After hearing revolutionary music from Afrika Bambaataa and Sugar Hill Gang, little James grew to love the rap scene. His grandfather bought him his first DJ set when he was nine years old.
By 13, he was already out on the streets selling his demos. The first one to notice this budding talent was Rick Rubin of the then-new Def Jam Records. At 16 years old, Smith, now known as LL Cool J (short for Ladies Love Cool James), had a contract with the upstart label and released its first single ever, "I Need A Beat," in 1984.
It was with the release of L.L.'s inaugural album Radio the following year that L.L. knew he had the talent for a promising career. The album was received with surprising acclaim, and the single "I Can't Live Without My Radio" became memorable, as it was featured in the movie L.L. performed in that same year, called Krush Groove. He followed up his newfound fame by joining the "Raising Hell" tour of 1986-1987, with Run-DMC, Beastie Boys and Public Enemy as headliners.
On a frenetic pace and not even out of adolescence yet, L.L. padded his bare-chested, gold chain-wearing image with his sophomore album, 1987's Bigger and Deffer. Almost single-handedly, he was making Def Jam a major label, as "I Need Love" became a huge chart hit across the board. For his third LP, L.L. successfully experimented with new styles, making Walking With A Panther his third platinum seller. "Goin' Back to Cali," which appeared on the soundtrack for Less Than Zero, is still a song that every rap aficionado should have in their collection.
Between concerts and some controversial incidents by L.L.'s crew that left his image a tad tainted, he teamed up with talented producer Marly Marl to make Mama Said Knock You Out in 1990. The album blew up around the world, with the title track getting him his first Grammy in the Best Rap Solo Performance category. His fierce lyrics and catchy duet ballads with various R&B groups appealed to a wide range of people, further broadening rap's popularity. The album, which is considered L.L.'s most popular, spawned the hit singles "Around The Way Girl," "6 Minutes Of Pleasure" and the title track.
As the awards from MTV, Soul Train and other institutions poured in, L.L. took a step toward acting. In 1992, he appeared in Toys with Robin Williams, the beginning of what was to be a successful career in film. 1993 saw the coming of some gangsta rap in L.L.'s repertoire, with the release of 14 Shots To The Dome. Further cementing his influence as an artist, he performed at MTV's Inaugural Ball for President Clinton, and became the first rapper to be featured on MTV's Rockumentary.
In 1995, L.L. Cool J landed his own NBC sitcom with In the House, in which he starred as Marion Hill. That same year, Mr. Smith was released and proved that fans' love for L.L. was undying -- the single "Hey Lover" with Boyz II Men brought him his second Grammy.
A year after 1996's All World (a greatest hits album) dropped, the edgy Phenomenon was released, hardly giving fans time to breathe. The title track climbed its way up the charts, and brought more record-setting numbers for L.L. In the meantime, films like Woo, Caught Up and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later filled up his time. He even wrote his autobiography, entitled I Make My Own Rules.
14 Shots to the Dome was LL Cool J's fifth album. The album had three singles ("How I'm Comin'", "Back Seat" and the strangely titled "Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag Getting Crushed by Buildings") and guest-featured labelmates Lords of the Underground on "NFA-No Frontin' Allowed". The album went gold.
LL Cool J (1993) 14 Shots to the Dome
sickenin' LP, His best from my perspective