LL Cool J: The G.O.A.T. Speaks On His New Album And His Love Of Hip Hop


November 18, 2015 marks the 30th anniversary of LL Cool J ground breaking debut album Radio. Anchored by Rick Rubin’s bone crushing minimalist production, the then teenaged rapper set the music world on fire with an aggressive delivery and extensive vocabulary. Now on the verge of dropping his latest project G.O.A.T. 2, LL is entering his third decade in a game that doesn’t allow some artists a full 30 minutes. That’s no small feat.

The stardom that LL garnered from Hip-Hop has taken him to many places. In addition to a recording career that has touched 4 different decades and included 14 albums, Mr. Smith has made a name for himself in Hollywood. The guy who’s nana gave him instructions on dealing with haters has gone from stadium stages to the living rooms and laptops of America. While there are some who would look at Hollywood’s acceptance as a golden ticket to never rhyme again, LL says his love of the game keeps him in it.

Reunited with his longtime friend James “Bimmy” Antney, former A&R at Def Jam, LL seeks to set a tone with what will be his 15th album. While the general perception maybe that LL only loves the ladies, on G.O.A.T. 2 he shows that he also loves bars. KBX spoke with LL by phone while he was on the set of his TV show “NCIS: Los Angeles” about his new album, the importance of working with new artists and his three decade long love affair with Hip-Hop.

KBX: When you started as a teenager with Def Jam all those years ago did you think you would dropping your 14th album?
LL Cool J
: Its funny you ask that. I remember when I signed my first contract I was excited that it was for ten albums. I always looked at that as a great opportunity. I haven’t really counted the albums in quite a while. But I’m just grateful. Sometimes the stars line up and you get an opportunity to do what you love. It worked out this way for me. Things didn’t have to be this way. Things could have been in a different direction. I just happened to make this thing happen and I’m very grateful.

You are part of the foundation that built Def Jam. Knowing you were part of that legacy that started in Rick’s dorm has got to be a good feeling. What were those early days like?
It was all of us just trying to have some fun and just doing what we love. Russell was just running me around in the clubs. We would see Madonna at the Danceteria. It was just like the birth of something great. We were all just really, really focused.

I remember tracking Russell trying to find out where he was going to eat that night so I could always show up get me some free food for me and my man. (Laughs) I would always show up and order two steaks and take one to go. I would get two steaks and my man would get two steaks. Russell would be walking me around the party saying to people, “This is LL and he’s going to make a fortune. He’s going to be a star.” He would be pumping it up. I didn’t know what to think. I was just following his lead. It’s amazing. But the most important part of it was doing what you love and making an impact on the world. And being a part of something great, it’s amazing, That’s something that no one can take away. No matter how they word it or try to present it, at the end of the day, We were a part of building something magical. And that’s a hell of a feeling. I am humbled by it. I do think back on it with fond memories of it. It’s nice to be able to continue with times changing and eras changing and different things happening. To be able to put a video online and get so many views on a new song. It feels real good to do what I love and not have to stop. That’s a blessing because everyone doesn’t get that opportunity.

LL Cool J – Jingling Baby

You have a relationship with your audience that is still intact after all these years. What’s it like to have that kind of star power?
That’s a blessing. A lot of times you have to chalk things up as a blessing. You can’t take but so much credit. We live in an era where everyone wants to market their genius. They want to pretend that’s it’s all because of their brilliant minds. But sometimes you just get lucky, you get a blessing. The stars lineup and things work out for you and you get the support of the people. At the end of the day it’s the support of the people and the fact that they appreciate my work. Whether its above par, subpar, if it’s the best thing I’ve done or the worst things I’ve done, its an ongoing relationship and they respect it and they give me love. Its that everyday dude on the block, that everyday dude at the barbershop, that everyday girl in the hair salon, those are the people I create for. Those are the ones I care the most about. I’m just glad they have been embracing me all these years. I just want to continue to give them the best in all facets of my career; not just music but anything else that I’m involved in. I try to make sure I do it to the best of my ability.

You can’t please everyone all the time. But at the end of the day, people know your heart and your sincerity. People recognize and know when you’re real. And when you’re real, you can laugh. Real doesn’t mean putting out some stereotypical role or stereotypical vibe. Real just means being authentic in your spirit and true about who you are. And being grounded as a human being; not letting the celebrity and the glitz and the glamour and the money separate you from the everyday people. You might have people in their late 20s who think I’ve never seen the block before. They might think I’ve never experienced anything but stardom. Those are the people that are important to me to know that I am a real person. I did come from Queens. My family did come from Barbados and we are grounded. There’s real love for what I do and the people who appreciate what I do.

