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L.L. Cool J

L.L. Cool J



Rap musician




In the turbulent climate of rap music, careers are often brief moments of success crested atop long stretches of obscurity. For L.L. Cool J, this is not so, as he has both helped lay down the groundwork for rap during the genre's early days as well as refining and reinventing it for two decades. A veteran in a field with few veterans, Cool J has broken numerous commercial records, as well as artistic barriers by appealing to so-called "crossover" audiences and building a thriving acting career. The winner of two Grammy awards, the rapper sees his longevity as only just beginning. "I hate when people say 'still'," he was quoted on the Def Jam website. "Imagine asking a doctor, 'Yo man, you still a doctor?' It's not like I'm fighting to stay above water, I'm swimming and I got a shark fin going at 100 miles per hour."

Growing up in the tough neighborhood of St. Alban's in Queens, New York, immediately provided Cool J, born James Todd Smith in 1968, with the tenacity and experience that has shaped many rappers. However, unlike many of his "gangsta" contemporaries, Cool J later celebrated the strength gained from his youth, but not affiliations with gangs. "I did everything you could possibly name in the street," Cool J told Vibe magazine. "I really came from that realness. I have that Queens experience on my mind, and it'll never leave me. The things I've been through the gunshots fired at me because me and my friend put blanks inside snowballs and threw them on people's windshields. We was nuts to a certain extent, but for the most part, I'm glad I did everything I did because it helped mold me as a person."


Def Jam Took Notice


Not only did the streets provide Cool J with life lessons, they also became the medium in which he became engaged in rapping, at a very young age. Experimenting from age nine, Cool J was fronting local rap crews at 11 years old, and in less than two years was tinkering with recording equipment. After his grandfather bought him a two-track recorder in lieu of a dirtbike, the precocious Cool J cut his first demo tapes when only thirteen, and soon began mailing them out. When the tapes captured the attention of producers Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, founders of the budding label Def Jam, Cool J was almost immediately locked on a track for stardom.

In 1984, a time when rap music was only just gaining credibility with mass audiences, Def Jam was a gutsy venture to begin with. However, by releasing then 16 year old Cool J's "I Need A Beat" as their maiden single, Rubin and Simmons were taking a true risk. Their conviction of Cool J's talents were founded, and the single took off in popularity. A year later, Cool J recorded his debut album Radio for Def Jam, also their first long player, to wide acclaim. Called "the most engaging and original rap album of the year" by Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau, the album was a showcase of bass-driven favorites such as "Rock The Bells" as well as tender ballads, justifying his full moniker, Ladies Love Cool James. The album went platinum, as did many of Cool J's full-length releases that followed.

Already a recording star, Cool J quickly proved to be a powerful live presence as well. He was invited to perform in the rap film Krush Groove, to deliver a version of his song "I Can't Live Without My Radio." Within the next several years, Cool J would figure prominently in several major rap tours under the Def Jam bannerthe Raising Hell Tour of 1986, featuring Run DMC and the Beastie Boys, and the Def Jam Tour a year after, whose roster included Public Enemy, Eric B. and Rakim, and Whodini. "See L.L. live," urged L.A. Times critic Robert Hilburn, "and it's easy to understand why he is emerging as a legitimate culture hero. His confidence and way with rhymes suggest a young Mohammed Ali, but some of his stage antics are reminiscent of Prince," he continued. With his low brimmed floppy cap and massive gold chains, Cool J's image neatly summed up all that was "old school" rap.

With the release of his second album in 1987, Bigger and Deffer, Cool J scored with audiences across the board, helping to broaden the audience for rap. The album's single "I Need Love" became the first rap song to top Billboard magazine's R&B chart, and proved that rap could embrace romantic modes, even while Spin magazine called Bigger and Deffer "arguably the heaviest rock 'n' roll record ever released on a major label". As the album joined Radio in platinum territory, Cool J's track "Going Back To Cali" for the film Less Than Zero help push that movie's soundtrack to gold sales.


