LL Cool J:
The Secret’s Out
Ladies. Undoubtedly that’s the first word that comes to mind when people think about LL Cool J. And it’s hard not to. For starters, it’s what the first letter in his name stands for, then there’s his long history of rap ballads, and even now his latest single, “Baby,” is a female-friendly ‘tune.
But the Queens rapper has had some shit to get off his chest for a minute now. He was famously feuding about promotion with the Def Jam brass, most notably Jay-Z; at one point he strongly aligned himself with 50 Cent and G-Unit; and, fuck it, when you’re a vet like Cool J in a young man’s game sometimes you just wanna kick some ass.
So with the release of Todd Smith’s latest album, Exit 13, Farmer Boulevard’s finest is trying to please both chromosome combinations. Here, he talks to XXLmag.com about all the attention his words brought, exactly how Hov could have marketed him, and what keeps him going: that second L in his name, love.
You’re been in this position before, promoting an album. Would you say, though, that this time is different, that it’s the most attention you’re received prior to a project?
That’s an interesting question. This is probably the most press I ever had leading up to an album and the most excitement. I was beefing about the lack of promotion on the last album. But I also know the decisions I made artistically, bottom line, people weren’t necessarily screaming for that either. ‘Cause I didn’t make the type of music the ‘hood responded to and really, really loved. There might have been a song or two there, but it was primarily an art movement for the females. I think leading up, a lot of people are interested in this record, for a lot of different reasons. For some, they gonna go cop cause they wanna see if I put my music where my mouth is. Some wanna see if ya man L played himself. Tripped and hit his chin on the curb and knock his back teeth out. Or did he get busy? And then you have people that are gonna support LL Cool J, those people that just wanna hear L regardless. Then there’s people all over the world. I’m just thankful. I think I’m gonna deliver on this. I think people will be pleased. Those who never been onboard with me, may be on board with me after this record. Because it’s all based on what generation you come from when it comes to my music. If you were a certain age, you might have been introduced to me when I was real mellow and rubbing olive oil on my stomach and all that. [Laughs.] It’s according to where you know L from. How you appreciate him, you know what I’m saying? This record is definitely gonna be for those that wanna hear the harder L. I didn’t abandon the females. I didn’t do that; I’d be an idiot to do that. But the record overall is that hard, more aggressive type of music, but it’s melodic. It’s not the grimiest thing in the world, it’s just hot.
How did the tone of the album change? When you started you were upset at Def Jam, Jay-Z, the promotion. Now as it’s coming out, there’s a different tenure, you don’t seem as hell bent on leaving the company,etc.
That was a good question. The tone of the company has changed. Me and Shakir [Steward, EVP of Def Jam] have a great relationship. Me and L.A. [Reid] have a great relationship. We even understand each other a lot better now. All of the people that work at the company; all the young cats, from the interns to the cats in promotion, I’m being introduced to new people that I never met before. And I’m feeling real good about the whole company in general. As far as the tone of the records. Yeah, I think because I made three albums in order to get this one album, I gave myself time to really make what I wanted to make and create what I wanted to create. I didn’t rush it. I been working on this album for two years. I just think the music got better and better and better. And like I said before, the only thing I wanted was two things: I wanted to know the company was behind me, and then I’d have to deliver the type of music that makes their job easier. And I think I did that. And that’s all I wanted to do.
Jay-Z made a comment on how to market LL Cool J, beyond he’s LL Cool J.
As far as those comments, I think that the world is seeing that right now, how you market LL. That’s pretty simple. You market him by letting everyone know he has a record coming out and have his records spinning on radio. That’s how you market LL and any other artist, by the way. As far as the music that I make, I feel like I haven’t always focused on….You know, I just make different music at different times. I make different records with different things in mind. The Todd Smith album was an album that was designed to bring people together. That’s the underlying theme of that album. If you listen to every song with the mindset that I’m bringing people together on that album. You’ll be amazed how every record on there does that. That was the theme I was working on. That’s that type of vibe. But that doesn’t mean that a lot of people like the album. A lot of people didn’t like it.
Now, creatively, depending on what movie role you’re working on, does it affect the process by which direction you take in the studio with albums?
Absolutely. You can’t be great on the side. And you know what, those last few albums, that’s the thing that I didn’t tell nobody. Since Mr. Smith every single album that I made I been doing movies the whole time. While other artist were spending all their time in the studio making their records, I was doing those albums in between movies. So with that, your heart may be in it, but if your focus isn’t there, the art is gonna suffer. This album, I didn’t do nothing but this album. So people are gonna hear the difference. It’s like a guy playing two sports. If you playing baseball and football, you’re more likely to be injured or under perform in the other sport because you’re being drained by something else. This album I really focused on. Even the 10 album had hit records like “Luv U Better” and I came back in shape, but I was still putting those albums on hold midway through production to do whole movies. So those albums lost that continuity. There was just something else that could have been there. You can’t be great on the side. So this album is crazy. I really focused on it like a mad scientist in a laboratory. To make a record that’s crazy.
What does the future hold for you? The album was named Exit 13 for a reason. Have you decided where you’re going? Are you leaning one way or another? Do you wanna be lavished as a free agent?
I’m not interested in that free agent non-sense. I’m a businessman, but I’m not looking for that. That’s now where I’m at with this. This is more about just making history and just making great music. As far as free agency and running around, the thought of me running around taking meetings with record company labels is laughable. [Big booming laugh]. I can’t even hold a straight face. Like, He’ll see you now LL. I don’t even know what that means. Maybe they can come by the house and we can talk. I don’t know? I gotta think about that one. I gotta let that one just sit there for a minute in the sun and fester. I’m just happy that Def Jam is supporting me the way they are. That’s a testament to the company and the staff. Because they’re well aware that this is my last record under my contract, but no one is treating it like a lame-duck album and everyone feels good about the process. So I’m thankful for that.