LL Cool J – The Hustler ft Mavado

This album is the GOAT 2. Who are the other people on that list if you’re the GOAT?
Every one going to have their own opinion about who is the GOAT. There’s a lot of great rappers. Art is subjective. If you don’t like my style then Im not even in the conversation. I like a lot of different people. Like I think Big Daddy Kane is one of the best ever. He doesn’t get mentioned a lot but I think Big Daddy Kane is unbelievable. He’s my favorite rapper. You listen to “Warm It Up Kane” you can’t front of those bars, B. You listen to “Set It Off” and you can’t front on that. A love of rappers are great for different reasons. You know what I was pumping this morning? I was listening to Ol Dirty Bastard all this morning. There’s one thing about greatness. The reason why I claim that is it’s not enough to make a big impact. You have to make an impact and that impact that spans across different eras and different generations; different styles. That’s why I always claim that. From “Going Back To Cali” to “I Need Love” to “Mama Said Knock You Out”. To have a Grammy for “Mama” and “Hey Lover” and to be able to span generations I think I did something. (Laughs) And they want to talk about people do more in less time. I don’t think its about that. I think its about spanning generations. But if you want to talk about that, at 12 years old I started writing and at 16 I was at Def Jam. That’s a good 4 years. (Laughs)

LL Cool J – I’m Nice ft. Raekwon, Murda Mook & Ron Browz

What’s the concept with the new album?
The concept behind the album was to give upcoming artists an opportunity to shine and to put myself in the position where I have to spit bars with some of the hardest rhymers in the game. Its people I really respect lyrically; people I think are amazing on the mic. Loaded Lux is on the album along with Murder Mook and Raekwon, Uncle Murda, Maino, Mavado and J. Cole. It’s a lot of different people that I think got bars. I also have some big dogs on the album like T.I. I have Fred The Godson on the album.
I wanted to really embrace where I’m from and embrace my community, embrace my hood and give these guys a platform and an opportunity to shine while I do my thing. Plus they inspire me. They inspire me to want to have some fun and get busy. Show me what I do. For me it just makes the whole project more exciting. And then what I did was me and my man Bimmy got together. We just doing music for the culture. I have science project albums where I get in a vacuum and do whatever I want to creatively. It’s the equivalent of doing an impressionist painting. Either you love it or you hate it. Then sometimes I do something more culturally relevant and clear and easy to understand which would be more like a Rembrandt. That’s what I did with this album. This album is more culturally clear and defined. Its for the street. 85 percent of the album is for people who like hard hip-hop. Its not one of my love albums. Its not a softer album. Its an album for the gutter. Its an album for people who like bars and beats.

So this is like “Rock The Bells”, “I Need A Beat” “Ill Bomb” LL?
Yeah it’s that kind of an album but its current and its relevant to now. I always tell people “sometimes you gotta take of your 1995 high school ring off.” It ain’t for then. It’s for now. It don’t sound like then it sounds like now. Yes it’s a harder edge more aggressive album without question.

LL Cool J – Ill Bomb

And along with that you have the love records that your female fans love as well?
Yeah. 15 percent of the album is for females. But let’s call it what it is. If I did an all love song album and it was the best album in the world someone would say I should have made a hard album. If you make a hard record than you will have someone will say “Naw LL needs to stay in his lane. He needs to do the love records.” (Laughs) You gotta do what you love and right now what I am inspired to do is give them that hard-body music. That being said, my music has always been balanced. Its just that the singles that came out made a huge impression on the world. Some of the love songs I made were crafted in such a way that they had a huge impact. So because of that “I Need Love” is more noticed than “Rock The Bells.” Or a “Hey Lover” is more noticed than a “Ill Bomb.” I could go record for record and show you the balance but it’s just the way people can perceive it. But this time I just wanted to make something for the people who wanted some hard music.

LL Cool J – Loungin’

With all the success you’ve had you could have easily left your music career behind. What is it about music that keeps you coming back to it?
I love music! I love it. See this is the thing that trips me out about our hip-hop culture and it also speaks to how young the culture is. For some reason a lot of us think that hip-hop is something that we want to use to get out and we want to do other things. I didn’t get into hip-hop music to use it or to exploit it to my advantage and leave. Although I was able to be successful, I do it because I love it. And when you love something you continue to do it. Picasso was doing some of his greatest work at a later age. Artists don’t change. James Cameron is directing films. If you love something you continue to do it. There’s no reason for me to walk away. I’m not a pop artist. I’m not a guy who doesn’t write his own music and trying to be a teen idol for your entire life. I’m a real artist who’s doing the music from his soul.

Sometimes it’s commercially successful. Sometimes it’s not. I don’t think art has an expiration date. I don’t think true creativity should be based on time. I think it needs to be based on what you do. Whether you connect with the mainstream or if you get on the cover of People magazine because of your pop music those are questions that get answered. That’s commercial. Those things happen by accident. A thousand years ago when I made “I Need Love” I didn’t know that was going to be commercially viable. When I did “Mama Said Knock You Out” it wasn’t even as commercially viable. Its more famous now than it was when I made it. When I made “Doin’ It” the radio stations said it was too dirty to play. Now its PG. Things grow and they escalate. So with the music, I do it for love. It’s not about money. It’s not about me showing a working dude that I have more money than him. This isn’t to alpha males bumping their chests together trying to say who’s better than them when it comes to social status. We only bumping chest when it comes to the creativity and the bars. There’s no stopping it. It ends when I end. There’s no retiring. This is not sports. (Laughs)