Gave Back to Society


By the end of the 1980s, Cool J began to show a genuine commitment to social issues. In November of 1988, he performed in Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast as a benefit to a local hospital, and consequently was crowned honorary Chief Kwasi Achi-Brou by the elder council of the nearby village Gran-Bassan. In addition to later appearing in a set of drug awareness public service announcements for television, Cool J was approached by then First Lady Nancy Reagan to headline an anti-drug benefit concert at New York City's Radio City Music Hall. Just as the general public was developing uneasiness over a link between rap music, gang violence, and narcotic addiction, Cool J stood firm on the issue. "Kids come to my show to have fun, not to hear how bad the world is," he was quoted in the Def Jam homepage. "I don't promote violence and I don't promote drugs, simple as that."

For the Record . . .


Born James Todd Smith in 1968, in St. Alban's, Queens, NY; married Simone, 1995; children: three.

Released first 12" single, "I Need A Beat," and first album, Radio, for the influential Def Jam label, 1984 and 1985, respectively; performed on the Raising Hell Tour alongside Run DMC and the Beastie Boys, 1986; released album Bigger And Deffer and became the first rap artist to hit the Billboard Black Singles Chart, 1987; became the first rapper to grace the cover of Ebony magazine, 1987; visited the Ivory Coast for a benefit concert, 1988; released fourth and most popular album up to that time, Mama Said Knock You Out, 1990; made debut movie appearance in the police film The Hard Way, 1991; became first rapper on MTV's Unplugged series, 1991; released 14 Shots to the Dome, 1993, Mr. Smith, 1995; Walking with a Panther, 1995; star of NBC/UPN series In The House, 1995-98; released compilation All World Greatest Hits, 1996; released Phenomenon, 1997; starred in numerous films, 1990s-2000s; released G.O.A.T. Featuring James T. Smith: The Greatest of All Time, 2000; released 10, 2002.


Awards: Village Voice Award, Album of the Year, 1990; New York Music Awards, Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, 1991; Grammy Awards, Best Rap Solo Performance for Mama Said Knock You Out, 1991, Best Rap Solo Performance for "Hey Lover," 1996; Soul Train Awards, Best Rap Single for "I Need Love," Best Rap Album for Bigger and Deffer, 1988; Soul Train Award for R&B/Soul or Rap Album of the Year for 10, 2003.

Addresses: Record company Def Jam Recordings, 652 Broadway, New York, NY 10012, website: http://www.defjam.com. Website L.L. Cool J Official Web-site: http://www.defjam.com/llcoolj/.

Cool J continued to release platinum selling albums, as well as amassing awards and nominations for his recordings. Although the massive 18 track Walking With A Panther, released in 1989, was perhaps Cool J's low point among critics, it was still a commercial smash, and harbored at least one truly impressive single, "I'm That Type Of Guy." However, the 1990 follow up, Mama Said Knock You Out, was almost immediately accepted as Cool J's best album yet, through which he "reclaim[ed] his persona as the most articulated of homeboys, above uncluttered funk riffs assembled by the producer Marley Marl," as New York Times columnist Jon Pareles assessed. Indeed, while the album contained some of Cool J's smoothest compositions, such as the memorable "Around The Way Girl," yet another single which peaked on multiple charts, it was the bass thumping, confident drive of "The Boomin' System" and the album's title cut which gave Mama Said Knock You Out its appeal. As Cool J stated in an America Online interview, the title song was "a testament to the fact that no matter how rough times get and no matter how tough times get, you should never give up because that was the entire premise of that song. I was at a rough time in my life and I was inspired by my grandmother to get out there and knock them out!"

The onset of the 1990s saw Cool J explore the media of film and television, both as a musician and as an actor. On the big screen, he turned in an impressive performance as an undercover cop in the drama The Hard Way in 1991, which led to a part in director Barry Levinson's 1992 film Toys. For MTV, Cool J took part in two groundbreaking specials, both in 1991. In May, he performed acoustic versions of songs such as "Mama Said Knock You Out" and "Jingling Baby" for the popular series Unplugged, becoming the first rap artist to appear on the show. Shortly thereafter, he appeared in the music network's History of Rap documentary, discussing classic rap acts like Afrika Bambaata and The Sugarhill Gang, as rap began to get the recognition it deserved as a cultural phenomenon. In addition, Cool J even was given his own television series, In The House. First shown on the NBC network in 1995, it was moved to the UPN network before ending its run in 1998.


