On January 14, James Todd Smith, is born in Queens, New York, to a middle class, Catholic family. He undergoes a violent upbringing, faced with consistent physical abuse from a friend of his mother, and one experience where his father almost killed his mother and grandmother. This trauma leads Smith to develop an intense imagination, solaced by the comfort of controlling his own mind. At the age of 9, he becomes a big fan of hip hop, particularly of the rap group The Treacherous Three.
A 12-year-old Smith begin writing raps. Inspired by “Rapper’s Delight,” he decides to continue in the footsteps of those he looks up to.
At 14, Smith begins sending demos to labels, and at about this age he adopts the stage name Ladies Love Cool James, or LL Cool J for short.
16-year-old LL Cool J is invited to make a demo with Rick Rubin in his dorm room. He produces and releases his demo single, “I Need A Beat”, and begins to achieve a surprising amount of success as a young teen, alongside Rubin and Russell Simmons.
At 17, LL Cool J releases Def Jam’s first album, Radio, which goes platinum. LL Cool J also builds notoriety with a cameo in the film Krush Groove.
LL Cool J also builds notoriety with a cameo in the film Krush Groove.
LL Cool J mixes LA and NYC sound on his second album Bigger and Deffer, or B.A.D. It becomes the first rap album to chart on the Billboard Top R&B Albums. This album is notable for spawning the rap love song “I Need Love,” which has had great influence on the genre and has been sampled repeatedly. The album goes double-platinum in the United States and gold in Canada.
LL Cool J’s releases his third album, Walking with a Panther, to heavy criticism. He is thought by many to have sold out, “gone pop,” and lost the pulse of the rap game. He is booed in various communities because, unlike the work of other popular rappers at the time, his music doesn’t seem to reflect the reality of the streets. Nevertheless, the album captures broad appeal outside of his usual community, and his ability to create hit singles make the album commercially successful, as it goes on to achieve platinum status.
LL Cool J reasserts his presence in the game with his album Mama Said Knock You Out, which he records with Marley Marl. The title references his grandmother’s advice to go out and knock out his critics and opponents. The overall album receives critical acclaim for being a return to LL Cool J’s unique signature style. The album cover, what with its black-and-white depiction of Smith’s chains, muscles, and assertive posture, all emblazoned with red lettering, later becomes a classic piece of hip hop artwork. The title song wins LL Cool J his first Grammy award. “Mama Said Knock You Out” reaches #17 on the Billboard Hot 100, and its music video receives critical acclaim for its concept and simplicity. The album achieves double-platinum status.
LL Cool J releases 14 Shots to the Dome, his fifth album, and launches a record label called P.O.G. or Power of God.
LL Cool J begins acting in his own sitcom, In the House.
LL Cool J also releases an iconic remix to the popular rap song “Flava In Ya Ear.”
Lastly, he releases Mr. Smith, another successful album, which includes three songs that chart on the Billboard Hot 100 and is nominated for the Best Rap Album Grammy award.
LL Cool J releases All World, a Greatest Hits album, which is one of the first hip hop Greatest Hits albums.
LL Cool J releases Phenomenon, which goes platinum.
LL Cool J’s autobiography, I Make My Own Rules, is published.
LL Cool J participates in a GAP commercial while representing FUBU, short for For Us By Us, a clothing label that established an explicit connection between fashion and rap and sought greater representation of black consumers in manufacturing. GAP fails to realize he is advertising another clothing line until after the ad goes live. The brand goes on to both accrue a net worth of billions of dollars and secure a feature in the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
LL Cool J releases G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time), inspired by the last line on his most recent, memorable Canibus diss. The album goes platinum. This album’s title also spawns the popular slang term.
LL Cool J is featured on a FUBU album, The Good Life.
LL Cool J releases 10.
He also publishes a children’s book titled And the Winner Is...
LL Cool J releases The DEFinition.
LL Cool J releases Todd Smith.
LL Cool J publishes a book he co-wrote, LL Cool J (Hip Hop Stars).
LL Cool J drops the album Exit 13, as his final album with Def Jam, the label that both launched him to stardom and achieved great success because of his contributions. LL Cool J also launches Boomdizzle.com, a website designed to assist artists in sharing their music and networking.
LL Cool J appears on NCIS and originates the role of Sam Hanna, a role that he continues portraying for 9 seasons on the spin-off show, NCIS Los Angeles.
LL Cool J hosts the Grammys, which he continues to do through 2016.
LL Cool J releases his first album without Def Jam, Authentic. On this album, he speaks to his desire to continue contributing to the rap game.
This year also sees the release of LL Cool J’s controversial song with Brad Paisley, “Accidental Racist,” which he releases to promote love and forgiveness.
LL Cool J re-releases a 25 anniversary edition of Mama Said Knock You Out. It features all of the original songs, as well as 14 bonus tracks, which include remixes of original songs as well as other popular songs from various endeavors and other projects. In addition, LL Cool J launches an anti-violence initiative in his hometown of Queens with Russell Simmons. He also visits Rikers Island to promote a similar message.
LL Cool J begins hosting the TV show Lip Sync Battle.
LL Cool J receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, having consistently engaged in the entertainment industry throughout his life. He speaks to the importance of longevity, expressing his belief that hip hop is not just a “young man’s game,” and this belief seems to be supported by his cultural impact.
LL Cool J becomes the Kennedy Center’s first hip hop honoree, and his recognition by the institution signifies a greater acceptance of the genre as a whole.