It’s been almost 30 years since the world was introduced to a young, bold, loud, and energetic rapper from Queens, New York by the name of LL Cool J. As the foundation of the Def Jam roster, LL displayed a wide range of styles from braggadocios fast-paced rhymes to syrupy, slow-paced poems dedicated to finding love. Interestingly enough, after seven years, three albums and some minor and major diss wars to his credit, LL felt it necessary to tell the world not to call his fourth album a “comeback” and that he’d “been here for years” on the classic “Mama Said Knock You Out” in 1990 after his previous album release (Walk Like A Panther) failed to achieve the acclaim of Radio and Bigger And Deffer.
The pattern of highs and lows would continue to follow LL Cool J as the audience would count him out after a song like “Pink Cookies In A Plastic Bag” only to hit it big with radio hits like “Who Do You Love” and “Doing It Well.” Acting of course came in to the picture, and while that further cemented his celebrity, it also gave a reason for some to continue to dismiss his music as is the case when rappers become screen stars. But whether one likes it or not, LL Cool J is still here in the year 2014, hosting GRAMMY’s, starring on NCIS: Los Angeles and most importantly, making music. Yes, LL is preparing his fourteenth album titled G.O.A.T. 2 and has no plans to slow down in the future. In this exclusive interview with HipHopDX, the longtime Hip Hop legend explains why he’s dedicated to making music after all these years and success outside of the music business.
LL Cool J Attributes Hip Hop’s Ageism To The Genre’s Youth
HipHopDX: I can’t believe it’s been nearly 30 years since your start in the Rap game. I remember first seeing you rhyme in the movie Krush Groove where you introduced “I Can’t Live Without My Radio.”
LL Cool J: I’m very grateful. The genre as a whole is still young, and I’ve been able to be around it for the majority of the eras and still be at this level of relevance. Other genres of music like Rock, Country and Jazz were able to have artists who maintained their relevance for a long period of time. I’m real grateful and thankful that I’m able to do it, and I wouldn’t trade it because it’s my dream. I love the culture and everything about it. Through the years you are going to have creative highs and lows, but at the end of the day the journey is the award.
DX: You mentioned how other genres have stars that are able to be relevant for a long time. I feel that Hip Hop hurt itself when the rappers of the ‘80s labeled the rappers of the ‘70s old, and as a result everything had to be new and fresh.
LL Cool J: I don’t know if I necessarily believe that. I’ve always given respect to all of the old school rappers. The only time I ever had a problem was when I had a public battle with one old school rapper who was from a different generation than me. Other than that, I’ve always given love and respect to Grandmaster Flash, The Treacherous Three, and the Fearless Four. In my opinion I think that it’s just because Hip Hop is still a young musical genre. I mean, what will it be as it ages or in another seven years? At some point we are going to get accustomed to seeing artists age in this business. Think about it. You mentioned that you saw Krush Groove, so you are not far from my age. We are a part of the first generation that has grown up in Hip Hop. Hip Hop isn’t basketball, and this isn’t sports. Jordan can retire, but artists don’t have to retire. [Paul] McCartney has done his greatest works throughout his life. It’s music. Why shouldn’t you continue to do what you love? I could never fault anybody who continues to make music for their audience.
DX: I was at the Legends of the Mic Tour in Los Angeles, and I saw you perform with Public Enemy, De La Soul and Ice Cube. All of you guys displayed more energy during your show than Rap acts that are much younger. Flavor Flav was crowd surfing!
LL Cool J: Sometimes our opinions of things can be shaped by our opinions of ourselves. If I’m walking around feeling old, then everything I look at is going to be old to me. Everything I associate with me growing up is going to be old. All of the sudden, I’m judging everything based on a personal spirit that I have about my life. We are talking about Hip Hop here. I know you can’t be 17 forever, but I love being on stage and I enjoy it. I put my heart and soul in to it, and I play for great crowds of all ages. For me it’s not about age. I want my career to be about making great shit. If you make cool shit, then you’re the shit and that’s it! It’s all perception, because if my career started in 2000, then everybody would look at me as contemporary.
Why LL Cool J Refuses To Take Acclaim For Certain Hip Hop Trends
DX: Your music has been very influential to other artists, and one of the things I noticed was that diss songs on wax changed after you made “Jack the Ripper.” Rappers talking about each other became very more direct.
