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LL Cool J Biography

original name James Todd Smith

( 1968 – ) 

Hip-hop artist, author, actor. Born James Todd Smith on January 14, 1968, in Bayshore, Long Island, New York. Growing up in New York City, Smith adopted the stage name LL Cool J, which stood for Ladies Love Cool James. The outgoing teen signed to Def Jam records in 1984, which was a fledgling rap label at the time, founded by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. Still in school, Cool J released the hit “I Need a Beat” soon after, which sold more than 100,000 copies. The young artist left school to record his debut album, Radio, which was a hugely successful mix of conventional song structure and pop-oriented rap. Music fans responded enthusiastically to the album’s singles, “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” and “Rock the Bells,” and bought more than one million copies of the recording. He appeared as himself in the feature film Krush Groove (1985) around this time, which was a fictionalized version of the early days of Def Jam. The members of RUN D.M.C., Fat Boys, and New Edition also appeared in the film. His first speaking role was a small part in the 1986 high school football comedy, Wildcats. In his follow-up album, 1987’s Bigger and Deffer, LL Cool J showed his softer side with the popular ballad, “I Need Love.” The song became a hit on both the rap and pop charts. Two years later, he was back on the charts with his album Walking with a Panther. It was his fourth album, Mama Said Knock You Out (1990), however, that became his biggest seller to date. Projecting a tougher, more “street” persona, LL Cool J won over new fans with the title track. The single was as popular in middle America as it was in the urban environs of his youth. For the song, Cool J won his first Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance. The album also featured the successful ballad “Around the Way Girl” and the straight-forward rap “The Boomin’ System.” After stumbling with 1993’s “gangsta” style 14 Shots to the Dome , LL Cool J played up his sexy image with 1995’s Mr. Smith. The explicit single, “Doin’ It,” featured a duet with rapper LeShaun. Another hit from the album, the romantic slow jam “Hey Lover,” won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance. By the late 1990s, LL Cool J had officially crossed over to a career as a legitimate actor. He appeared in the 1997 comedy B.A.P.S., starring Halle Berry and directed by Robert Townsend, and the 1998 horror flick Halloween H2O, with Jamie Lee Curtis. In 1999’s Any Given Sunday, Cool J showed off his acting chops, taking on a supporting role across from such heavy-hitting stars as Al Pacino, Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diaz, and Jamie Foxx. Also around this time, LL Cool J wrote his autobiography, I Make My Own Rules, which was published in 1997. Juggling his music and acting projects, LL Cool J released G.O.A.T. in 2000, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. He then starred in the 2001 family drama, Kingdom Come, with Jada Pinkett Smith and Vivica A. Fox. Proving he was truly multi-talented, LL Cool J also authored a children’s book, And the Winner Is, which was published in 2002. Still, he never abandoned his music. In 2003, he released 10, which featured a duet with Jennifer Lopez. He then released The DEFinition the following year.

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  • 1985 Radio
  • 1987 Bigger and Deffer
  • 1989 Walking with a Panther
  • 1990 Mama Said Knock You Out
  • 1993 14 Shots to the Dome
  • 1995 Mr. Smith
  • 1997 Phenomenon
  • 2000 G.O.A.T.
  • 2002 10
  • 2004 The DEFinition
  • 2006 Todd Smith
  • 2008 Exit 13

Cool J continued to thrive as an actor, starring opposite Gabrielle Union in the 2003 romantic comedy Deliver Us From Eva. Taking on grittier fare, he also appeared in Michael Mann’s big-budget action flick S.W.A.T (2003), with Samuel L. Jackson and Colin Farrell. He then took on the lead role in the 2005 crime drama Mindhunters, in which he played a FBI profiler-in-training.

Known for his remarkable physique, the actor, writer and musician co-authored the 2006 fitness book LL Cool J’s Platinum Workout: Sculpt Your Best Body Ever with Hollywood’s Fittest Star. That same year, he starred in the romantic comedy Last Holiday opposite Queen Latifah, which made more than $38 million at the box office. LL Cool J also had a starring role in the 2007 independent crime thriller Last Holiday with Ray Liotta.

In 2008, LL Cool J returned to music with Exit 13. “I’m not trying to be new school and I’m not old school—I’m classic,” he said, in describing his latest release to Jet magazine. Tackling the small screen, LL Cool J landed a leading role in the criminal drama NCIS: Los Angeles opposite Chris O’Donnell, a spin-off from the hit series NCIS starring Mark Harmon. O’Donnell and LL Cool J play Navy investigators out to solve military-related crimes. The show was heralded as the most popular new drama of the fall television season.

Outside of music and acting, LL Cool J has explored many business opportunities. He launched a clothing line, FUBU (For Us, By Us) in 1996. In 2008, he signed a deal with Sears to design and sell a reasonably priced clothing line for families.

LL Cool J has been married to wife Simone since 1995. The couple has four children together.

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