L. L. Cool J.
L. L. Cool J.
“L. L. Cool J. (Ladies Love Cool James) is the hip La hop prince of the rap revolution,” stated Rhoda E. McKinney in Ebony. L.L., whose real name is James Todd Smith, is a self-assured, good-looking young rap artist, widely admired as one of the most gifted performers of his craft. But strutting shirtless in a show which includes his disc jockey, Cut Creator, and E-Love, his bodyguard valet, belies the private man. Leaving off the on-stage boasts when asked if he considers himself, as many do, the most articulate of rappers, Smith replied in Interview, “No, not really. I just consider myself one of the brothers who does what he gotta do.”
Born and raised in Queens, New York, L.L. still lives in St. Albans, a black middle-class neighborhood, with his grandmother, Ellen Griffith. Her red brick house has been home to L.L. since he was three years old. His parents are separated. To encourage the boy’s musical interest, his late grandfather, a professional jazz saxophonist, paid $2, 000 for a couple of turntables, a mixer, and an amplifier when L.L. was eleven. “By the time I got that equipment, I was already a rapper,” L.L. told Stephen Holden in the New York Times Magazine. “In this neighborhood, the kids grow up on rap. It’s like speaking Spanish if you grow up in an all-Spanish house. I got into it when I was about nine, and since then all I wanted was to make a record and hear it on the radio.”
In 1982, L.L. was performing with neighborhood rap groups at roller rink and block party gatherings. He told Holden, “Aspiring rappers like to challenge each other with disrespect…. Being the best in your neighborhood is what it’s all about.” When not performing, the thirteen-year-old was sending homemade tapes to various rap record companies. Rick Rubin and his partner Russell Simmons were just forming the production company, Def Jam, in 1984, when they received one of L.L.’s raps, “I Need A Beat,” and decided to record the song for their first release. L.L. quit attending Andrew Jackson High School, where he played sports and got good grades (he still intends to finish), when his debut single sold over 100, 000 copies. The number “I Want You” followed and did so well that L.L. was asked to participate in a national rapper’s tour, the New York City Fresh Festival, in the summer of the following year.
Hailed as a rap landmark, the album Radio came next, changing the course of rap music in 1985, after Rubin instructed L.L. to arrange verses, choruses, and bridges in his raps, which keyed on simplicity. Rubin told Rolling Stone, “It was just making rap like songs.”
Including two early rap ballads “I Want You” and “I Can Give You More” along with the dramatic “Rock the Bells!” and the B-boy anthem “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” the album went platinum to good reviews.
Real name, James Todd Smith; born c. 1969 in Queens, N.Y.; grandson of Ellen Griffith. Education: Attended Andrew Jackson High School, Queens, N.Y. (left school in 1984).
Began performing with neighborhood rap groups at block parties, 1982; sent homemade tape of “I Need a Beat” to producers Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons just as they were forming Def Jam Productions, 1984; cut became Def Jam’s first release, 1984; debut album, Radio, released, critically hailed as a rap landmark, 1985. Performs with rap group consisting of disc jockey Cut Creator and bodyguard E-Love.
Addresses: Residence —Queens, N.Y. Record company —Def Jam/Columbia, 51 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019.
Stephen Holden called “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” a “quintessential rap in its directness, immediacy, and assertion of self: ‘Walking down the street to the hardcore beat/While my JVC vibrates the concrete/I’m sorry if you can’t understand/But I need a radio inside my hand/Don’t mean to offend other citizens/But I kick my volume way past 10.“‘Rolling Stone pronounced Radio an early rap masterpiece “ushering in rap’s blockbuster era and heralding the arrival of a superb rapper” who “because of his good looks and macho swagger” has become “one of rap’s first heartthrobs.”
“Sex and the hit single have taken a new twist” wrote Peter Goddard in Chatelaine when he reviewed “I Need Love” from L.L.’s second album, Bigger and Deffer. The song asked for nothing short-term or superficial in a relationship, which Goddard noted was a departure from a field of music, which, before L.L., had been “notoriously sexist.” Rolling Stone called the song “the hippest bedroom monologue since Barry White’s heyday,” but Havelock Nelson in High Fidelity criticized the platinum follow-up album which featured the number for its “use of pilfered bits.” He upbraided the use of “longer and more obvious samples and scratched passages” on the album, but still praised the witty narratives.
After Bigger and Deffer stayed on Billboard’s Top Ten for two months, L.L. Cool J. headlined the sold-out 70-city Def Jam tour. Featured on the tour with L.L., billed as “the Crown Prince of Rap,” were Public Enemy, Eric B. and Rakim, Stetsonic, Whodini, and Doug E. Fresh. Profiled in Interview by Fab 5 Freddy after the tour, L.L. disputed his macho public image. “I’m proud. If you see me smiling, standing straight up, gold around my neck, it’s not because I’m conceited. It’s because I’m proud of what I achieved. I made this. That’s what all this is about.”
L.L. continued to feature the balladry, bawdiness, and boasting from his second album, which set new standards for rap, in his third album Walking With A Panther, but the reception for this album was mixed in Rolling Stone. David Browne called the album “the best-sounding record of his career,” but questioned L.L.’s limited repertoire. “That’s all well and good, and Walking With A Panther bodes well for L.L.’s career as a rap auteur. But with so much happening outside of the recording studio and on the streets, is being the boaster with the mostest enough?”
When Fab 5 Freddy asked the “rap auteur,” who had a cameo role in the rap movie Krush Groove, how he felt about the future of rap and of L.L. Cool J., L.L. replied, “First of all, I say as long as the individual stays creative and continues to come up with fresh new and exciting ideas, rap will be here. That’s established. Simple. As far as what I want to do, I want to get busy, man. I want to rock 60, 000 people. I want to rock the Superdonne.”
Radio (includes “I Want You,” “I Can Give You More,” “Rock the Bells!” and “I Can’t Live Without My Radio”), Def Jam/Columbia, 1985.
Bigger and Deffer, (includes “I Need Love”), Def Jam/Columbia, 1987.
Walking With A Panther, Def Jam/Columbia, 1989.
Mama Said Knock You Out, Def Jam/Columbia, 1990.
Chatelaine, January 1988.
Ebony, January 1989.
High Fidelity, December 1987.
Interview, December 1987.
Rolling Stone, December 17, 1987; September 7, 1989; November 1 987.
New York Times Magazine, April 26, 1987.
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