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Music / LL Cool J

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Hard as hell.
"Don't call it a comeback! I've been here for years!"
— "Mama Said Knock You Out"

James Todd Smith (born January 14, 1968), better known as LL Cool J (acronym for Ladies Love Cool James) is an American rapper and actor. LL Cool J was born and raised in Queens, New York, the son of Ondrea (née Griffith) and James Smith. At the age of four, he saw his mother and grandfather shot by his own father. After they recovered from their injuries, his mother began to date a young physical therapist she met while in the hospital. The therapist treated Ondrea kindly, but for years he abused Todd physically and verbally, which resulted in Todd becoming a bully himself. It was during this period that he started wearing hats all the time (one of L.L. Cool J's trademarks is the fact that people never see him without a hat on—until recently). Fortunately, Ondrea finally discovered what this man was doing to her son and left him. He went to I.S.238 Susan B. Anthony Academy in Queens, New York (Hillside). He started rapping at the age of nine. In his youth, LL Cool J performed in the church choir, participated in the Boy Scouts, and delivered newspapers. At age 16, by using a mixing table purchased by his grandfather at Sears, Smith produced and created demos and sent them to various record companies, including Def Jam Recordings.

Under his new stage name, LL Cool J (Ladies Love Cool James), Def Jam released his first record, the 12" single "I Need a Beat". The single sold over 100,000 copies. The success of "I Need a Beat" helped lead to a distribution deal with Def Jam and Columbia Records in 1985. Soon after, he dropped out of Andrew Jackson High School to record his debut album. He is known for romantic ballads such as "I Need Love", "Around the Way Girl" and "Hey Lover" as well as pioneering hardcore hip-hop songs such as "I Can't Live Without My Radio", "I'm Bad", "The Boomin' System", and "Mama Said Knock You Out". He has released thirteen studio albums (the first twelve of which were exclusively released on Def Jam Records) and two greatest hits compilations. His most recently released album is 2013's Authentic, which is his first album not released on the Def Jam label.

He has also appeared in numerous films, including two with director Renny Harlin. He is also interviewed in the 1986 Hip-Hop documentary Big Fun in the Big Town at a time when he was only 17 years old and still lived at his grandmother's place. In 2015 he adds hosting to his repertoire, in Lip Sync Battle. He now lives in Manhasset, New York, with his wife and four children. He currently hosts the classic Hip-Hop station Rock the Bells (channel 043 on Sirius XM Radio).


  • Radio (1985)
  • Bigger and Deffer (1987)
  • Walking with a Panther (1989)
  • Mama Said Knock You Out (1990)
  • 14 Shots to the Dome (1993)
  • Mr. Smith (1995)
  • Phenomenon (1997)
  • G.O.A.T. (2000)
  • 10 (2002)
  • The DEFinition'' (2004)
  • Todd Smith (2006)
  • Exit 13 (2008)
  • Authentic (2013)



Ladies Love Cool Tropes:

