LL Cool J always had his sights set on rock and roll. Born James Todd Smith in Queens, New York, LL was only 17 in 1985 when he recorded “Rock the Bells,” which included the following couplet: “It ain’t the glory days with Bruce Springsteen/I’m not a virgin so I know I’ll make Madonna scream.” A year earlier, LL had made his debut on Def Jam, which was also the debut of the label itself. His first two singles – “I Need a Beat” followed by “I Want You” – sketched out the two main gears of his career: testosterone-maddened battle raps and tender, sexy love songs. The former included “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” (1985), “Jack the Ripper” (1987) and “Mama Said Knock You Out” (1991). The stylish aggression built into these songs influenced no less a figure than Michael Jackson, who cut “Bad” after meeting LL in person – and after LL himself cut “I’m Bad.” The love songs may have been even more influential and popular. When “I Need Love” went to Number One on Billboard’s Hot R&B Singles chart in 1987, it was the first rap recording ever to reach that summit. His success in music has served as a launching pad to concurrent careers in the movies, on television, in fashion and in fitness.
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