LL Cool J is more machine than man. After compiling a resume that consists of numerous albums, 24 movies and his own television show, the man known as James Todd Smith is readying his latest (and possibly last) Def Jam release with Exit 13. Hip-hop’s ironman has been able to withstand the test of time and fairweather fans. But does hip-hop still love Cool James? The Hollis, Queens representer sits down with The Urban Daily to discuss his newest project, why the media is being too hard on Rick Ross and explains why he’ll never, ever have to “jock” Jay-Z.
The Urban Daily: Not even going into your new album, Exit 13, yet… LL, how’s the film career going, man?
LL Cool J: My film career is going really well. Excellent, quite actually… I’ve been turning down flicks, though. I’ve turned down about 7 or 8 movies – three in the last month and a half. I really wanted to focus on the music and this album. Last time, I really focused on the album and didn’t do anything but film between the making of these last few albums. So it was recording after and off the set, coming on the set and record, and all that other kind of stuff, so… I felt like everything that’s been going on will be delivered better this go-’round. With Exit 13, though, I really want to deliver on this album and not just be focused on making movies this time.
TUD: Is this, in fact, your last album on Def Jam?
LL: It’s the last album under my contract, so whether it’s the last album ever on Def Jam remains to be seen, I think that you know, obviously, our relationship has gotten a lot better now. I felt like I needed to be promoted better and I also thought that there was some merit in the idea of me making some better music that more people would respond to, which would make their job easier. So after I went out there and said what I had to say, I felt like giving the people some great music! Me and Def Jam have a great relationship though now, you know with me owning my catalog, and them distributing it, we’re tied at the hip with these 13 albums. That’s a lot of history and legacy. When the company started it was me Russell [Simmons], Rick [Rubin] and Heidi Smith, the secretary, and a sandwich [laughs]!
TUD: Now the single, “Baby,” you liking the response that you getting now?
LL: I’m loving the response that I’m getting now. It feels real, real good. Especially because it was a great opportunity to show people diversity! To be able to put out myReturn of the G.O.A.T. mixtape and to show people that I understand how this new game is played is incredible. And then to also be able to do a light-hearted, fun, silly song that’s not about wordplay and not about lyrical depth, but just about having fun and partying was a fun record to craft for the clubs. It gave people an opportunity to see that I do know what to do on purpose and that there is a reason I know what I’m creating when I create it and I’m not just like putting my hand in a black bag and just coming out with a song and hope that it works.
LL: Very good question. I think there’s a lot of things. First of all, as far as me signing to 50, it’s understandable why a person would think about that for me. I love 50 that’s my man, but it’s really silly to think about that. I mean, you know, like why would the guy who started this company [Def Jam] go and sign to another artist. I love him, that’s my man, but it’s ridiculous; it’s not even realistic. It’s my 24th year in my career, you think I’m going to sign to another rapper? It doesn’t make sense, but he is my man… That being said he executive produced the whole album for me, but I decided not to use that whole album because I want people to hear LL Cool J. I don’t want them to hear that album and think I’m trying to sound like 50 because that’s not what anybody wants to hear. It’s probably what most dummies would do but I’m not that.
As far as being hungry, yes I am very hungry, younger no. I’m not trying to be old school and I’m not trying be new school. I’m just classic so I’m not trying to be younger. I don’t have any issues with where I’m at in my age. That’s why if you look at MTV right now, you saw them put make-up on my face and I made myself look 95-years-old and sung “Headsprung,” that’s what I think about age! [Laughs] I sung “I Need Love” by the pool for 80-year-old women. That’s what I think about age. That’s my opinion on that. That’s how much that matters to me. But, yes I’m hungry! Why am I hungry? I went out and I complained to the world and told them I need to be marketed and told them that I didn’t feel like I was being treated the way I needed to be treated.
I need my projects to be treated with respect and when you speak your heart, you always put yourself in jeopardy to put your foot in your mouth and play yourself if you don’t deliver.
TUD: Okay, so you made it known that you wanted Def Jam to do more, but at the time people just thought that you were trying to “jock Jay-Z” for some sort of corporate position…
LL: Me, jockin’ Jay-Z?! For what? Why would I do that? Why would LL do that?
TUD: He was the boss, man… You were complaining about the boss at the time.
LL: I’m going to be the first person to say it… I don’t think people understand the relationship between artist and labels. How could LL Cool J have a boss? How’s that even possible? Because somebody has a job at Def Jam and they work there? I own my records how could I have a boss? I own the catalogs! I didn’t say publishing, but I own that too. But for the record, I was never mad at Jay-Z.
TUD: But the little back and forth kind of added fuel to the fire.