Style Changed with the Times


By the 1990s, rap had undergone a myriad of changes and upheavals, branching into countless factions and styles, and Cool J's next several albums proved that he was able to retain his vitality throughout. His 1993 album 14 Shots To The Dome was memorable, and provided the rapper with yet another platinum-seller. Mr. Smith, released in 1995, rated as one of the artist's most successful fusions of hard-edged attitude and laid back eroticism. As Rolling Stone critic Cheo H. Coker noted, Mr. Smith did not always "deliver the haymaker punches of Mama Said Knock You Out, but it has enough force to prove that the king from Queens is no punk." The sexually charged singles "Doin' It" and "Hey Lover" scored among the album's highlights.

A year later, the retrospective album All World Greatest Hits hit record stores. This album spanned a decade of Cool J's career, and in the process, ten years in the history of rap music. The year 1997 saw the release of Cool J's Phenomenon, which was followed by a three-year break from the recording studio while the rapper focused on his film acting career. During this time he appeared in the films Halloween: H20 (1998), Deep Blue Sea (1999), Any Given Sunday (1999), In Too Deep, (1999), and Charlie's Angels (2000). Returning to the studio while continuing to act, Cool J released G.O.A.T. Featuring James T. Smith: The Greatest Hits of All Time in 2000. This album quickly climbed to the top of the music charts. Cool J returned to the silver screen in Kingdom Come (2001), Roller Ball (2002), and Deliver Us from Eva (2003).

Continuing to juggle his careers in music and in film, he released 10 in 2002. A single from this album, "Luv U Better," became one of the star rapper's biggest hits. Cool J re-signed his contract with Def Jam in 2003, continuing his relationship of more than two decades with the groundbreaking label. Russell Simmons, producer and founder of Def Jam, made a statement to the media following the signing: "L.L. Cool J is a shining example of the longevity and power of hiphop. In fact, he is the embodiment of hip-hop. He is one of the architects of the Def Jam culture. I am privileged to work with a man who is both a pioneer and a legend."

Never one to rest on his laurels, Cool J has continued to expand his career and musical style, and at the same time to remain a devoted father. As he told Vibe magazine, "I keep it all in perspective. At the end of the day, I'm not doin' this just to see how many women I can get or how many gold chains I can wear. I'm doin' this so my family can sleep comfortable at night. That's why I break my neck where most people think I wouldn't have to."


Selected discography

Radio, Def Jam, 1985.

Bigger and Deffer, Def Jam, 1987.

Walking With A Panther, Def Jam, 1989.

Mama Said Knock You Out, Def Jam, 1990.

14 Shots To The Dome, Def Jam, 1993

Mr. Smith, Def Jam, 1995

Walking with a Panther, Def Jam, 1995

All World Greatest Hits, Def Jam, 1996

Mr. Smith, Def Jam, 1995

Phenomenon, Def Jam, 1997

G.O.A.T. Featuring James T. Smith: The Greatest of All Time, Def Jam, 2000

10, Def Jam, 2002



Sources

Periodicals


Daily Variety, July 10, 2003, p. 18.

Los Angeles Times, July 19, 1987, p. C58.

New York Times, November 18, 1990, sec. 2, p.32.

Rolling Stone, February 8, 1996, pp. 49-50.

Vibe, March 1997.


Online


"L.L. Cool J," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 12, 2004).
Recording Academy Grammy Awards, http://www.grammy.com (February 12, 2004).


