LL Cool J

Season 1 Ep 19510/10/2004

He's the first true hip-hop sensation, something like a phenomenon in the rap world. By the age of eighteen, LL Cool J had achieved the rank of platinum performer and was defining a unique, new genre of American music. Amazingly, twenty years and two Grammy's later, LL is still bustin' out ferocious rhymes and has attained a mythical status as a true pioneer of pop music.Born James Todd Smith on January 14th of 1968, the kid from St. Albans, Queens had a rough childhood. At the tender age of four years old, he watched as his mother and grandfather were injured by gunshot wounds inflicted by his own father. His mother would move on but ultimately date another man who for years physically and verbally abused the young boy, unbeknownst to his caring mother. There was only one thing that saved James Todd Smith from possible personal destruction: Rapping.Beginning at age 9, he would stand in front of a mirror and rhyme to himself. By the time he turned eleven he was mixing beats and molding a style that would dominate rap music for two decades. Calling himself LL Cool J, short for "Ladies Love Cool James," LL's career took off in 1984 when he shopped his demo tape around the recording industry. He found believers in a couple of young entrepreneurs named Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. The pair released LL's "I Need A Beat" as a launching pad for their new label, Def Jam. The record sold 100,000 copies and made LL Cool J an instant celebrity. With the success of the single, LL dropped out of high school to concentrate on music full-time and released his debut album, Radio. The catchy rhymes and innovative style propelled the album up the charts and earned LL his first platinum achievement. James Todd Smith - LL Cool J - was just eighteen years old.By 1990, with gangsta rap firmly in control of the rap scene, LL Cool J smoothly adapted his style with "Mama Said Knock You Out." Backed by a legendary, live acoustic performance on MTV Unplugged, the album peaked at double platinum and officially made the acronym "LL" part of the American subconscious.Since the mid-90's, building on the overwhelming success of his music, LL branched into other pop culture mediums, appearing in over twenty films, a hit television show and playing a presidential inauguration-while still continuing to make music for his fans.After eleven albums and countless hit singles, LL's longevity in the rap game is unprecedented. Most importantly, he's now a father of four beautiful children and has conquered the demons of his past. Behind The Music explains how the man has cemented his place in the history of American music.