LL Cool J: I don’t try to take acclaim for anything. I just do what I do, and I let the fans decide all of that. I try to be sincere and honest about whatever I make. When people would try to come at me during that time, I would respond accordingly. It’s not even scientific like that with me. I’m just trying to have fun with shit. I’m not trying to say that I paved the way for anybody. True, that song probably made those types of record more popular, but Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee had a very famous battle that was caught on tape, and they went back and forth. Battling has been around for years and groups like The Treacherous Three, Furious 5 and Sugarhill Gang battled. What I pride myself on is being able to adapt and perform many different styles over different eras. There isn’t one style that people can’t say that I haven’t succeeded at.
DX: But you were groundbreaking though; take “I Need Love” for instance.
LL Cool J: “I Need Love” was just from the heart, and it ended up being groundbreaking. It ended up setting the tone for Rap love songs, but I just made that song because I thought it was cool, different and interesting. I think nowadays it’s the popular thing to take something and look at it as some sort of genius, but I think it’s just art. If you make some cool shit and people like it, then you are doing your job. Sometimes the stars line up. To me, it’s about the everyday guy or girl who can press play on a song and like it. I just try to do good shit and that’s it.
DX: Writing songs takes time and work. Doesn’t your acting take away from that?
LL Cool J: Absolutely it can take away because you can’t love the culture and the music studio part time. It is a full-time job, but the majority of my album was completed when I wasn’t working. I was able to commit to my music. I don’t moonlight. I do other things because I have other talents. If you have multiple talents and you don’t utilize them, then that’s a sin. You are supposed to maximize all of your talents and not just some of them. But yes, it will definitely take away, and you can’t be on set trying to touch the culture. I was in New York all summer, and my album has Murda Mook, Loaded Lux, Maino, Uncle Murda, J. Cole, T.I. and Movado on it. My album is culturally relevant. I don’t mix the two up. When I do NCIS: Los Angeles, it has nothing to do with Hip Hop. People need to respect the fact that I can do more than one thing and be dedicated to whatever I am doing at the moment.
Why Negative Internet Comments & Trolls Don’t Bother LL Cool J
DX: When is the album coming out?
LL Cool J: I don’t have a release date for it because it’s not about rushing to put an album out. It’s about creating music and seeing where it goes. When I put a video out and it gets five million views on WordStar in three days, then that tells me that I’m on the right path. It’s a matter of doing it from the heart and soul and not taking the culture for granted because I don’t believe in that. I believe that I should be judged by not just what I do but also for my love for the culture and my contribution to it. I have never turned the culture upside down and tried to shake the change out of its pocket. I am not on a label anymore, so everything that you’ve been seeing me doing as of late has been independent. I am not doing this because I have to. I am doing this because I love it! Do you really think I have to put a record out when I know that there are certain sites that are going to post the record, when it’s good, and ask people if it’s good to set me up to be trolled? Why even put yourself through that aggravation unless you love it? When you know for a fact that there are certain people that will troll the shit out of you no matter what you do. Why even set yourself up for that unless you love what you’re doing, or you just like punishment? But I’m not a freak like that.
DX: You actually read and go through the comments on these websites?
LL Cool J: Absolutely! I read the comments and the questions, but what I don’t do is take the negative stuff personally. I know that I didn’t do anything personally to the people who do that stuff, so in turn I don’t take it personal. I just look at it as a mystery, and sometimes you’ve got to let a mystery be that. I’ve read all kinds of things. I think a lot of times it comes from people not realizing that you are still one of them and their opinion matters to you. We are talking about a minority though. Let’s be real. When you see a hundred horrible comments about somebody, you’ve got to remember that there millions of people who are watching but not commenting. There are a lot of artists that go over the deep end with the comments shit, but that being said it’s all about a disconnect. They want to be heard or they feel like you don’t represent them. A lot of people have grown up with me already being a celebrity, so they don’t realize that I’m a real dude that’s really out here and really loving the culture of Hip Hop. They don’t realize that I really am from Queens, and the stories and things that I talk about on “The Hustler” are absolutely true. On the flipside, look at the level of support and love that people give me. You couldn’t have a project like the G.O.A.T. 2 with hateful energy surrounding it. There’s a lot of love and I’m thankful for it.
DX: Here’s to 30 more years in the game.
LL Cool J: You know what? It’s very possible. I remember seeing interviews with Mick Jagger talking about how he wouldn’t do things at a certain age. Just because you do Hip Hop doesn’t mean that you’re pretending to be done. We’ve got to get that out of our minds. We’ve got to remember that you never stop loving what you love. Music is spiritual, not physical.