Shaun Frentner and Michael Belfiore

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"L.L. Cool J." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"L.L. Cool J." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ll-cool-j

"L.L. Cool J." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ll-cool-j

L.L. Cool J 1968–

L.L. Cool J 1968

Rap artist, actor

Became a Teenage Superstar

Demonstrated Commitment to Social Concerns

Parlayed Into Film and Television

Selected discography

In the turbulent climate of rap music, careers are often brief moments of success crested atop long stretches of obscurity. For L.L. Cool J, this is not so, as he has both helped laid down the groundwork for rap during the genres early days as well as refining and reinventing it for over a decade. A veteran in a field with few veterans, Cool J has broken numerous commercial records, as well as artistic barriers by appealing to so-called crossover audiences and dabbling in acting. A working dynamo, the rapper sees his longevity as only just beginning. I hate when people say still, he was quoted on the Def Jam homepage. Imagine asking a doctor, Yo man, you still a doctor? Its not like Im fighting to stay above water, Im swimming and I got a shark fin going at 100 miles per hour.

Growing up in the tough neighborhood of St. Albans in Queens, New York immediately provided Cool J, born James Todd Smith in 1968, with the tenacity and experience that has shaped many rappers. However, unlike many of his gangsta contemporaries, Cool J later celebrated the strength gained from his youth, but not affiliations with gangs. I did everything you could possibly name in the street, Cool J told Vibe magazine.

I really came from that realness. I have that Queens experience on my mind, and itll never leave me. The things Ive been through the gunshots fired at me because me and my friend put blanks inside snowballs and threw them on peoples wind-shields. We was nuts to a certain extent, but for the most part, Im glad I did everything I did because it helped mold me as a person.

Became a Teenage Superstar

Not only did the streets provide Cool J with life lessons, they also became the medium in which he engaged in rapping, at a very young age. Experimenting from age nine, Cool J was fronting local rap crews at 11 years old, and in less than two years was tinkering with recording equipment. After his grandfather bought him a two-track recorder in lieu of a dirtbike, the precocious Cool J cut his first demo tapes when only thirteen, and soon began mailing them out. When the tapes captured the attention of producers Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, founders of the budding label Def Jam, Cool J was almost immediately locked on a track for stardom.

At a Glance

Born James Todd Smith, 1968, in St. Albans, Queens, NY; married high school sweetheart Simone in 1995; childrenNajee, Italia, and Samaria.

Released first 12 single, I Need A Beat, and first album, Radio, Def Jam label, 1984, 1985, respectively; performed on the Raising Hell Tour alongside Run DMC and The Beastie Boys, 1986; released album Bigger And Deffer and became the first rap artist to hit Billboard Black Singles Chart, 1987; became the first rapper to grace the cover of Ebony magazine, 1987; visited the Ivory Coast for a benefit concert, 1988; released fourth album, Mama Said Knock You Out, 1990; made debut movie appearance in The Hard Way, 1991; became first rapper on MTVs Unplugged series, 1991; star of NBC/UPN series In The House, 1995-; released All World Greatest Hits, 1996; co-author of autobiography (w/Karen Hunter), I Make My Own Rules (St. Martins Press), 1997; Seventh album, Phenomenon, 1997.

Awards : Village Voice Album of the Year Award, 1990; Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year in NY Music Awards, 1991; Grammy Award for Mama Said Knock You Out, 1991; Ten various Soul Train Awards.

Addresses : Record LabelDef Jam Recordings, 652 Broadway, New York, NY, 10012.

In 1984, a time when rap music was only just gaining credibility with mass audiences, Def Jam was a gutsy venture to begin with. However, by releasing then 16 year old Cool Js I Need A Beat as their maiden single, Rubin and Simmons were taking a true risk. Their conviction of Cool Js talents were founded, and the single took off in popularity. A year later, Cool J recorded his debut album Radio for Def Jam, also their first long player, to the approval of many sectors. Called the most engaging and original rap album of the year by Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau, the album was a showcase of bass-driven favorites such as Rock The Bells as well as tender ballads, justifying his full moniker, Ladies Love Cool James. The album went platinum, as did all of Cool Js full-length releases from that point on.

