When 17-year-old James Todd Smith mailed a freestyle tape to a white college student named Rick Rubin, few could have predicted the success they would achieve. But “Ladies Love Cool James,” or LL Cool J, was never modest, and he’s done more than back up his boasts. His first official record on the fledgling Def Jam Records, “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” was a smash hit and reached #15 on the Hot R&B Singles chart. He has sold millions of albums within the rap, R&B and pop worlds and used his tough and sexy charm to make a name for himself in fashion, films, television and, on February 12, as the host of the 54th Annual Grammy Awards.
After LL’s breakthrough with rap-metal wunderkind Rubin, the duo hit hard again with the classic “Rock The Bells,” propelling Radio to Platinum. Two years later, he touched upon what would be his enduring trademark — the rap ballad. “I Need Love,” with LL rapping about true love and devotion (while serving up a healthy portion of his trademark abs), hit #1 on the Hot R&B charts and #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1990 he scored one of his biggest hits of all time with the fast-paced and furious “Mama Said Knock You Out” and won his first Grammy. His sexy video for “Doin’ It” not only made eating an apple sexy — it propelled the sales of Mr. Smith to double Platinum. After collaborating with a wide range of artists (including Jennifer Lopez, Busta Rhymes and Jamie Foxx), LL released his twelfth and final album for Def Jam in 2008: Exit 13.
LL Cool J has also shown himself a diverse entrepreneur. He may not have founded the popular FUBU fashion line, but he certainly gave it a huge boost with his endorsements. While appearing in FUBU jerseys during performances gave the company publicity, LL’s biggest coup for the company came in a Gap commercial. How? While rapping about Gap, he wore a FUBU hat and snuck in the FUBU tag line — “For Us, By Us.” In 2008 he finally started his own line: Todd Smith. It includes hoodies, T-shirts and jeans decorated with symbols from his own tattoos. He’s also written a fitness book, a children’s book and an autobiography.
LL may have focused his efforts on film and television more recently, but his acting interest isn’t a new hobby — his first appearance on screen coincided with his first song. Almost immediately after “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” debuted, LL Cool J scored a small cameo in the cult classic Krush Groove, performing his hit single and speaking just one line. Working in mostly bit parts, he eventually appeared in films like Toys, and had a cameo in The Adventures of Pete & Pete, before landing his own sitcom, In The House, with Kim Wayans and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Alfonso Ribeiro.
His career gained major legitimacy with meatier action roles in Deep Blue Sea and Any Given Sunday. Having starred in numerous action and comedy films since, LL Cool J has now taken his talents back to the little screen, playing Field Agent Sam Hanna on the CBS hit show NCIS: Los Angeles. But those who miss the rapper side of LL shouldn’t worry — while on the set in 2009, inspiration struck, and he penned some lyrics. The result was “No Crew Is Superior,” an NCIS-inspired rap showing the star having some fun in the booth again. Maybe hosting the Grammys will inspire something new from Cool James.
Tune in to CBS on Sunday, February 12 at 8/7 p.m. Central to see LL Cool J host The Grammys. And follow the festivities online at CBS Local.