No matter who is in your current Top 5, LL Cool J is undoubtedly the G.O.A.T. in hip-hop. With over 30 years experience in the rap game, he’s still doing it and doing it well. The rap icon turns 50 years old today (Jan. 14).
LL Cool J, whose real name is James Todd Smith, is a native Queen, N.Y., who became the first sex symbol in rap. But aside from his good looks, LL was also a lyrical threat. Not only did he charm the ladies with his lovey-dovey rap ballads (“I Need Love,” “Hey Lover,” “Luv U Better” and others), he also a ferocious battle rapper.
LL’s 1985 debut album Radio was a phenomenal B-boy document set to music. Over Rick Rubin’s minimalist productions, the then 17-year-old rapper delivered braggadocios rhymes and sophomoric themes that really represented how many kids were living in the inner-city at that time.
His 1987 follow-up, BAD (or Bigger and Deffer), cemented LL as hip-hop’s first matinee idol. Following in the same themes as Radio, LL was brasher and more confident in his rhymes and storytelling. The LP’s centerpiece “I Need Love” was a No. 1 hit on the R&B/hip-hop Single chart and garnered success on mainstream radio as well. LL ficially crossed over without even trying.
In 1990, LL released his fourth album Mama Said Knock You Out, which featured the stellar production work legendary hip-hop producer Marley Marl. From the title track to the infectious ballad “Around the Way Girl” to the club banger “Jingling Baby,” LL covered all the bases. Overall, the album cemented Uncle L as a bonafide rap legend.
And when it came to battle rap, LL was up for the challenge. His rap feuds against Kool Moe Dee, Ice-T and Canibus are legendary and well-documented in hip-hop folklore.
But LL Cool J is not just a rapper. He’s also a great actor that has made successful strides in both film and television. He’s also a noted author with three books - his autobiography, I Make My Own Rules, and two health/lifestyle tomes.
In 2016, LL Cool J was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame in Los Angeles. Last year, he became the first hip-hop artist to receive a Kennedy Center Honor in Washington, D.C.
From Hollis to Hollywood, LL Cool J has done it all. And at age 50, is still looks youthful as ever.
Happy Birthday, LL Cool J!