Already a recording star, Cool J quickly proved to be a powerful live presence as well. He was invited to perform in the rap film Krush Groove to deliver a version of his song I Cant Live Without My Radio. Within the next several years, Cool J would figure prominently in several major rap tours under the Def Jam bannerthe Raising Hell Tour of 1986, featuring Run DMC and the Beastie Boys, and the Def Jam Tour a year after, whose roster included Public Enemy, Eric B. and Rakim, and Whodini. See L.L. live, urged L.A. Times critic Robert Hilburn, and its easy to understand why he is emerging as a legitimate culture hero. His confidence and way with rhymes suggest a young Mohammed Ali, but some of his stage antics are reminiscent of Prince, he continued. With his low brimmed floppy cap and massive gold chains, Cool Js image neatly summed up all that was old school rap.

With the release of his second album in 1987, Bigger and Deffer, Cool J scored with audiences across the board, helping to broaden the barriers of rap listeners. The albums single I Need Love became the first rap song to top Billboard magazines R&B chart, and proved that rap could embrace romantic modes, even while Spin magazine called Bigger and Deffer arguably the heaviest rock n roll record ever released on a major label. As the album joined Radio in platinum territory, Cool Js track Going Back To Cali for the film Less Than Zero help push that movies soundtrack to gold sales.

Demonstrated Commitment to Social Concerns

By the end of the 1980s, Cool J began to show a genuine commitment to social issues. In November of 1988, he performed in Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast as a benefit to a local hospital, and consequently was crowned honorary Chief Kwasi Achi-Brou by the elder council of the nearby village Gran-Bassan. In addition to later appearing in a pervasive set of drug awareness public service announcements for television, Cool J was approached by then First Lady Nancy Reagan to headline an anti-drug benefit concert at New York Citys Radio City Music Hall. Just as the general public was developing uneasiness over a link between rap music, gang violence, and narcotic addiction, Cool J stood firm on the issue. Kids come to my show to have fun, not to hear how bad the world is, he was quoted in the Def Jam homepage. I dont promote violence and I dont promote drugs, simple as that.

Cool J continued to release platinum selling albums, as well as amassing awards and nominations for his recordings. Although the massive 18 track Walking With A Panther, released in 1989 was perhaps Cool Js low point among critics, it was still a commercial smash, and harbored at least one truly impressive single, Im That Type Of Guy. However, the 1990 follow up, Mama Said Knock You Out, was almost immediately accepted as Cool Js best album yet, through which he reclaim[ed] his persona as the most articulated of homeboys, above uncluttered funk riffs assembled by the producer Marley Marl, as New York Times columnist Jon Pareles assessed. Indeed, while the album contained some of Cool Js smoothest compositions, such as the memorable Around The Way Girl, yet another single which peaked on multiple charts, it was the bass thumping, confident drive of The BoominSystem and the albums title cut which gave Mama Said Knock You Out its appeal. As Cool J stated in an America Online interview, the title song was a testament to the fact that no matter how rough times get and no matter how tough times get, you should never give up because that was the entire premise of that song. I was at a rough time in my life and I was inspired by my grandmother to get out there and knock them out!

Parlayed Into Film and Television

The onset of the 1990s saw Cool J explore the media of film and television, both as a musician and as an actor. On the big screen, he turned in an impressive performance as an undercover cop in the drama The Hard Way in 1991, which led to a part in director Barry Levinsons 1992 film Toys. For MTV, Cool J took part in two groundbreaking specials, both in 1991. In May, he performed acoustic versions of songs such as Mama Said Knock You Out and Jingling Baby for the popular series Unplugged, and was the first rap artist to do so. Shortly thereafter, he appeared in the music networks History of Rap documentary, discussing classic rap acts like Afrika Bambaata and The Sugarhill Gang, as rap began to get the recognition it deserved as a cultural phenomenon. In addition, Cool J even was given his own television series, In The House, first shown on the NBC network, then switched to the UPN network.

