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James Todd Smith (born January 14, 1968), better known as LL Cool J, is an American rapper and actor. LL Cool J stands for "Ladies Love Cool James". He is known for romantic ballads such as "I Need Love", "Around the Way Girl" and "Hey Lover" as well as pioneering hip-hop such as "I Can't Live Without My Radio", "I'm Bad", "The Boomin' System", and "Mama Said Knock You Out". He has also appeared in several films. LL Cool J is one of a few hip-hop stars of his era to sustain a successful recording career for more than two decades, with more recent singles like "4, 3, 2, 1", "Headsprung" and "Rocking With The G.O.A.T" and "No Crew Is Superior". He has released twelve studio albums and a greatest hits compilation so far, with his latest album being 2008's Exit 13, the last for LL's record deal with Def Jam Recordings. He now resides in Manhasset, New Yorkmarker with his wife and four children.

Early life

LL spent most of his youth performing in the church choir, participating in the Boy Scouts, and delivering newspapers. At age 16, by using a mixing table purchased by his grandfather at Sears, Smith produced and created demos and sent them to various record companies, including Def Jam Recordings.

Under his new stage name, LL Cool J (Ladies Love Cool James), rumored to be copied from LL Cool Rav (Ravi Tohani). Def Jam released his first record, the 12" single "I Need a Beat". The single sold over 100,000 copies and helped establish LL as a rapper in the music industry. The success of "I Need a Beat" helped lead to a distribution deal with Def Jam and Columbia Records in 1985. Soon after, LL dropped out of Andrew Jackson High School to record his debut album.

Music career

Radio (1985)

Radio was released to critical acclaim, as LL Cool J was one of the first rappers to use conventional song structure to make pop oriented rap. "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and "Rock the Bells" were successful and helped the album go platinum with 1,500,000 sales.

Bigger and Deffer (1987)

In 1987, he released Bigger and Deffer. The ballad "I Need Love" was one of the first hit pop-rap songs. Also featured on the album was "Go Cut Creator Go," which pays homage to the DJ. The album was met with commercial and critical acclaim going 2x Platinum. The album sold about 2,300,000 albums. In 1998, The Source Magazine named it as one of the top 100 albums ever. At this point LL was on top of the rap world, and was making frequent appearances on television shows and on radio as he was being featured on other Def Jam artists' work.

"I Need Love" was the second single from LL Cool J's second album, Bigger and Deffer. The song is considered the first rap ballad and was released in the fall of 1987. It reached #1 on the R&B/Hip Hop charts and was a well-received single on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, reaching #14, while becoming one of the first rap songs to enjoy mainstream popularity in the UK, reaching #8 in the UK Singles Chart. The single won a Soul Train Music Award for Best Rap - Single in 1987. The song was parodied in 2000 by Brooklyn rapper Necro in his song "I Need Drugs", which alters the lyrics to a narrative of a man's addiction to crack cocaine. "I Need Love" was ranked #13 on the 100 Greatest Rap Songs.

Walking with a Panther (1989)

LL Cool J would return in 1989 with his third album, Walking with a Panther. The album featured the hit singles"Going Back to Cali,""I'm That Type of Guy," "Jingling Baby," and "Big Ole Butt." The album was a commercial success. This album came out during a time that the West Coast hip hop scene was beginning to become popular and its gangsta themes were dominating radio. Despite this popularity, LL's album went platinum with 1,100,000 sales.

Mama Said Knock You Out (1990)

Following this, LL released Mama Said Knock You Out, generally leaning towards a tough street image. The record reestablished his reputation in the hip-hop community. It spawned three hit singles, "The Boomin' System," "Around the Way Girl," and the title track, which received special notice after LL Cool J's dynamic performance of it during an episode of MTV Unplugged. It was also featured in the film The Hard Way. The album included themes of police misconduct (Illegal Search), spirituality (Power of God), his career troubles ("Cheesy Rat Blues"), along with back-to-basics hip-hop party rocking and balladry ("Around the Way Girl"). Mama Said... eventually went on to sell over 2,700,000 copies. It marked the first of many self-reinventions LL Cool J would undergo to adapt to hip-hop's often changing atmosphere.

