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James Todd Smith III (born January 14, 1968), better known as LL Cool J, is an American hip hop artist and actor. He is best known for romantic ballads like "I Need Love" as well as hardcore rap like "I Can't Live Without My Radio", "I'm Bad", "Boomin' System", & "Mama Said Knock You Out". He has also appeared in several films. He is seen as a sex symbol and a ladies' man, due to his "flirtatious" lip-licking and his muscular body. LL Cool J represents an important figure within the hip hop community, and is one of a few hip-hop stars of his era to sustain a successful recording career for more than two decades. He has released 11 albums and a greatest hits album so far, with the much anticipated Todd Smith Pt. 2 to be released in late 2006. The album will be the last on LL's record deal with Def Jam, a deal which has lasted more than twenty years.
Born in the St. Albans neighborhood of Queens in New York City, James Todd Smith grew up in the working-class neighborhood as the only child of James Smith, Jr. and Ondrea Smith. Todd, as he would be known, sang in the church choir and was in the Boy Scouts.
Unfortunately, LL's parents had a troublesome, often violent, relationship. As a result, his mother left his father when LL was four and they moved in with her parents in St. Albans. The relationship turned bloody, when late one night in 1972, his father shot his mother after she returned home from work. According to LL Cool J, who recounted the event in the song "Father" from his Phenomenon album, the elder James was seeking revenge after being abandoned by his family. LL's father shot his mother as she ran into her parents' house for safety. She was hit in the legs and back. LL's grandfather was also shot in the stomach. Both survived the attack.
LL's mother later began dating a man who would also bring much pain into the young rapper's life. The man, who LL named Roscoe in his autobiography, would routinely beat him, often while his mother was at work. These beatings had a profound effect on young LL. He stated that around this time he began compulsively wearing hats.
LL found that hip hop music and rapping were ways of escaping his problems. He grew up in a musical family; his grandfather played tenor sax, his mother played accordion and his grandmother, Ellen Griffith, sang in the choir. By age 11, LL was rapping. By age 12 he'd made his first studio recording.
LL Cool J, an acronym for Ladies Love Cool James, has admitted that he would buy hip hop records to get the label's address so he could send his demo tapes. He then sent a tape to Def Jam. Ad Rock of the Beastie Boys found his tape while hanging out in Rick Rubin's dorm room and convinced Rick & Russell Simmons to sign LL Cool J. He was signed to Def Jam in 1984 and released the underground hit "I Need a Beat" (see 1984 in music). The song was the first hit record for Def Jam, and its success persuaded him to drop out of school to record Radio (1985 in music).
The album 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. In 1987, he released Bigger and Deffer. The ballad "I Need Love" was one of the first pop-rap songs to be a hit. Critics generally denounced this direction, and by the release of Walking With a Panther (1989), he was booed at a Harlem rally for slain teenager Yusef Hawkins.
Around the late 1980s, hip-hop began experiencing a shift in consciousness away from the music's early themes of partying and braggadocio, to more socially aware issues such as drug abuse, race and racism, and economic empowerment. LL Cool J, as a result, experienced a drop in popularity due to the view that his music was behind the times and materialistic.
Following this, LL released Mama Said Knock You Out, generally leaning towards a tough street image. The record re-established 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, spirituality along with back-to-basics hip-hop party rocking. Mama Said... eventually went on to sell over 2 million copies. It marked the first of many self-reinventions LL Cool J would undergo to adapt to hip-hop's often changing atmosphere.
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 2 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 "Lady of my Life," which eventually became one the first rap music videos to air on American VH1. The song also earned LL a Grammy.
In 1996, LL also helped to launch a clothing line named FUBU; the name is an acronym for "For Us, By Us", meaning that the clothes were made for and marketed to black people by other black people. Around this time he became partially involved in the East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry when 2Pac dissed him, apparently in response to LL Cool J's "I Shot Ya" and its remix, both of which were featured on his "Mr. Smith" album. Neither of the songs however mention 2Pac or the simmering East Coast/West Coast conflict.
After the double platinum status of "Mr. Smith", LL's albums have not been able to regain the same levels of success. In 1997, he released the album Phenomenon. The first single, "Phenomenon" was a minor hit but the autobiographical single "Father" was a major hit.
The second single from Phenomenon was "4,3,2,1" which featured Method Man, Redman, 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. LL heard the verse and responded to it with his own verse. This essentially created a battle between two emcees 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 "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 less powerful diss, with "Back Where I Belong". Canibus replied to both tracks with his "Rip The Jacker" where he used LL's "Im Bad" backing track.
In 2000, he released the album G.O.A.T., which stood for "Greatest of All Time." The critically acclaimed album debuted at Number One on the Billboard 200, giving him his first chart-topper on that chart. Nonetheless, the album failed to produce the numbers of LL's previous releases.
LL Cool J's next album 10 from 2002, which denoted LL's 10th studio album, did not fare much better than his 9th. Although it included the popular singles "Paradise" (featuring Amerie), "Luv U Better," and the hit 2003 Jennifer Lopez duet, "All I Have," the album also failed to reach platinum status. His 11th album, The DEFinition, released in 2004, saw some hits but ultimately went unheralded.
LL's latest studio album, Todd Smith, was released 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", another song with singer Jennifer "J-Lo" Lopez. LL and J.Lo shot the video for "Control Myself" on January 2, 2006 at Sony Studios, New York. The second video, directed by Hype Williams, was "Freeze" featuring Lyfe Jennings.
LL is launching a clothing line (also called "Todd Smith") in Autumn 2006, which is aimed towards the higher end of the market whilst a less expensive range will be released called "T.S". Consultancy work by Dolce & Gabbana and Marks & Spencer is an influence on the designs. LL partnered with fashion executives, Ronald and William Gallo to form a company called Standard Fashion, where Ronald & Smith are both co-managing directors. The aim of marketing for the clothes line is to be oriented towards the clothing rather than LL Cool J. Smith had previously dabbled in fashion, having worked behind the scenes with Hip-Hop sportswear line TROOP and, as mentioned earlier, he helped launch the Hip-Hop fashion line FUBU in the 1990s.
LL and with his personal trainer, Dave "Scooter" Honig are currently working on a book called "LL Cool J's Platinum Body" which will give people detailed information on how and what LL does physically in terms of his diet, workout, philosophy and ideology. The book is to be published by Rodale Press and scheduled to be released in January 2007.
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 tentatively titled Todd Smith Pt. 2: Back to Cool. The album will reportedly be executively produced by fellow Queens rapper 50 Cent. The duo have worked together previously on the remix to the single "Freeze" from the Todd Smith LP, which was titled "Bump This". Todd Smith, Part 2 has been slated for a fall 2006 release. It will be LL's final Def Jam Album, and he's rumored to sign with Columbia Records.
LL has had his share of acting roles and cameos in various television shows and movies. One of his first roles was as Captain Patrick Zevo, the militant cousin of Robin Williams in the cult classic Toys.
For 5 seasons, LL played the role of Marion Hill in the NBC and UPN sitcom "In the House". They originally centered around the interaction between Marion and Jackie Warren (Debbie Allen), but with the introduction of new characters the show turned to the story behind his sport clinic. The show received rave reviews for its depiction of African-American males (Marion was a vegetarian, meditated, and rarely swore).
LL was also a guest host on Madtv.
He also played a running back alongside Cameron Diaz and Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday.
MTV Video Music Awards
NAACP Image Awards
Soul Train Music Awards
Blockbuster Entertainment Awards
The New York Music Awards
Soul Train Awards
Rock The Vote Award
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