LL: I mean it really wasn’t no back and forth if you really think about it, all I ever said was that I need to be promoted. Period. And I kept it purely business. It’s not personal! I listen to his music, I don’t have an issue with duke. He’s made some great songs, but that’s not going to stop me from knowing what LL Cool J needs, you know what I’m sayin’…? When history is written about hip-hop, LL Cool J will be mentioned! So I’m not going to not stand up for what LL needs because the guy’s talented. I’m not going to not voice my opinion on how a job function is being performed because you have a platform like I do. That’s not smart of me – closed mouths don’t get fed. And as we can see right now, I think the proof is in the pudding. Say what you want but LL Cool J is on the radio all day right now and you seeing me more than you’ve seen me in years so, say what you want but you see the marketing push now, as opposed to what it was before…
TUD: Are you going to ever make a return back to TV?
LL: Yeah, I have deal with CBS. I’m producing a drama that I’m going to star in. We’re still trying to hone in on the idea that we had before the writer’s strike. After the strike we flipped it.
TUD: The ‘Todd Smith’ clothing line — what’s going on with that?
LL: First of all, the Todd Smith line is doing well. It didn’t explode on the scene, because it doesn’t have enough distribution yet in order to explode all the way. But it’s definitely out there doing well. I’m getting ready to take it and make it more exclusive. I just did a deal with Sears for the LL Cool J brand. I’ll have clothes that’s for young men, juniors, boys and girls and the whole family. That’s the biggest deal in our culture! It starts out in 450 stores and then it goes to 700 stores. I think it’s easy for me to make you jeans that cost 5,000 dollars and then try to sell it to my rich friends in VIP. But the reality is a lot of people out there whose tax refund check saved their lives and helped them to put out fires.
So if I could make a pair of 40 dollar jeans or a 22 dollar t-shirt and make it affordable, but still trendy and hip, then maybe I can contribute something cool to the world. I made stuff that I feel comfortable wearing. I have some stuff that’s a little bit more ornate and forward, but then I have stuff that’s a little more basic. You know I feel real good about that; I think that’s it’s doing really well. I just finished filming the TV commercials for the Sears brand.
The reality is everybody’s not rich. The reality is everybody’s not the flyest dude in the club and knows everything about hip-hop. Some people are just real cats that just go to work at Target or wherever they work and live their lives like normal people. So, it feels good to do something for real families and real people that’s affordable where it’s not about the price, but what it’s worth in the end. It feels good.
TUD: So, speaking of “exits,” a lot of cats have came in this game and exited even quicker without coming close to 13 albums. How many people should just take notes on how you’ve made moves with your career and what would you say to your kids if they wanted to rap?
LL: Honestly, I don’t know… I’m not as really focused on my overall career. You know I’ve never been a guy to live in the past. “Baby” is not on 106 and Park because I did Rock the Bells, you know what I’m sayin’…? It’s not on 106 and Park right now, on the countdown, because of “Love You Better.” It’s on there because of what it is and that the kids like it now! So, I’ve always been a person that’s just focused on now, you know what I’m sayin’…? When you look at my career, what you could say if you want to look at it that way, is that this is a guy that, say what you want, has never been afraid to do what he feels. This guy is confident. This guy do what he feels.. As far as my kids getting into the business I’m cool with my kids getting into the business but also know that this is a business that can destroy you emotionally and spiritually if you’re not prepared for it. You know I just was blessed you know to just be like to not be effected by like the ups and downs you know what I’m saying I have a lot of endurance. So the ups and downs and the you know your over, every six months they want to tell you you’re finished. You know I laugh at it you know it’s like comic books. Every month it’s a new super rapper and you’re finished. I’m so use to it since I started they been telling me about the new super rapper and how I’m over. Everybody’s hot.
TUD: What are your top five cuts off of Exit 13 that you really like?
LL: Oh, man, damn I don’t know if I’m there yet ’cause I’m still selecting the records for the albums. I’m still at that place where everything has to earn its slot, but I don’t want to put anything out there that I don’t love. But I have a joint on the album that Ido like called “Heartbeat.” I love it! I think it’s crazy. It’s about role-playing, but it’s crazy, man, crazy! I got these young kids to do the beat and it’s insane.
LL: Hell no! I was a paper boy what does that mean I can’t rap? Keepin’ it really, real with you, man… I just want the people to think about something for a minute. Do y’all really believe in your heart of hearts that every rapper, in order for a rap song to be good, has to tell the truth? [Notorious] BIG is phenomenally talented, but you really think that he did everything he said on them records? I don’t care about what duke is doing in his private time, I care about the music, you know what I’m sayin’…? Not everybody is 50 Cent, you know? He did really get shot nine times and he’s a very interesting individual, so he’s a different case and I think that they’re overdoing it on the homeboy, Ross, man.