14 Shots to the Dome (1993)

14 Shots to the Dome was LL's fifth album. The album had three singles ("How I'm Comin'", "Back Seat" and the strangely titled "Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag Getting Crushed by Buildings") and guest-featured labelmates Lords of the Underground on "NFA-No Frontin' Allowed". The album was considered a commercial failure. Fans turned a deaf ear because of its lack of a pop song in the vein of his previous work. The album still managed to certify gold.

Mr. Smith (1995)

After acting in The Hard Way and Toys, he released 14 Shots To The Dome (1993) to muted sales and mixed reviews, despite producing the small hit "Back Seat of My Jeep." He starred in In the House, an NBC sitcom, before releasing Mr. Smith (1995), which went on to sell over two million copies. Its singles, "Doin' It" and "Loungin", were two of the biggest songs in 1996 and both songs' music videos were hugely successful on MTV. Another of the album's singles, "Hey Lover", featured Boyz II Men sampling Michael Jackson's "The Lady in My Life," which eventually became one of the first hip hop music videos to air on American VH1. The song also earned LL a Grammy Award. Yet another single from the album, "I Shot Ya Remix", is notable for providing the opportunity for upcoming rapper Foxy Brown to start her career.

Phenomenon and beef with Canibus (1997)

After the double platinum success of Mr. Smith, LL began work on his next album. In 1997, he released the album Phenomenon. The first single, "Phenomenon" as well as the autobiographical "Father" were minor hits. The official second single from Phenomenon was "4, 3, 2, 1," which featured Method Man, Redman & Master P and introduced DMX and Canibus. In the original version of the song, Canibus rapped "Yo L, is that a mic on your arm? Lemme borrow that", referring to LL's tattoo of a microphone on his arm. LL heard the verse, interpreted it as a diss, and responded to it with his own verse. This essentially created a battle between two MCs in the same song. In an attempt to calm tension, LL later called Canibus to say he saw the line as disrespect, and asked him to change it, to which Canibus complied. LL did not remove his verse, believing that with Canibus' verse gone no one would know who he was referring to in his verse. However, the original version of the song was leaked to the public. This would set up a rivalry. Canibus released his single "Second Round K.O.", containing lyrics dissing LL, who later responded with "The Ripper Strikes Back." In this song he not only dissed Wyclef, Canibus' producer, but went on to berate ex-friend Mike Tyson for appearing on "Second Round K.O." LL did another diss, with "Back Where I Belong" featuring Ja Rule. Canibus replied to both tracks with his "Rip the Jacker" using LL's "I'm Bad" backing track. Wyclef Jean responded to LL with "What's Clef Got To Do With It?". Track was later released as "What's Clef".

G.O.A.T. (2000)

In 2000, LL Cool J released the album G.O.A.T., which stood for the "greatest of all time." It debuted at number one on the Billboard album charts, giving him his first chart-topper on that chart. The album produced the numbers of LL's previous releases going platinum. The album featured the infamous diss record "Back Where I Belong," featuring Ja Rule. Ironically, LL thanked Canibus in the liner notes of the album, "for the inspiration".

10 (2002)

LL Cool J's next album 10 from 2002, was LL's 9th studio (10th overall including his greatest hits compilation All World), fared much better than his 8th. Thanks to the popular singles "Paradise" (featuring Amerie), "Luv U Better," produced by The Neptunes and the hit 2003 Jennifer Lopez duet, "All I Have," the album reached platinum status.

