L. L. Cool J (Smith, James Todd)

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L. L. Cool J (Smith, James Todd)

January 14, 1968

Musician, actor, and writer L(adies) L(ove) Cool J(ames) is the largest selling rap musician to date, with more than twenty million albums sold worldwide. Born in St. Albans, Queens, New York, and raised by his grandparents, he began rapping at age nine. On his thirteenth birthday, he received DJ equipment as a gift from his grandfather. Cool J arrived on the music scene in 1985 with his first hit record, "I Can't Live Without My Radio." "Rock the Bells" soon followed, and in 1986, he achieved his first million-selling album, Radio.

In 1987 his second album, Bigger and Deffer, contained the first rap ballad, "I Need Love." Walking with a Panther (1989) met with negative critical response but still sold more than five hundred thousand copies. The follow-up, Mama Said Knock You Out (1990), won a Grammy Award for best rap solo performance, remaining on the Billboard charts for over a year and selling more than one million units. 14 Shots to the Dome (1993) became another platinum album for the artist, and he won his second Grammy for best rap solo performance for his single, "Hey Lover."

L. L. Cool J released three more successful albums in the mid-1990s: Mr. Smith, 1995; All World, 1996; and Phenomenon, 1997. Phenomenon 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 the album G.O.A.T. Featuring James T. Smith: The Greatest Hits of All Time in 2000. G.O.A.T. quickly climbed to the top of the music charts. Cool J returned to the screen with the films Kingdom Come (2001), Roller Ball (2002), Deliver Us from Eva (2003), S.W.A.T. (2003), and Mindhunters (2004), among others.

Continuing to juggle his careers in music and in film, Cool J released the collection 10 in 2002. A single from this album, "Luv U Better," became one of his 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.

Cool J's accomplishments include fifteen New York Music Awards, ten Soul Train Awards, and a Billboard Music Award. In 1998, he published an autobiography, I Make My Own Rules.

See also Hip Hop; Music in the United States; Rap


George, Nelson. Hip-Hop America. New York: Viking, 1998.

L.L. Cool J, with Karen Hunter. I Make My Own Rules. New York: St. Martin's, 1997.

Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1994.

rachel zellars (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005