Updated: Jan 21
No matter who is in your current Top 5, LL Cool J is undoubtedly one of the G.O.A.T.'s in hip-hop. With over 30 years experience in the rap game, he’s still doing it and doing it well. The rap icon turns 53 years old today.
Here are ten reasons why LL Cool J is one of the greatest in the US. Hip Hop history.
10. Taken as a whole, Walking With a Panther is not one of LL’s career highlights. However, one of its singles, “Going Back to Cali,” is. The orchestral vibe and stop-and-start dragging of the beat is something really cool and gives the record a unique sound. LL Cool J first merged East and West when the L.A. Posse produced his Bigger and Deffer album, and he did it again this go-round by way of a song’s title and video.
9). Evidence that Hip-Hop was becoming a cultural phenomenon in 1980s was apparent because its influence reached outside of music. The cool attitudes of rappers were able to go from wax to wardrobe, and consumers loved it (and still do). If Run-D.M.C. were unofficial spokesman for Adidas sneakers, LL was the same thing for Kangol hats. In other words, if LL Cool J hasn’t received a check from Kangol yet, he’s long overdue for one.
8). It was shocking when LL released “Father” on 1997’s Phenomenon. Over the course of four verses, LL discusses how his biological father shot his mom and Grandpa and then how he suffered physical abuse at the hands of his stepfather. It’s a lot to take in, but it still only scratches the surface. At the end of the song, he says, “That’s just the tip of the iceberg look/It’s too long for a song but perfect for a book.”
7). One of LL Cool J’s most successful singles, “Hey Lover,” featured Boyz II Men. But even with such a high-profile guest appearance, it was still an ambitious undertaking considering that the beat sampled Michael Jackson’s “The Lady in My Life.” It all worked out though. The song was a hit and even won a Grammy.
6). With The Roots as the house-band on one of late night’s most popular shows, it is easy to forget that Hip-Hop didn’t always come with instruments. But in April of 1991, LL Cool J broke new ground by putting on an acoustic rap show on MTV Unplugged. Even with De La Soul and MC Lyte appearing on the broadcast as well, LL stole the show with his performance of “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
5). The battle between Mr. Smith and Canibus is engraved in Hip-Hop history. But even cooler than the diss rhymes back and forth is how LL Cool J thanked Canibus “ 4 inspiration” in the liner notes of his G.O.A.T. album.
4). Spoonie Gee’s “Love Rap” and Sugarhill Gang’s “The Lover in You” both precede LL Cool J’s “I Need Love.” However, “I Need Love” is rap’s first ballad and it assisted in turning the record’s performer into a sex symbol. It also presented a strength in vulnerability which is something that LL has tapped into many times since because of his success rate with that approach.
3). Mama Said Knock You is a landmark in LL Cool J’s catalogue and is one of Hip-Hop’s greatest comebacks. With Marley Marl behind the boards and Mr. Smith behind the mic, there is no way they could fail. They didn’t; the album is a classic.
2). James Todd Smith released his thirteenth studio album, Authentic Hip-Hop. Most rappers don’t last three albums, or even three years. LL has 13 albums and almost thirty years respectively. If longevity is any indication of success in rap, LL Cool J is one of the best to ever do it.
1). LL Cool J’s first album, Radio, not only launched his career, but it was also Def Jam’s first full-length release. It made LL a star, plus helped producer (or “reducer”, according to the album’s back-cover credit) Rick Rubin earn a name for himself outside the realm of punk rock. And the rest is history.
Check out more LL Cool J's music bangers down below.