Since releasing his recording debut while still a teenager, LL Cool J has enjoyed one of the most successful and sustained careers in rap history. His aggressive, self-aggrandizing style was one of the form's touchstones in its early incarnation. After earning Grammy Awards and platinum sales and achieving massive crossover success (with 1990's MAMA SAID KNOCK YOU OUT), the man formerly known as James Todd Smith has moved well beyond musical superstardom to become an actor in movies and TV, as well as a product pitchman and philanthropist.
The very epitome of "been there, done that," LL Cool J also has the distinction of having originated (or, at least, being the most proficient at) half a dozen rap styles. On the hits collection All World, all the phases are represented: he was "hard as hell" on 1986's "Rock the Bells" and again on 1991's "Mama Said Knock You Out"; on 1987's "I Need Love," he was the painfully sappy precursor to Boyz II Men, but he had the formula down pat for 1990's "Around the Way Girl" (and then he went sappy again on 1995's "Hey Lover," a collaboration with the Boyz); and 1988's "Going Back to Cali" found him stylin'. He's had his ups and downs and managed to produce only a couple of truly killer albums, but LL's first dozen years show that he's left his stamp on nearly every facet of the hip-hop world. --Randy Silver
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