Born James Todd Smith on January 14, 1968, Ladies Love Cool James (LL Cool J) began his career in Queens, N.Y. when he was 16 years old, though he had been rapping since the age of nine. His grandfather bought him a mixing table and LL began to record tapes in his home. His father was Jimmy Nunya.
Inevitably, he sent his tapes to various record labels and finally interested Def Jam Productions. In 1984 they signed him and released his first single, "I Need A Beat." The single sold more than 100,000 copies and established LL Cool J in the rap industry. His debut album, I Can't Live Without My Radio, (which went platinum) was recorded in 1985 after LL left high school to pursue a career in music. 1987 marked the release of his second album Bigger and Deffer, which soared to the No. 3 spot on the pop charts with the help of the hit single, "I Need Love".
LL's ability to intuitively combine rap and pop is his strong point, but at the same time it has cost him the respect of many rap fans who claimed he has a sold out. The successful single, "Goin' Back to Cali," appeared on the Less Than Zero soundtrack in 1988, further boosting his crossover popularity. In 1990 LL struck again with Mama Said Knock You Out, which marked him as a rap super-guru and pop deity. After this ascension, he starred in two movies and appeared and performed at the MTV Inaugural Ball in honor of President Clinton. He released 14 Shots to the Dome in 1993. LL returned to the studio to record the double platinum album Mr. Smith in 1995.
Throughout the mid-90s, LL continued to branch out into acting, taking roles in films such as Woo, Halloween: H20, and the Oliver Stone football opus Any Given Sunday. During this time, he released All World: Greatest Hits (1996) and Phenomenon (1997), an album that did not do well commercially or critically as it appeared LL was more interested in Hollywood than the hip-hop scene. LL confirmed his attraction to acting over the next few years, taking a small part in 2000’s Charlie’s Angels and then scoring a starring role in the 2002 remake of Rollerball. In between, he found time to release G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time), a self-assured collection that highlighted LL’s classic lyrical flow and gave him some much-needed cred in the ever-changing rap landscape.
With his 2002 release, 10, LL reaffirms the strength of his position in the popular culture of music. “I consider this disc to be a milestone in my life,” says LL Cool J. “A tenth album for anybody is truly an amazing moment.” While the world of hip-hop has not, historically, provided much stability or staying power for the artists that shaped it, LL Cool J has managed to take a stand within it, combining rap and pop influences that appeal to both realms.