The DEFinition (2004)

LL Cool J's 10th album The DEFinition was released on August 31, 2004. The album debuted at #4 on the Billboard charts. Production came from Timbaland, 7 Aurelius, R. Kelly, and others. The lead single was the Timbaland-produced "Headsprung," which peaked at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100. The second single was the 7 Aurelius – produced, "Hush," which peaked at #26 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Todd Smith (2006)

LL Cool J's 11th album, Todd Smith, was released on April 11, 2006. It includes collaborations with 112, Ginuwine, Juelz Santana, Teairra Mari and Freeway. The first single was the Jermaine Dupri produced "Control Myself" aka the "zzz song" which was with singer Jennifer "J-Lo" Lopez. Cool J and J.Lo shot the video for "Control Myself" on January 2, 2006 at Sony Studios, New Yorkmarker. The second video, directed by Hype Williams, was "Freeze" featuring Lyfe Jennings. The album didn't perform well as some of its predecessors. LL has shifted the blame of the disappointing album on his own lack of focus in addition to Def Jam and the former President, Jay-Z.

Exit 13 (2008)

In July 2006, LL announced details about his final album with Def Jam recordings, the only label he has ever been signed to. The album is titled Exit 13. The album was originally scheduled to be executively produced by fellow Queens rapper 50 Cent. Exit 13 was originally slated for a fall 2006 release, however, after a 2 year delay, it was released September 9, 2008 without 50 as the executive producer. Tracks that the two worked on were leaked to the Internet and some of the tracks produced with 50 made it to Exit 13.

LL Cool J partnered with DJ Kay Slay to release a mixtape called "The Return of the G.O.A.T.". It is LL's first mixtape of his 24 year career. The mixtape includes LL freestyling on new beats in addition to other rappers giving their rendition of classic LL songs. A track entitled "Hi Haterz" was leaked onto the internet on June 1, 2008. The song contains LL Cool J rapping over the instrumental to Maino's "Hi Hater". He recently toured with Janet Jackson on her Rock Witchu tour, only playing in Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, and Kansas City.

NCIS: No Crew Is Superior

In September 2009, LL Cool J released a song about the NCIS TV series. It is a single and is available on iTunes. The new track is based on his experiences playing special agent Sam Hanna. "This song is the musical interpretation of what I felt after meeting with NCIS agents, experienced Marines and Navy Seals," LL Cool J said. "It represents the collective energy in the room. I was so inspired I wrote the song on set."

Acting career

LL Cool J has branched out into a successful film and television acting career. From 1995 through 1999, he starred on the NBC/UPN sitcom In the House as an ex-Los Angeles Raiders running back who finds himself in financial difficulties and is forced to rent part of his home out to a single mother and her two children.

In 1998 he had a prominent role in the film Halloween H20. He followed up H2O with 1999's Deep Blue Sea, where he played the wise-cracking cook on a top-secret sea base besieged by genetically-enhanced sharks. He returned to the gridiron later that year for a starring role in Any Given Sunday, in which he played Julian Washington, the talented but selfish running back on the dysfunctional Miami Sharks. Since then, LL Cool J has appeared in a variety of films, such as the 2002 remake of Rollerball, Deliver Us from Eva, and S.W.A.T..

In 2005, he returned to television in a guest starring role on the Fox medical drama House as a death row inmate felled by an unknown disease.

He also guest starred on 30 Rock in the episode The Source Awards as the hip hop producer Ridiculous, who Tracy Jordan fears is going to kill him.

He was recently cast as a series regular in the CBS police procedural NCIS: Los Angeles, a spin-off of the popular NCIS. LL Cool J plays Special Agent Sam Hanna, an ex – Navy SEAL who is fluent in Arabic and an expert on Middle Eastern culture. The series debuted in Autumn of 2009, but the characters were introduced in an April 2009 crossover episode on the parent show.

Other works and ventures


Smith had previously dabbled in fashion, having worked behind the scenes with the mid-eighties Hip-Hop sportswear line TROOP.

In the mid 90's, LL also helped to launch a clothing line named FUBU which means "For Us, By Us." Unbeknownst to many, LL was also part owner of FUBU as well.

LL Cool J launched a clothing line (also called Todd Smith). The initial concept of the brand seemed to focus towards the higher end of the market with a less expensive brand called "T.S". The aim of marketing for the clothes line is to be oriented towards the clothing rather than LL Cool J. It now seems that the brand has shifted to quality urban apparel.