By the 1990s, rap had undergone a myriad of changes and upheavals, branching into countless factions and styles, and Cool Js next several albums proved that he was able to retain his vitality throughout. His 1993 album 14 Shots To Dome was memorable, and provided the rapper with yet another platinum-seller. Mr. Smith, released in 1995, rated as one of the artists most successful fusions of hard-edged attitude and laid back eroticism. As Rolling Stone critic Cheo H. Coker noted, Mr. Smith did not always deliver the haymaker punches of Mama Said Knock You Out, but it has enough force to prove that the king from Queens is no punk, with the highly sexual singles Doin It and Hey Lover among the highlights. A year later, the retrospective album All World Greatest Hits hit record stores, which spanned a decade of Cool Js career, and in the process, ten years in the history of rap music. Never one to rest on his laurels, Cool J showed every intention of continuing to expand his career and musical style, and at the same time remain a devoted father. As he told Vibe magazine, I keep it all in perspective. At the end of the day, Im not doin this just to see how many women I can get or how many gold chains I can wear. Im doin this so my family can sleep comfortable at night. Thats why I break my neck where most people think I wouldnt have to.

Selected discography

Radio, Def Jam, 1985.

Bigger and Deffer, Def Jam, 1987.

Walking With A Panther, Def Jam, 1989.

Mama Said Knock You Out, Def Jam, 1990.

14 Shots To The Dome, Def Jam, 1993.

Mr. Smith, Def Jam, 1995.

All World Greatest Hits, Def Jam, 1996.

Going Back To Cali, appeared on Less Than Zero soundtrack.

Phenomenon, Def Jam, 1997.

Periodicals

Los Angeles Times, July 19, 1987, p. C58.

New York Times, November 18, 1990, sec. 2, p.32.

Rolling Stone, February 8, 1996, pp. 49-50.

Vibe, March 1997.

Online

www.defjam.com/artists/llcoolj/llcoolj.html

www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Hills/1569/llnews.htm

Shaun Frentner

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"L.L. Cool J 1968–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"L.L. Cool J 1968–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ll-cool-j-1968

"L.L. Cool J 1968–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ll-cool-j-1968

L.L. Cool J

L.L. Cool J

1968

Rap musician, actor

In the turbulent climate of rap music, careers are often brief moments of success crested atop long stretches of obscurity. For L.L. Cool J, this is not so, as he has helped lay down the groundwork for rap during the genre's early days and refine and reinvent it for over a decade. A veteran in a field with few veterans, Cool J has broken numerous commercial records, as well as artistic barriers by appealing to so-called "crossover" audiences and establishing himself as an actor. A working dynamo, the rapper sees his longevity as only just beginning. "I hate when people say 'still'," he was quoted on the Def Jam Web site. "Imagine asking a doctor, 'Yo man, you still a doctor?' It's not like I'm fighting to stay above water, I'm swimming and I got a shark fin going at 100 miles per hour."

Growing up in the tough neighborhood of St. Alban's in Queens, New York immediately provided Cool J, born James Todd Smith in 1968, with the tenacity and experience that has shaped many rappers. However, unlike many of his "gangsta" contemporaries, Cool J later celebrated the strength gained from his youth, but not affiliations with gangs. "I did everything you could possibly name in the street," Cool J told Vibe magazine. "I really came from that realness. I have that Queens experience on my mind, and it'll never leave me. The things I've been throughthe gunshots fired at me because me and my friend put blanks inside snowballs and threw them on people's windshields. We was nuts to a certain extent, but for the most part, I'm glad I did everything I did because it helped mold me as a person."

Not only did the streets provide Cool J with life lessons, they also became the medium in which he became engaged in rapping, at a very young age. Experimenting from age nine, Cool J was fronting local rap crews at 11 years old, and in less than two years was tinkering with recording equipment. After his grandfather bought him a two-track recorder in lieu of a dirtbike, the precocious Cool J cut his first demo tapes when only thirteen, and soon began mailing them out. When the tapes captured the attention of producers Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, founders of the budding label Def Jam, Cool J was almost immediately locked on a track for stardom.

