LL Cool J
LL Cool J has been called the Little Richard of hip-hop: combining youthful exuberance, massive charisma, and incredible musical talent, they launched their respective genres of rock & roll to fans around the world. LL was still a teenager when he became the face of Def Jam records – his 1985 Radio was the label’s first album. He ushered in hip-hop’s second wave with hard-hitting singles like “I Need a Beat,” “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” and “Rock the Bells.” LL’s work with Def Jam paved the way for future label mates Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, and Slick Rick.
Through the 1980s, LL blazed a trail from Queens to the nation, becoming one of the best-selling hip-hop artists of the decade. In 1987, he became the first rapper to top the R&B charts with “I Need Love.” His 1991 Grammy-winning anthem “Mama Said Knock You Out” was a KO heard around the world, while singles “Going Back to Cali,” “Around the Way Girl,” “Hey Lover,” and “Doin’ It” became huge radio hits.
LL’s voice is powerful, his flow intimidating, and his swagger mesmerizing. Michael Jackson, inspired by LL’s “I’m Bad,” recorded “Bad” after meeting him in person. LL is equally comfortable with hardcore battle raps (Eminem calls him one of his biggest influences) as he is with sexy love songs (hence the name Ladies Love Cool James). If you didn’t love LL, you wanted to be LL.
LL Cool J epitomizes the entrepreneurial musician. He leveraged his music career into successful ventures in movies, television, fashion, and fitness. The empires run by Beyoncé, JAY-Z, 50 Cent, and Diddy owe him a debt of gratitude. He didn’t open the door – he smashed it wide open, creating opportunities for anyone who picked up a mic.
“I Need a Beat,” (1984) • “Rock the Bells,” Radio (1985) • “I’m Bad,” “I Need Love,” Bigger and Deffer (1987) • “Going Back to Cali,” (1988) Walking With a Panther (1989) • “Mama Said Knock You Out,” “Around the Way Girl,” Mama Said Knock You Out (1990) • “How I’m Comin’,” 14 Shots to the Dome (1993) • “Hey Lover,” “Doin’ It,” Mr. Smith (1996) • Phenomenon (1997) • “Headsprung,” The DEFinition (2004) • Authentic (2013)
Influences: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC
Legacies: Queen Latifah, Eminem, JAY-Z
Cleveland, Ohio 44114