Rap and hip-hop are notorious for short-lived careers, but LL Cool J is an obvious exception; his career has lasted for more than 20 years.
James Todd Smith, known as LL Cool J (Ladies Love Cool James) is a rapper and actor. He was born and raised in Bay Shore, New York on Long Island. He started rapping at age nine. He 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, he produced and created demos and sent them to various record companies, including Def Jam Recordings.
Under his new stage name, 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.
LL Cool J is known for romantic ballads such as "I Need Love," "Around the Way Girl" and "Hey Lover" as well as pioneering hip-hop such as "I Can't Live Without My Radio," "I'm Bad," "The Boomin' System," and "Mama Said Knock You Out." He has released twelve studio albums and two greatest hits compilations.
Radio was released to critical acclaim, as LL was one of the first rappers to use conventional song structure to make pop oriented rap. "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and "Rock the Bells" were singles that helped the album go platinum with 1,500,000 sales.
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In 1987, he released Bigger and Deffer which included "I Need Love." The song, released in the fall of 1987, reached #1 on the R&B/Hip Hop charts, #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and #8 in the UK Singles Chart. The single won a Soul Train Music Award for Best Rap - Single in 1987.
"I Need Love" was ranked #13 on the 100 Greatest Rap Songs. Also featured on the album was "Go Cut Creator Go." The album sold about 2,300,000 copies. In 1998, The Source Magazine named it as one of the top 100 albums ever.
LL Cool J's third album was 1989's Walking with a Panther. The album featured the singles "Going Back to Cali," "I'm That Type of Guy," "Jingling Baby," and "Big Ole Butt" and went platinum with 1,100,000 sales.
LL cool J continued to release successful albums over the next two decades. His final album with Def Jam Recordings - the only label he has ever been associated with - was Exit 13 in 2008.
LL Cool J has also appeared in numerous films, and currently stars as NCIS Special Agent Sam Hanna on the CBS crime drama television series NCIS: Los Angeles. He now lives in Long Island, New York, with his wife and four children.
LL Cool J has written four books, including 1998's I Make My Own Rules, an autobiography co-written with Karen Hunter. His second book was the children-oriented book called And The Winner Is... published in 2002.