In 1984, a time when rap music was only just gaining credibility with mass audiences, Def Jam was a gutsy venture to begin with. However, by releasing then 16-year-old Cool J's "I Need A Beat" as their maiden single, Rubin and Simmons were taking a true risk. Their conviction of Cool J's talents were founded, and the single took off in popularity. A year later, Cool J recorded his debut album Radio for Def Jam, also their first long player, to the approval of many sectors. Called "the most engaging and original rap album of the year" by Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau, the album was a showcase of bass-driven favorites such as "Rock The Bells" as well as tender ballads, justifying his full moniker, Ladies Love Cool James. The album went platinum, as did all of Cool J's full-length releases from that point on.

Already a recording star, Cool J quickly proved to be a powerful live presence as well. He was invited to perform in the rap film Krush Groove to deliver a version of his song "I Can't Live Without My Radio." Within the next several years, Cool J would figure prominently in several major rap tours under the Def Jam bannerthe Raising Hell Tour of 1986, featuring Run DMC and the Beastie Boys, and the Def Jam Tour a year after, whose roster included Public Enemy, Eric B. and Rakim, and Whodini. "See L.L. live," urged Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn, "and it's easy to understand why he is emerging as a legitimate culture hero. His confidence and way with rhymes suggest a young Mohammed Ali, but some of his stage antics are reminiscent of Prince," he continued. With his low brimmed floppy cap and massive gold chains, Cool J's image neatly summed up all that was "old school" rap.

With the release of his second album in 1987, Bigger and Deffer, Cool J scored with audiences across the board, helping to broaden the barriers of rap listeners. The album's single "I Need Love" became the first rap song to top Billboard magazine's R&B chart, and proved that rap could embrace romantic modes, even while Spin magazine called Bigger and Deffer "arguably the heaviest rock'n'roll record ever released on a major label". As the album joined Radio in platinum territory, Cool J's track "Going Back To Cali" for the film Less Than Zero help push that movie's soundtrack to gold sales.

By the end of the 1980s, Cool J began to show a genuine commitment to social issues. In November of 1988, he performed in Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast as a benefit to a local hospital, and consequently was crowned honorary Chief Kwasi Achi-Brou by the elder council of the nearby village Gran-Bassan. In addition to later appearing in a pervasive set of drug awareness public service announcements for television, Cool J was approached by then First Lady Nancy Reagan to headline an anti-drug benefit concert at New York City's Radio City Music Hall. Just as the general public was developing uneasiness over a link between rap music, gang violence, and narcotic addiction, Cool J stood firm on the issue. "Kids come to my show to have fun, not to hear how bad the world is," he was quoted in the Def Jam homepage. "I don't promote violence and I don't promote drugs, simple as that."

Cool J continued to release platinum selling albums, as well as amassing awards and nominations for his recordings. Although the massive 18-track Walking With A Panther, released in 1989 was perhaps Cool J's low point among critics, it was still a commercial smash, and harbored at least one truly impressive single, "I'm That Type Of Guy." However, the 1990 follow up, Mama Said Knock You Out, was almost immediately accepted as Cool J's best album yet, through which he "reclaim[ed] his persona as the most articulated of homeboys, above uncluttered funk riffs assembled by the producer Marley Marl," as New York Times columnist Jon Pareles assessed. Indeed, while the album contained some of Cool J's smoothest compositions, such as the memorable "Around The Way Girl," yet another single which peaked on multiple charts, it was the bass thumping, confident drive of "The Boomin' System" and the album's title cut which gave Mama Said Knock You Out its appeal. As Cool J stated in an America Online interview, the title song was "a testament to the fact that no matter how rough times get and no matter how tough times get, you should never give up because that was the entire premise of that song. I was at a rough time in my life and I was inspired by my grandmother to get out there and knock them out!"

At a Glance

Born James Todd Smith, on January 14, 1968, in St. Alban's, Queens, NY; married Simone, 1995; children: three.

Career : Singer, 1984; actor, 1991.

Awards : Village Voice Album of the Year Award, 1990; Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year in New York Music Awards, 1991; Grammy Award for Mama Said Knock You Out, 1991; Grammy Award nomination for DEFinition, 2005.

Addresses : Record Label Def Jam Records, 652 Broadway, New York, NY, 10012.