  • Arch-Enemy: Kool Moe Dee. They had what was likely the biggest non-violent rap feud ever.
    • Later, Canibus took on this role after earning LL's ire while collaborating on "4,3,2,1".
  • Battle Rapping: Several with Kool Moe Dee, such as "Jack the Ripper" and "To Da Break of Dawn", and other self-contaned ones like "Rock the Bells", "No Airplay", and "I'm Bad". He later got into it with Canibus with "The Ripper Strikes Back", and "Rasta Imposter", the latter of which was also aimed at Wyclef Jean, Canibus' producer at the time.
  • Black Dude Dies First: His film roles have actually had a tendency to avert this, despite sometimes being in genres such as horror which are notorious for killing off minority characters. Deep Blue Sea was actually rewritten to avert this trope after test audiences despised the female lead and instead wanted his character to live.
  • Boastful Rap: Well, let's see... "I Can't Live Without My Radio", "Dangerous", "Rock the Bells", "I'm Bad", "Mama Said Knock You Out"... yeah. He has a few.
  • Character Tic: He licks his lips a lot.
  • Cover Version: Overlapping with "Sesame Street" Cred, LL did a hip-hop cover of "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" for the Disney tribute video Simply Mad About the Mouse in 1991.
  • Dirty Cop: "Illegal Search".
  • Digital Piracy Is Okay: LL expressed his support for P2P file sharing at a Senate Committee hearing, wishing that music could be "downloaded legitimately". His wish came true a decade later when services like Spotify and Netflix became popular and made media piracy less of an issue.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Although "I Need Love" from Bigger And Deffer is recognized as the first rap ballad, LL had actually recorded two ballads on Radio; "I Can Give You More" and "I Want You". But unlike "I Need Love", both of those songs were produced by Rick Rubin, and matched that album's minimalist style, having little to none of the R&B influence his later ballads would have.
  • Hidden Track:
    • On his debut album Radio, in between "Dangerous" and "Rock the Bells."
    • Certain copies of Walking With a Panther had "Jack the Ripper," which was originally a B-side exclusive.
  • Middle Name Basis: He goes by his middle name, Todd, offstage.
  • Mr. Fanservice: He was one of hip hop's first sex symbols. Also, what his acronym is.
  • Never Bareheaded: Even in the "Mama Said Knock You Out" video, he still had his head covered with a hoodie.
  • Older Than They Look: He's over fifty years old, and still looks virtually the same as he did in the 90's.
  • Professional Wrestling:
  • Puddle-Covering Chivalry: Mentioned as one of the romantic things L would do to win a girl's affections in "I Need Love".
  • Radio Song: "I Can't Live Without My Radio," about his love for his boombox.
  • Rated G for Gangsta: Considering the success of his ballads, it's easy to forget that he started as a hardcore rapper. Though he did include two ballads even on his first album ("I Can Give You More" and "I Want You").
  • The Rival: Kool Moe Dee. Their battles were things of hip-hop legend.
  • Self-Deprecation: "Cheesy Rat Blues", from Mama Said Knock You Out, mocks his career downfall after Bigger and Deffer and Walking With a Panther.
    I go to the park, they wanna baseball bat me
    I go to the mall, they throw my old tapes at me
    I'm so horny, and every girl I know be like, "he's so corny"
    I want money in a hurry, I'm getting tired of leftover curry!
  • Sequel Song: "The Ripper Strikes Back", in which LL redirects his aim towards Canibus.
  • Signature Headgear: Famous for wearing Kangol bucket hats during his heyday. In fact, it's extremely rare to see LL without any type of head-wear outside of a movie. These days, he typically rotates between baseball caps, beanies, and flat caps.
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: "Jingling Baby (Remixed But Still Jingling)"
    I'ma deliver and give a speech with vigor
    Pass the wine cooler you big black... (cut to refrain)
  • Sucks at Dancing: "You Can't Dance" is a message to those who lack dance skill to not even bother trying, lest you make a fool of yourself.
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song:
    • "I Need Love", which is often cited as being the first hip-hop ballad.
    • "Going Back To Cali" - the beat is minimalistic and jazzy, and his voice never gets above a quiet conversational tone.
  • Take That!:
    • Against Kool Moe Dee, LL released "Jack The Ripper", "To The Break Of Dawn" and "(NFA) No Frotin' Allowed" in retaliation to Moe Dee's diss records "How Ya Like Me Now", "Let's Go", and "Death Blow".
    • LL had subliminally dissed Canibus over an extremely petty matter on "4,3,2,1", context  Canibus responded with "2nd Round Knockout", and "Rip the Jacker", while LL clapped back with "The Ripper Strikes Back", and "Rasta Imposter".
  • Technician Versus Performer: One of the big differences between him and Moe Dee were their skills and stage presence. While LL was no slouch, Moe Dee was the more technically sound rapper, while LL's charisma was leagues above Moe's, and allowed him to survive well into the 2020s, while Moe's career died during the gangsta rap boom.