time for family. He scoffs when asked if its hard to balance a family and a career-“Nah, it’s not difficult when you love somebody. “I [try] to include them in everything I’m doing.”
ESSENCE.com caught up with the ladies man and rapped with him about his new album, his children’s book, and what he’s learned during his rise to the top.
Your new album, X, is hot. What’s the basic feel to this record and what are your favorite songs on the album?
It’s a feel-good record [with] feel-good music. It’s clean. No profanity. It’s really uplifting, [and ]celebrates women. I think young ladies are going to feel real good when they listen to it-lyrically it’s real complimentary towards woman. Overall it just [has ]a real positive vibe [and] it’s hot, real hot. I feel good about it. I have three [favorite songs.] “Paradise” is such a fly record. Amerie is singing the chorus. It just feels so positive and it’s such a good party record. “Niggy Nuts” is a throwback record-the way the drums are set up. It’s stripped down and so simple it’s just hot on a whole other level. It’s a real good record for cars and clubs. “Throw Ya L’s Up” is real cool in terms of the lyrics and the rhymes. It’s a real aggressive rap record [with more] of a street vibe.
You’ve been in the business for a long time-almost 20 years—how do you keep your style fresh?
It isn’t about trying to keep something [fresh]. The only time things aren’t fresh is when they stop moving and stop growing. I just love my music, love the movies, love what I do and I just keep working toward not trying to sound like anyone else. I’m just LL Cool J and I make LL music and hopefully people can enjoy what I do from the heart.
Your children’s book And the Winner Is just debuted. What made you want to do this project and what’s the book about?
It was just an opportunity that arose and I thought it would be cool to do. Why not lend my name and my time and energy to something positive that is going to be uplifting. Everything you do can’t be for money. Some things can be and should be. I absolutely want to get as paid as I possibly can. But then the flip side of that is that you still want to leave a legacy and some deep foot prints on the planet that kind of uplift people and touch people on a deeper level. The book teaches kids how to win and lose gracefully, how not to get cocky when you win and how not to be down on yourself when you lose, how to empathize when other people lose, how to stay focused, how to believe in yourself and how to stay strong. It’s a real cool book. It has a rap along CD with it, too.
So, do you have any plans to get your own record label at some point?
Absolutely. I mean I have a dream to launch some artists and give them an opportunity to be huge and grow-that is something I have every intention of achieving. Having a label [The label’s name is Rock the Bells ]jump off and having all these things is definitely something I want to do. I want to give more people opportunities. I’ve been messing around with this stuff for years, but I never really focused on it. It’s just something that’s kind of been in my life, but I never really took it seriously ’cause my focus was in other places-kind of like my acting in earlier years. And now I am ready to focus on it. And whatever my next deal is as an artist that’s gonna be part of it. I’m gonna bring some artist out there and give other people and opportunity to really be successful and live their dreams. I think that is something that I am obligated to do and I want to do it.
If there were one lesson you think you’ve learned in your time in the biz, what would it be?
Having money allows you to make the good decisions. Because, when you have money you don’t have to be desperate and make ridiculous decisions that you’ll regret. Economic empowerment is probably one of the keys to being free in this world. When you have a lot of money you can say ‘nah, I don’t want to do that [laughs],’ and that’s the end of that. But if you don’t have any money you gotta be like ‘oh, OK. let me take a look at it’ [laughs].
Photo Credit: © Def Jam