LL Cool J

LL Cool J is a rapper, actor, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist from Queens, New York City, USA.

LL Cool J is hailed as one of the trailblazers that helped usher in the new school hip hop style in the 1980s and he was also one of the first hip-hop acts to achieve really broad mainstream success. His break-through coincided with what we today see as the start of hip hop’s golden age. LL Cool J was one of the first hip hop artists to create really cohesive albums.

Example of well-known hits by LL Cool J are Hey Lover, I’m Bad, Going Back to Cali, I Can’t Live Without My Radio, Rock the Bells, and Mama Said Knock You Out. I Can’t Live Without My Radio, from LL Cool J’s debut album Radio, is a great example of the new school hip hop sound.

So far in his career, he has released over a dozen studio albums and two greatest hits compilations.

In 2017, LL Cool J became the first rapper ever to recieve a Kennedy Center Honor.


Name: James Todd Smith

Stage name: LL Cool J (Ladies Love Cool James)

Born: 14 January, 1968 in Bay Shore, Long Island, New York, USA

Origin: Hollis, Queens, New York City, New York, USA


Years active: 1984 – present


  • 429
  • Def Jam Recordings
  • Violator
  • S-BRO

First single

After signing with Def Jam, LL Cool J made his first official record, the 12-inch single “I Need a Beat” which was released in 1984. It is a hard-hitting song in the b-boy style, with spare beats and ballistic rhymes.

I Need a Beat sold over 100,000 copies, helping not just LL Cool J to get his footings in the rap industry but also establishing Def Jam. It was chiefly this single and the Beastie Boys’s “Rock Hard” (also released in 1984) that made it possible for Def Jam to negotiate a distribution deal with Columbia Records in 1985.

First album

LL Cool J’s debut studio album Radio was recorded in 1984-1985 and relased on 18 November, 1985. This was the first full-length album release by Def Jam Recordings.

Just like the single I need a Beat, the album adhered to the b-boy style of hip hop lyrics. The rap is filled with boasting, while also exploring themes such as inner city struggles and sex.

The chief producer of the album was Rick Rubin, who opted for a sparse and restrained production style.

Radio received mostly positive reviews, and its release and widespread success is today recognized as a pivotal moment in hip hop history and a harbinger of new school hip hop.

Studio Chung King House of Metal in New York City
Length 47:04
Label Def Jam

CBS Records


Producer Rick Rubin

Jazzy Jay

Commercial success

The album sold over half a million copies within its first five months, which was very impressive for a hip hop album at the time. In April 1989, it was certified platinum by RIAA, after having sold more than one million copies on the United States alone.


Studio albums

  • 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)

Examples of musical awards won by LL Cool J

Grammy Awards

Year Work Award
1992 “Mama Said Knock You Out” Best Rap Solo Performance
1997 “Hey Lover” Best Rap Solo Performance

MTV Video Music Awards

Year Work Award
1991 “Mama Said Knock You Out” Best Rap Video
1997 Lifetime Achievement Video Vanguard Award

NAACP Image Awards

Year Work Award
1996 Mr. Smith Best Rap Artist
1997 Phenomenon Best Rap Artist
2001 G.O.A.T. Outstanding Hip-Hop/Rap Artist
2003 10 Outstanding Male Artist

Soul Train Music Awards

Year Work Award
1988 Bigger and Deffer Best Rap Album
1988 I Need Love Best Rap Single
2003 Outstanding Career Achievements in the Field of Entertainment Quincy Jones Award

Other Awards & Acknowledgements

Year Info
1991 Bilboard Top Rap Singles Artist
1997 Patrick Lippert Award, Rock the Vote
2007 Inducted into the Long Island Musical Hall of Fame
2011 The I Am Hip Hop Award at the BET Hip Hop Awards
2014 Honorary Doctor of Arts at the Northeastern University in Boston
2017 A Kennedy Center Honor

(this was the first time ever that a Kenny Center Honor was bestoved upon a hip hop artist)