LL Cool J has written four books, with his first venture in 1998 "I Make My Own Rules", his autobiography co-written with Karen Hunter. His second venture into the literary world came with the children-oriented book called "And The Winner Is..." in 2002. In 2006, LL and with his personal trainer, Dave "Scooter" Honig wrote a fitness book, "The Platinum Workout". His fourth book "LL Cool J (Hip-Hop Stars)" was co-written in 2007 with hip-hop historian Dustin Shekell and Public Enemy's Chuck D.

Businessman and entrepreneur

LL has started his own businesses in the music industry such as the music label in 1993 called P.O.G. (Power Of God) and formed the company Rock The Bells to produce music. With the Rock The Bells label, LL had artists such as Amyth, Smokeman, Natice, Chantel Jones and Simone Starks. Rock the Bells Records was also responsible for the Deep Blue Sea soundtrack for the 1999 movie of the same name. It includes LL himself, all of his Rock The Bells artists, Cormega, Carl Thomas, West Coast artists Hi-C, DJ Quik and James DeBarge of DeBarge, R&B girl groups, Divine and F.A.T.E., Bass Odyssesy, Deetah and movie composer, Trevor Rabin. LL's involvement with the artists would extend to co-producing and writing songs for his artists. Rufus "Scola" Waller was also signed to the label, but was released when the label folded. LL has since founded another record label, "Platinum Harvest," and also signing a 15 year old rapper named, Nicolette. In the midst of his controversial comments concerning then – Def Jam President Jay-Z, LL admitted that he was once part owner of Def Jam but has since sold his ownership. He was offered the role as President of Def Jam, but he reportedly turned down the position 10 years ago (as of year 2007) based on his belief that he was not qualified enough.



Year Title Role Notes
1985 Krush Groove Himself
1986 Wildcats Rapper
1991 The Hard Way Detective Billy, NYPD
1992 Toys Captain Patrick Zevo
1995 Out-of-Sync Jason St. Julian
1995-1999 In The House Marion Hill
1997 Touch Himself cameo
1998 Caught Up Roger
All That (TV) Himself Guest appearance
OZ (TV) Jiggy Walker Guest appearance
Woo Darryl
Caught Up Roger
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later Ronald "Ronny" Jones
1999 Deep Blue Sea Sherman "Preacher" Dudley
In Too Deep Dwayne Gittens/God
Any Given Sunday Julian Washington
2000 Charlie's Angels Mr. Jones cameo
2001 Kingdom Come Ray Bud Slocumb
2002 Rollerball Marcus Ridley
2003 Deliver Us from Eva Raymond "Ray" Adams
S.W.A.T. Officer Deacon "Deke" Kaye
2004 Mindhunters Gabe Jensen
2005 Edison Officer Rafe Deed
Slow Burn Luther Pinks
House (TV) Clarence Guest appearance
2006 Last Holiday Sean Williams
2007 Heartland
30 Rock (TV) Ridikulous Guest appearance
2008 The Deal Bobby Mason
2009–present NCIS: Los Angeles (TV) Special Agent Sam Hanna an NCIS spin-off television series,

filming first episode in February 2009.
2009 WWII In HD (TV) Shelby Westbrook Voice


MTV Video Music Awards NAACP Image Awards
  • 1996 - Best Rap Artist, for "Mr. Smith"
  • 1997 - Best Rap Artist, for "Mr. Smith"
  • 2001 - Outstanding Hip-Hop/Rap Artist, for "G.O.A.T."
  • 2003 - Outstanding Male Artist
Grammy Awards Soul Train Music Awards Blockbuster Entertainment Awards The New York Music Awards
  • 15 New York Music Awards
Soul Train Awards
  • 10 Soul Train Awards
Billboard Awards
  • 1 Billboard Award
Rock The Vote Award
  • 1997 - "Patrick Lippert Award"
Source Awards
  • 2003 - Source Foundation Image Award, for "his community work"
Long Island Music Hall of Fame
  • 2007 - Inducted as part of the Inaugural Class of Inductees for his contribution to Long Island's rich musical heritage


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