The onset of the 1990s saw Cool J explore the media of film and television, both as a musician and as an actor. On the big screen, he turned in an impressive performance as an undercover cop in the drama The Hard Way in 1991, which led to a part in director Barry Levinson's 1992 film Toys. For MTV, Cool J took part in two groundbreaking specials, both in 1991. In May, he performed acoustic versions of songs such as "Mama Said Knock You Out" and "Jingling Baby" for the popular series Unplugged, and was the first rap artist to do so. Shortly thereafter, he appeared in the music network's History of Rap documentary, discussing classic rap acts like Afrika Bambaata and The Sugarhill Gang, as rap began to get the recognition it deserved as a cultural phenomenon. In addition, Cool J took a leading support role on the television series, In The House, first shown on the NBC network in 1995, then switched to the UPN network, where it ran until 1999.

Rap had undergone a myriad of changes and upheavals, branching into countless factions and styles, by the 1990s and Cool J's next several albums proved that he was able to retain his vitality throughout. His 1993 album 14 Shots to The Dome was memorable, and provided the rapper with yet another platinum-seller. Mr. Smith, released in 1995, rated as one of the artist's most successful fusions of hard-edged attitude and laid back eroticism. As Rolling Stone critic Cheo H. Coker noted, Mr. Smith did not always "deliver the haymaker punches of Mama Said Knock You Out, but it has enough force to prove that the king from Queens is no punk," with the highly sexual singles "Doin' It" and "Hey Lover" among the highlights. A year later, the retrospective album All World Greatest Hits hit record stores, which spanned a decade of Cool J's career, and in the process, ten years in the history of rap music.

Another decade later, Cool J continued to produce platinum-selling albums. Reminiscing about his music career, Cool J told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that "I don't have a favorite [album]. I feel as good about my music now as I did then." He enjoyed a great deal of success with his 2002 album 10, which included his hit song "Love U Better," and with his 2004 album DEFinition, which earned him a Grammy nomination in 2005. When asked about his longevity in the music business, Cool J explained to the St. Louis Post Dispatch that he would not consider retirement "as long as I feel motivated and as long as I feel like I have something to sayas long as I can make a contribution to the language of hip-hop."

Reluctant to pick a favorite between music and acting, Cool J concentrated as much on his acting career as he did on his music at the start of the new millennium. He told the St. Louis Post Disptach that he loved "diving into different lives and exploring various emotions. It's pretty amazing." Although he had appeared in more than a dozen films since his debut in 1991, including Any Given Sunday in 1999, Charlie's Angels in 2000, and S.W.A.T. in 2003, Cool J landed his first complex, leading role in the police drama, Edison, released in 2005. He told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that "I got to do the kind of work I've always dreamt of doing with the depth of this character." With his dual careers steaming ahead full throttle, Cool J added a new one: clothing design. His "James Todd Smith" clothing line appeared in malls in 2004. Indeed, after more than two decades in the limelight, Cool J seemed far from stepping off the stage.

Selected discography

Radio, Def Jam, 1985.

Bigger and Deffer, Def Jam, 1987.

Walking With A Panther, Def Jam, 1989.

Mama Said Knock You Out, Def Jam, 1990.

14 Shots to The Dome, Def Jam, 1993.

Mr. Smith, Def Jam, 1995.

All World Greatest Hits, Def Jam, 1996.

Phenomenon, 1997.

G.O.A.T., 2000.

10, 2002.

The DEFinition, 2004.

Sources

Periodicals

Los Angeles Times, July 19, 1987, p. C58.

New York Times, November 18, 1990, sec. 2, p.32.

Rolling Stone, February 8, 1996, pp. 49-50.

St. Louis Dispatch, September 16, 2004; September 23, 2004.

Vibe, March 1997.

On-line

"LL Cool J," Def Jam Records, www.defjam.com/llcoolj/home.las (January 31, 2005).

"LL Cool J," MTV.com, www.mtv.com/bands/az/ll_cool_j/artist.jhtml (January 31, 2005).

Shaun Frentner and Sara Pendergast

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