LL Cool J: Biography of the Rapper and Actor

Born January 14th, 1968 in Bay Shore, New York, LL Cool J became interested in rap as a young child and began writing his own songs during his early adolescence. He was discovered by Def Jam in the early 80s and found almost instant success with his debut. With his unique rap style, LL Cool J continued to gain success with his next few albums, despite critique. He also expanded into acting, landing roles in several Hollywood movies and television programs. In this video, WatchMojo.com takes a look at the life and career of rapper, actor and entrepreneur, LL Cool J.

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Early Interest in Rap

James Todd Smith was born January 14th, 1968 in Bay Shore, New York. After discovering hip hop at age nine, he began writing and performing his own songs two years later. Inspired by rap greats like Grandmaster Flash, Run-D.M.C. and Kurtis Blow, he used recording equipment his grandmother gave him to build his sound.

The Debut of LL Cool J

Smith then adopted the stage name LL Cool J, which meant “Ladies Love Cool James.” In 1984, LL signed to the newly-founded Def Jam Recordings, and demonstrated his powerful rap style on his first single, “I Need a Beat.” The next year, his debut album Radio became one of hip hop’s first commercial successes on the strength of singles like “I Can’t Live without My Radio,” and “Rock the Bells.” Thanks to LL’s b-boy-style lyrics and Rick Rubin’s production work, the record went platinum and helped launch the new school of hip hop.

Sophomore Effort

1987’s Bigger and Deffer was an even bigger success. That album reached number three on the Billboard 200, went double platinum and spawned the hit rap ballad “I Need Love.”

Commercial Success and Critique

What came next was 1989’s top ten effort Walking with a Panther. Despite its commercial success and numerous successful tracks, the record was heavily criticized for pandering to the mainstream.

Don’t Call it a Comeback

By this point, many thought LL Cool J’s time had come to an end, but he was only getting started. He won back critic and fan favor with 1990’s Mama Said Knock You Out. The tougher album sold over two million copies, and generated the Grammy-winning title track.

Shift to Hardcore Rap

LL then revealed his acting talent in some small roles, before dropping 14 Shots to the Dome in 1993. That more hardcore rap record was a commercial flop, but still managed gold status.

Critical and Commercial Recognition

When most rappers would have called it quits, LL persevered. He was rewarded when 1995’s Mr. Smith sold over two million copies and won him another Grammy for his song with Boyz II Men, “Hey Lover.” On this CD, LL featured many of the sexy rap ballads he was famous for, including “Loungin’” and “Doin’ It.”

Acting and “Phenomenon”

That same year, LL Cool J added to his acting credits by starring in the sitcom “In the House.” He then released the platinum-selling disc Phenomenon in 1997, which spawned the title cut and the star-studded single “4, 3, 2, 1.” The next few years were spent beefing up his acting repertoire in movies like “Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later,” “Deep Blue Sea,” “In Too Deep,” and “Any Given Sunday.”

First Number One Record

In 2000, LL Cool J had his first number one album with G.O.A.T., or Greatest of All Time. He kept busy in films like “Charlie’s Angels,” “Kingdom Come” and “Rollerball,” and released the number two disc 10 in 2002. That same year, the rapper lent his vocals to the chart-topping Jennifer Lopez track “All I Have.”

More Music and Acting

In 2004, he released the Timbaland-produced top five record, The DEFinition. Two years later came Todd Smith, and this effort featured several collaborations, including another J-Lo duet called “Control Myself.” During this period, LL made many more movie and television appearances, most notably in “Deliver Us from Eva,” “S.W.A.T.,” “Mindhunters” and “Last Holiday.”

Last Album with Def Jam and Roles on Television

Then in 2008, LL released his last Def Jam album: Exit 13. That top ten record was preceded by his first mixtape: The Return of the G.O.A.T. LL’s focus then shifted to acting and he became a regular on the television series “NCIS: Los Angeles” in 2009. After several years of hosting the Grammy nominations concert, he hosted the 54th Grammy Awards in 2012 for the first time.

Other Interests

Aside from rapping and acting, LL Cool J authored numerous books, including an autobiography, fitness guide and children’s book. He was also involved with a few clothing lines, including the iconic FUBU brand, and formed several music-related companies.


With a career spanning decades, LL Cool J became one of the most notable and accomplished rapper/actors of all time. This multi-dimensional celebrity has sold millions of albums worldwide, received numerous accolades and appeared in dozens of movies - and that is why he remains the “greatest of all time.”

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