LL Cool J

LL Cool J
Paul A. Herbert / Invision


Music: North side of the 6900 block of Hollywood Boulevard
Born James Todd Smith on Jan. 14, 1968 in Bay Shore, N.Y.

Like many other rappers of his generation, LL Cool J (a.k.a. Ladies Love Cool James) spun a multiplatinum music career into success as an actor, most notably in the long-running military crime-solving series "NCIS: Los Angeles."

The entertainer began rapping at age 9 in St. Albans, near the rap hotbed of Hollis, Queens, N.Y. Two years later, his jazz musician grandfather purchased $2,000 worth of recording equipment, which Cool J used to create demos. Def Jam Recordings later signed the teen and released his first official record, "I Need A Beat," in 1984. His first album, "Radio," featuring the hit "I Can't Live Without My Radio," was issued the following year.

LL Cool J was one of the first successful rappers to connect with mainstream audiences in the late 1980s and '90s with hit records such as "I Need Love," "Going Back to Cali" and "Around the Way Girl."

"The secret is following my instincts," Cool J told The Times in 1993 about success in the music industry.

"I really don't listen to other rappers and try to figure out what's going to sell when I'm ready to do an album. If I had listened to everybody else, you wouldn't be talking to me right now because I'd be long gone out of this business."

He won Grammys for best solo rap performance in 1992 for "Mama Said Knock You Out" and 1997 for "Hey Lover" (featuring Boyz II Men). He also has won multiple NAACP Image Awards and MTV Video Music Awards. As of 2016, Cool J had hosted the Grammys for five consecutive years. The rapper's music career continues with a total of 13 studio albums, seven of them platinum or multiplatinum, featuring the hit songs "Loungin'," "Headsprung" and "Control Myself" (featuring Jennifer Lopez).

While achieving success in music, LL Cool J developed a career in Hollywood. He first appeared as himself in the 1985 film "Krush Groove," based on the early days of Def Jam Recording. One of his early acting roles was as Captain Patrick Zevo in the 1992 film "Toys," starring Robin Williams. Cool J also starred in the NBC sitcom "In the House" from 1995 to 1999 and in films including "Deep Blue Sea" (1999), "Any Given Sunday" (1999) and "Last Holiday" (2006).

Beginning in 2009, LL Cool J starred in the "NCIS" spinoff "NCIS: Los Angeles," playing former Navy SEAL Sam Hanna. Co-starring Chris O'Donnell, the CBS series consistently ranked among the top 10 most-watched shows during its first five seasons.

"I'm interested in more [acting roles], as long as they're not stereotypical," Cool J told The Times in 2000. "I'd like to keep taking shots at this until people don't seem interested anymore," he said. "Then I'll move on."

— Jerome Campbell for the Los Angeles Times

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