Who Is LL Cool J?
Born James Todd Smith on Long Island, New York, on January 14, 1968, LL Cool J is a nickname that stands for "Ladies Love Cool James." LL Cool J signed to fledgling hip-hop label Def Jam Records in 1984. After a string of hits—included on albums like Bigger and Deffer, Walking with a Panther, Mama Said Knock You Out, 14 Shots to the Dome and Mr. Smith—LL turned to acting, appearing in movies like B.A.P.S., Halloween H2O and Any Given Sunday. In 2009, he began his run on the popular investigative series NCIS: Los Angeles.
Hip-hop artist, author and actor LL Cool J was born James Todd Smith on January 14, 1968, in Bay Shore, Long Island, New York. Growing up in New York City, Smith adopted the stage name LL Cool J, which stands for "Ladies Love Cool James." The outgoing teen signed to Def Jam records in 1984, which was a fledgling rap label at the time, founded by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. LL released the hit "I Need a Beat" soon after, which sold more than 100,000 copies.
Musician, Writer and Actor
The young artist left school to record his debut album, Radio, which was a hugely successful mix of conventional song structure and pop-oriented rap. Music fans responded enthusiastically to the album's singles, "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and "Rock the Bells," and bought more than 1 million copies of the recording. He appeared as himself in the feature film Krush Groove (1985) around this time, which was a fictionalized version of the early days of Def Jam. The members of Run-D.M.C., Fat Boys and New Edition also appeared in the film. His first speaking role was a small part in the 1986 high school football comedy, Wildcats.
In his follow-up album, 1987's Bigger and Deffer, LL Cool J showed his softer side with the popular ballad, "I Need Love." The song became a hit on both the rap and pop charts. Two years later, he was back on the charts with his album Walking with a Panther.
It was his fourth album, Mama Said Knock You Out (1990), however, that became his biggest seller to date. Projecting a tougher, more "street" persona, LL Cool J won over new fans with the title track. The single was as popular in middle America as it was in the urban environs of his youth. For the song, LL won his first Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance. The album also featured the successful ballad "Around the Way Girl" and the straight-forward rap "The Boomin' System."
After stumbling with 1993's "gangsta" style 14 Shots to the Dome, LL Cool J played up his sexy image with 1995's Mr. Smith. The explicit single "Doin' It" featured a duet with rapper LeShaun. Another hit from the album, the romantic slow jam "Hey Lover" won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance.
By the late 1990s, LL Cool J had officially crossed over to a career as a legitimate actor. He appeared in the 1997 comedy B.A.P.S., starring Halle Berry and directed by Robert Townsend, and the 1998 horror flick Halloween H2O, with Jamie Lee Curtis. In 1999's Any Given Sunday, LL showed off his acting chops, taking on a supporting role across from such heavy-hitting stars as Al Pacino, Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diaz and Jamie Foxx. He starred the crime drama In Too Deep with Omar Epps and Samuel L. Jackson that same year. Also around this time, LL Cool J wrote his autobiography, I Make My Own Rules, which was published in 1997.
Juggling his music and acting projects, LL Cool J released G.O.A.T. in 2000, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. He then starred in the 2001 family drama, Kingdom Come, with Jada Pinkett Smith and Vivica A. Fox. Proving he was truly multi-talented, LL also authored a children's book, And the Winner Is, which was published in 2002. Still, he never abandoned his music. In 2003, he released 10, which featured a duet with Jennifer Lopez.
LL continued to thrive as an actor, starring opposite Gabrielle Union in the 2003 romantic comedy Deliver Us From Eva. Taking on grittier fare, he also appeared in Michael Mann's big-budget action flick S.W.A.T (2003), with Samuel L. Jackson and Colin Farrell. He then took on the lead role in the 2005 crime drama Mindhunters, in which he played a FBI profiler-in-training.
Around this time, LL Cool J continued to enjoy great musical success. He released The DEFinition in 2004, which featured the hit single "Headsprung." LL soon shared the secrets behind his remarkable physique. He co-authored the 2006 fitness book LL Cool J's Platinum Workout: Sculpt Your Best Body Ever with Hollywood's Fittest Star.
That year he starred with Queen Latifah in the romantic comedy Last Holiday, which made more than $38 million at the box office. LL also had a starring role in the 2007 independent crime thriller Slow Burn, with Ray Liotta.
In 2008, LL Cool J returned to music with Exit 13. "I'm not trying to be new school and I'm not old school. I'm classic," he said, in describing his latest release to Jet magazine. Tackling the small screen, LL landed a leading role on the criminal drama NCIS: Los Angeles, alongside Chris O'Donnell. A spinoff from the hit series NCIS, the show features O'Donnell and LL Cool J as Navy investigators out to solve military-related crimes on the West Coast. It was heralded as the most popular new drama of the 2009 fall television season.
Outside of music and acting, LL Cool J has explored many business opportunities. He launched a clothing line, FUBU (For Us, By Us) in 1996. In 2008, he signed a deal with Sears to design and sell a reasonably priced clothing line for families. In November 2017, he completed the Business of Entertainment Media & Sports program at Harvard University.
In 2013, LL Cool J put out a new album, Authentic. He worked with a number of musical talents on the record, including Bootsy Collins, Eddie Van Halen and Chuck D. That same year, LL had a role in the boxing drama Grudge Match, with Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro.
The actor/rapper also enjoys a thriving career as a host. He has emceed the Grammy Awards for several years. In 2015, LL became the host of the popular celebrity competition Lip Sync Battle.
LL Cool J has received special recognition for his many talents. In January 2016, he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In December 2017, he became the first rapper to earn recognition at the annual Kennedy Center Honors, America’s highest achievement for a performer.
LL responded with an Instagram post that read: “This one is for those who came before me and those who followed me. We were sent to this planet to love and inspire one another. Manifest our dreams and make them a reality. I hope you’re inspired by me because I’m absolutely inspired by you."
LL Cool J has been married to wife Simone since 1995. They have four children together.
The entertainer made headlines in August 2012, when he broke the nose and jaw of a suspected burglar at his home in Studio City, Los Angeles. According to media reports, LL Cool J was at home, upstairs, when he heard sounds coming from the first level and went down to investigate. A fight ensued, with LL managing to overtake the suspect—who was later hospitalized for his injuries—and hold him down until police arrived.
(Profile photo of LL Cool J by Chris Carroll/Getty Images)
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