LL Cool J

Also Credited As:

LL Cool J, James Todd Smith
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Biography

Grammy winner LL Cool J established himself as one of the first real hip-hop superstars before enjoying two decades of steady musical output and a lucrative side business as a film and television actor. After he helped put fledgling Def Jam Records on the map with his 1984 hit "I Need A Beat," Cool J managed to remain a relevant recording artist throughout his career, parlaying his street smart persona and gym-rat physique into success in …
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Job Title

Actor, Producer, Music

Born

James Todd Smith on January 14, 1968 in Queens, New York, USA

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About

Grammy winner LL Cool J established himself as one of the first real hip-hop superstars before enjoying two decades of steady musical output and a lucrative side business as a film and television actor. After he helped put fledgling Def Jam Records on the map with his 1984 hit "I Need A Beat," Cool J managed to remain a relevant recording artist throughout his career, parlaying his street smart persona and gym-rat physique into success in action-oriented films like "S.W.A.T." (2003) and the football blockbuster "Any Given Sunday" (1999). Cool J's off-the-cuff wit and smooth charm also found a home in big screen romantic comedies like "Last Holiday" (2006) starring Queen Latifah, and on his own primetime sitcom, "In the House" (NBC, 1995-96; UPN, 1996-98). When Cool J was cast alongside Chris O'Donnell on the successful procedural, "NCIS: Los Angeles" (CBS, 2009- ), his acting career advanced to a new level of mainstream recognition. While Cool J's crossover appeal cost him some street cred among the East Coast b-boy scene, the hip-hop artist was still selling half a million records a pop and attracting audiences 25 years after many of his flash-in-the pan competitors had long since disappeared from the public eye.

Born James Todd Smith on Jan. 14, 1968, Cool J was raised in New York's borough of Queens by his grandparents. He began rapping at the age of nine and was making his own demo tapes by the time he reached his teens, all under the stage name LL Cool J - an acronym for "Ladies Love Cool James." A demo for the song "I Need a Beat" attracted the attention of local rap manager Russell Simmons and producer Rick Rubin, who were cobbling together a few thousand dollars to launch their own label, Def Jam records. In 1984, "I Need a Beat" was Def Jam's first release, and its sales of over 100,000 units pushed the label in the spotlight and secured a distribution deal with CBS Records. Over the next few years, Def Jam became a cornerstone of East Coast rap and a driving force in the rising popularity of new school hip-hop. Cool J, one of its top-selling artists, rose along with it and watched his landmark debut LP, Radio (1985) and his sophomore album Bigger and Deffer (1987) - which included the surprising ballad "I Need Love" that hit No. 3 on the charts - become two of the first hip-hop/pop crossover successes.

Following the Top 10 success of the slicker, more pop-oriented 1989 album, Walking the Panther, Cool J returned to the sounds of the streets with the hard edged, bass-heavy Mama Said Knock You Out in 1990. The album was a runaway success across the board, reaching No. 2 on the R&B album charts and earned Cool J a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance. A certified hip-hop icon, Cool J began to be courted by other media for his position as a representative of the contemporary urban generation. His early TV appearances were either as a singer or as a participant on lifestyle-oriented programs, like "What's Up, Dr. Ruth?" (Lifetime, 1989), where he was tapped to discuss the sexual attitudes of teens with the show's host Dr. Ruth Westheimer. In 1991- the year he took home his Grammy - he made his film debut playing a cop in the Michael J. Fox/James Woods "buddy" crime thriller, "The Hard Way" (1991), which also prominently featured his hit single "Mama Said Knock You Out." In 1992, Cool J had a leading role as the son of a family of toy magnates in the film "Toys" (1992), an unfortunate misfire for director Barry Levinson and a smudge on the resume of the film's star, Robin Williams.

His fifth album 14 Shots to the Dome was a disappointment compared to his last, but the 1995 release Mr. Smith returned Cool J to the public's favor, selling over two million copies and producing three Top 10 hits, including the Grammy-winning single, "Hey Lover." The same year, Cool J became a regular on TV when he was cast as the star of "In the House" as a financially struggling pro-football player who rents out his property to a newly divorced woman (Debbie Allen) with two kids. The show was produced by Quincy Jones' company and slotted after the long-running favorite "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" (NBC, 1990-96) but struggled somewhat to hold onto an audience. After only one season on NBC, the show lasted three seasons on UPN, during which time Cool J was nominated three times for an Outstanding Actor award from the NAACP Image Awards; the series, itself, was nominated once for Outstanding Comedy. Cool J also starred as a down-and-out disc jockey in Debbie Allen's feature directorial debut "Out of Sync" (1995) and appeared in a small role in "The Right to Remain Silent" (Showtime, 1996), starring Lea Thompson as a rookie cop who has a busy first night at the precinct.

Although Cool J found minor success with the 1997 album Phenomenon, it was his last release for three years as the rapper's screen career had begun to heat up. He took on the newly revived teen horror genre in 1998 with a supporting role in "Halloween: H20," which made its mark as one of the most successful of the "Halloween" franchise. Cool J had supporting roles in the relatively low-profile crime drama "Caught Up" (1998) and the romantic comedy flop, "Woo" (1998) before providing comic relief as a cook aboard a doomed scientific vessel overtaken by a band of super-intelligent sharks in Renny Harlin's wildly absurd but enjoyable "Deep Blue Sea" (1999). Tackling a series of dramatic roles, the always buff Cool J played an NFL pro in director Oliver Stone's blockbuster, "Any Given Sunday" (1999), and scored a leading role as a nefarious drug dealer who fancies himself as God in the 1999 crime drama, "In Too Deep," co-starring Omar Epps. Cool J kicked off the new millennium with the number one charting album G.O.A.T, though his 2002 follow-up 10 sold significantly more and produced more radio singles. Cool J's acting career continued to be a lucrative side business that netted him a leading role in the moderately popular dark comedy "Kingdom Come" (2001), about a dysfunctional family squabbling as they lay their patriarch to rest.

The following year, Cool J joined Chris Klein and Rebecca Romijn in the disastrous remake of "Rollerball" (2002) before taking the lead in the romantic comedy "Deliver Us from Eva" (2003), as a cash-strapped lothario hired to distract a controlling sister-in-law (Gabrielle Union) from her duties as manager of the family trust fund. In one of his biggest screen successes, Cool J had a leading role as one of a team of elite L.A. law enforcement officers in the major action blockbuster "S.W.A.T." (2003), co-starring Colin Farrell and Samuel L. Jackson. Less notable was his leading role in Renny Harlin's "Mindhunters" (2004), as a Philadelphia cop overseeing a team of FBI agents-to-be whose training exercises lead to a murder mystery. Cool J's tenth album, DEFinition debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard charts in 2004. His next two film releases, the crime dramas "Edison" (2004) and "Slow Burn" (2005), never hit mainstream theaters, but Cool J redeemed his screen cred with his role as the sweet, sensitive love interest of a woman (Queen Latifah) who believes she has only three weeks to live in the warm, escapist confection, "Last Holiday" (2006). The semi-self-titled album Todd Smith came and went with little fanfare the same year.

In 2007, Cool J made a memorable guest appearance on the Emmy darling "30 Rock" (NBC, 2006-) playing fictitious rap mogul Ridikulous, and the following year he wrapped up his 20-year long relationship with Def Jam Records with his final release on the label, Exit 13. Returning to primetime, Cool J was cast in a regular role as an undercover agent and retired Navy SEAL on "NCIS: Los Angeles" (CBS, 2009- ), a spin-off of the popular procedural drama "NCIS" (CBS, 2003- ).

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