Long Island loves LL Cool J. The G.O.A.T. rapper and actor has deep roots on Long Island, having been born in Bayshore and currently residing in Manhasset. But LL Cool J (which stands for Ladies Love Cool James) decided he wanted a life in music long ago, at the age of 9 when the world-renowned rapper began creating demos using equipment gifted to him by his grandfather, a jazz saxophonist.
“Long Island has a lot of great hip hop artists and has already had a huge hip hop culture very early on,” said LL Cool J, who listened to the early days of The Cold Crush Brothers and the Force MDs. “That early development influenced people like Public Enemy, EPMD, a lot of those groups.”
Growing up on Long Island and then moving to Queens, LL Cool J always felt that the island was “going towards the good life.”
“The sports, fresh air and just having a lot of fun,” he said of Long Island. “I still have a lot of friends in the North Babylon area. Gotta love Strong Island.”
The rapper came of age during the early days of hip hop, a time when it was truly just about making music and creating magic. He said that back then, “hip hop was all about the heart and the craft.”
“It wasn’t focused on money and business and entrepreneurship as it was on creativity and trying to make the best songs you could,” he said. “People measure success differently now.”
For LL Cool J, he measures his success by one simple mantra: just doing the best he can. Heavily influenced by his Long Island upbringing (including Busta Rhymes, who was part of the local rap scene), he humbly attributes his good fortune to every step that got him here.
“There really wasn’t a pivotal moment, but when you complete a marathon, every step matters,” he said, adding that the key was getting his big break with record producer Rick Rubin.
Last year, LL Cool J was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Reflecting on his accomplishments and what it took to get here, the rapper shared his three favorite records: Radio (his debut album), Bigger and Deffer and Mr. Smith.
“My first record will always be special because that was my big break. My second, I go in a totally different direction,” he said. “At the same time, I can’t narrow it down, that’s not how art works. I do the best I can at the time. It’s pure creativity.”
LL Cool J’s gratitude and humble personality are why so many fans and celebrities alike gravitate towards him. Those traits also made him the perfect choice to host Lip Sync Battle.
“Hosting Lip Sync Battle is a lot of fun. I get to listen to music all day and hang out with cool people and just enjoy myself,” said LL Cool J, who has been hosting the show that was inspired by the skit on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Created by Stephen Merchant and John Krasinski, Lip Sync Battle pits two celebrities against one another as they battle it out to see who can deliver the best lip sync performance.
“For me, it’s fun to just get out there and watch the celebrities go head to head,” said LL Cool J, who has been the host since 2015.
Out of the recording studio, LL Cool J stars as Special Agent Sam Hanna on NCIS: Los Angeles, which is a long way from his days in Krush Groove.
“NCIS: Los Angeles is a lot of fun. I’ve studied a lot and I love bringing characters to life,” he said. “I never want to get to the point where I’m taking myself too seriously; I always want to laugh and have fun and for now, I’m just chillin’.”
Catch LL Cool J on Lip Sync Battle on Thursdays at 10/9c on Spike.