There are few people in Hip-Hop as dominating as LL Cool J. If you’re an adult now, he was there when you were probably still a kid. If you’re younger, LL was likely around before you were seeded. But both young and old know LL Cool J as an icon. With no sense of history, this man has reigned always.
In these twenty years, LL’s made some mistakes. He’s crossed over, crossed back, and crossed out competitors the whole time. In an exclusive interview with AllHipHop.com, LL confronts his triumphs, some of his mistakes, gives wise insights to the oncoming election and explained his new album The DEFinition.
Mr. Smith, we followed you then, salute you now, and we don’t dare mention retirement.
AllHipHop.com: What was your aim for this album?
LL: My aim was to make a record that could play at 1:15 in the morning in the club. And to make something new, and to challenge and stretch myself a bit and not repeat myself in terms of what I did. In terms of what single I dropped, the video I put out, my whole approach to it, I wanted to stretch myself. I wanted to challenge everything. Thus, I put out hits from the “challenge myself” intellect, to make the game interesting. I’m loving the success that it’s having and I feel great about the way it’s exploding around the country. Even internationally, it’s really doing well and I’m very thankful. I didn’t want to do anything political or social. Well, social is a different word because fun is social. But I didn’t want to do anything political. I wanted it to be pure entertainment.
AllHipHop.com: Why not political?
LL: I think that… for me, there is enough of that out there and there is a time and a place to do that. One of the greatest services that I can supply mankind with, apart from the interviews and my life, is to give them an opportunity to take an hour and forget about their problems, the strife, forget about what’s going on in the world and have a good time. I think as an artist, we have the responsibility. That’s part of the reason why people make music, why people paint pictures, and why people sculpt, and why they do what they do, to let people escape and give them that vibe.
AllHipHop.com: I kind of disagree with that. Not that I disagree with you doing that, because that has been your zone for the majority of your career, but now there’s no balance in Hip-Hop. So when you were out, there might have been a Chuck D.
LL: I understand what you are saying on that, but I think that at those times you have to listen to the deeper meaning. A lot of what Chuck was talking about and the things he was dealing with was about the government and how they treat the community. My perspective is more about how the community treats [itself]. That is very important to me. I’m very much one who believes in self help. I have faith in God and I believe that we have to raise our children. We can’t ask the government to do that. For me I would rather set the example, through the actions. By doing the things I do and not limiting myself, by being willing to take risks. A lot of times words are important but they have to coincide with what’s in your heart. Because if you speak a d they don’t coincide with that’s in your heart they are empty and meaningless. It’s important to me, whatever I do, that it coincides with my heart. Whether it’s my imagination, whatever, it has to coincide with what’s going on inside of me so that I can look people in the eye and feel good about what I do. So for me at this point in my career, making a political album would not be real for me. I have said the things I wanted to say just like on the one in the morning record when I said, “Uncle LL I got product for sale so I can bail Al Sharpton out of Jail.” Its funny but when you think about it its necessary. AG Gaston had to be around to bail Martin Luther King out of jail. So you have to read between the lines. I said, “Get my Bentley park on and them give my dogs platform to bark on.” If you pay attention to that economic empowerment is the key to all the freedom we are seeking politically. It’s the Bob Johnson’s and Oprah’s and God willing, the LL Cool J’s that are going to make the difference and make all of those political dreams that partly Chuck D and others talk about even possible. We need to make sure that the focus is correct.
AllHipHop.com: Did you recently just go to the Democratic Convention in Boston?
LL: I went to the convention, but I went to [perform at] the Rock to Vote concert. And what I said after I finished performing was, I’m not here to endorse any particular candidate. I said that if there is any candidate that is looking for my endorsement, we have to meet face to face and I need to know what their plans are and how they are going to affect my community, and then America as a whole, and then my community within America. I have to know what the plan is. I’m not going to lend my name and my credibility. I respect them of course. And I said it respectfully because you have to respect the people that are running for the leadership of our country because this is a great country. And I do love this country because it has given me a great opportunity. Regardless of what our ancestry is, ultimately we are all here because of our ancestry. So whether good or bad, at the end of the day we are here now and we need to take advantage of this opportunity of being Americans. At the same time, if I’m going to endorse somebody, I can’t just endorse him or her just by default. We have to sit down and talk. I have to see what’s going on, and how what you do affects the people I love.
AllHipHop.com: Have you followed any of the candidates?
LL: A lil’ much. I haven’t been stimulated to that point. When I hear someone talking about something other than what Bush has done wrong, then I can listen a lil’ better. But at this point I don’t know anything about what anyone is saying but what Bush did wrong. That doesn’t help me. There’s a whole focus on the problem but what’s the solution?
AllHipHop.com: Back to the album, that “One in the Morning” is hot, but you are real cocky on that. It reminds me of the old L. You talk about the sucker with the potbelly on the couch, it reminded me of the LL back in the day.
LL: That’s just part of what it is. That’s just Hip-Hop. I leave it on the record. It’s kind of like basketball for me. You dunk with your tongue hanging out, but you don’t walk around with your tongue hanging out. I leave it on the records and I know how to separate it. I only go there every now and then because it can get out of control but that’s just Hip-Hop to me.
AllHipHop.com: One song on the album you say, “I’m a family man still hard like a rock.” What does that line mean?
LL: I’ll tell you exactly what that means. It means that I love my family, but don’t think for a minute [that] I won’t stand up for my principles. That’s as real as it gets. And a lot of times, I think people associate having a family with complacency, and a lack of hunger and desire and a willingness to stand up for what you believe in. And that would never be me.
AllHipHop.com: I see that R. Kelly is on the album. In light of his situation, I know that you have daughters yourself, what made you work with him and did those issues ever come to play?
LL: It’s very simple, man. Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone, that’s first. Second, we have all done a lot of things they just all aren’t tape. So far me to judge that man because his was on tape would be ridiculous. I’m not saying I did exactly what he did but we all have skeletons. We all have bones that need to be collected and brought back to life. So I’m not going to judge him about his personal life. That was us getting together creatively and I leave it as that. I’m not endorsing what he did on the tape or judging him. I have to let that be his personal life and separate it. And yes, I have three daughters. [But] I’m not going to judge him.
AllHipHop.com: What do you think about the overall state of Hip-Hop?
LL: I think that Hip-Hop is in a great place, it is bigger than it has ever been. It has probably reached critical mass; it hasn’t reached critical mass in the world. It is not where it is around the world like it is in the US. It is big, but it is ten years behind in like 1994 in terms of mainstream media. In terms of its effect on cultures around the world, it doesn’t have its same dominance. I think it is in a great place.
AllHipHop.com: When you say critical mass?
LL: I mean it has reached its highest point; it has permeated and saturated every nook and cranny of the culture that is critical mass. It is everywhere and has reached its highest heights as an art form. It is everywhere in every commercial, Fortune 500 companies there is still some growth left, but there isn’t as much growth left as there was. So I am glad to be a part of it at this point; it was beautiful it was almost like a mushroom cloud and I got to sit on top of it and rise with it and that is a great thing.