Courtesy of Molson Coors
In the world of hip-hop, the name LL COOL J is royalty. From the moment he arrived as a teenage rap sensation and the flagship artist of DEF JAM in 1984, he has progressively made it his mission to push the culture forward.
Whether it's platinum albums, classic songs, hit TV shows, blockbuster films, or best-selling books, James Todd Smith has done it all in a major way and always represented the culture to the fullest.
Last year alone, the Queens legend played to sold-out arenas across the country as the headliner of the F.O.R.C.E. Tour accompanied by The Roots, released another book, LL COOL J Presents The Streets Win: 50 Years of Hip-Hop Greatness, and honored the 50th anniversary of hip-hop with his third annual Rock The Bells Festival.
Without question, LL COOL J is a one-of-one.
BET.com caught up with LL, and we spoke about work with Coors Light on their Super Bowl commercial, his upcoming music, and appearing on “NCIS: Hawaiʻi.”
BET.com: The Super Bowl is one of the most anticipated events of the year and so many people watch to see what great commercials are premiering. How did you connect with Coors Light for the spot?
LL COOL J: Their team reached out to me and said that they were doing something with the Coors light chill train and they wanted me to be a part of it. They felt like I was the perfect person for the job. They were like, “You're cool, we're chill, let's link.”I thought it sounded like a fun idea. When they told me that the concept was to bring the Coors Light Chill Train out of retirement like “Don’t call it a comeback”, I was down to have some fun with it. The concept felt epic. It felt big and funny and had a whole lot of great energy.
BET.com: Speaking of energy, 2023 was Hip-Hop's 50th anniversary and you were at the forefront of celebrating the culture. You’ve been an artist, a creator, and a producer but now I would argue you are hip hop's greatest ambassador. How does that feel?
LL COOL J: It feels amazing because hip-hop has done so much for me. It's been so good to me over the years and it just feels good to be able to pay it forward and give back to the culture that's given me so much. I just want to continue pushing the envelope and show people we can keep taking it to new heights throughout the years. You never have to settle and you don't have to be intimidated by Father Time. Instead, you can be inspired to keep going to do great things and that's been an amazing feeling for me. To be able to do things like an epic big game commercial. You know, like, all these kinds of things are just fun for me. I was having a good time.
BET.com: We know you will take it to another level this year. What do you plan to ensure we keep celebrating hip-hop this year and beyond?
LL COOL J: Oh, man. I promise you we have some great things coming. Some great. Believe me. I think we will be able to take it to another level and show people what's possible with hip-hop. And show him that the possibilities are endless, you know, they're just a matter of time babies coming. It’s just a matter of time.
BET.com: Among your recent projects is a hilarious commercial with you and Dr. Rick for Progressive Insurance. How funny was it for you to be a part of that?
LL COOL J: These dudes are hilarious and even funnier in person. It was a lot of fun. Everything I've been doing lately has been what really inspires me, and if I’m going to get involved and support a brand, I want to make sure it's fun. And it feels good. And I liked the story. And I like what it's about. So that fits right in there. It was silly, we didn’t have to take ourselves too seriously. We get to be human. I’m just having a ball doing things there a little differently where I don’t have to be so serious about everything.
BET.com: I heard you say recently that you are free to explore every facet of your personality and don’t have to drop scientific bars all the time. You can have some laughs.
LL COOL J: People definitely can get a little caught up with taking themselves too seriously. They come off like they run around with a 10-foot cigarette holder with an Ascot on [Laughs].
BET.com: Regarding your music, we’ve been waiting for a long time for a new project. We heard “The Force” last year and can’t wait to hear more.
LL COOL J: First of all, let me just say this: I didn't release the song. All I did was play a little bit of it on “Rock the Bells,” and then the song got out. It never came out officially. I just played it to have some fun and to gauge the energy. It got a great response, and people liked it. I’ve been working with Q-Tip, and people will have to wait and see what we have. The proof is in the pudding. I think I can show you better than I can tell you.
BET.com: Q-Tip is a fellow Queens native and hip-hop icon. After all these years of being in the game, is this your first time working together?
LL COOL J: Yeah, this is our first time working together. I look forward to seeing how people respond to it. I think people’s reactions will be very interesting when they hear it.
BET.com: It was recently announced that Sam Hanna will return to “NCIS: Hawaiʻi.” How does it feel to reprise your role?
LL COOL J: It’s crazy, man. Doing that show is about having no limits. Working with the new cast and being on location in Hawaiʻi has been a cool challenge for my character Sam Hanna. Meeting the new cast has been great. I can’t wait for everyone to check out the new season.
BET.com: When you first joined “NCIS: Los Angeles” did you anticipate that you would still be going strong as Sam Hanna more than 15 years later?
LL COOL J: This will literally be my 15th season playing the character. I did 14 seasons of “NCIS: Los Angeles” and now this is my first season of “NCIS: Hawaiʻi.” I thought it'd be a couple of years and then we would be good. I didn't expect that necessarily. Not that I was underestimating it and I wasn’t thinking it would be this big.
BET.com: As a creative, what has been one of the keys to your continual evolution in the industry?
LL COOL J: It would be to stay true to your calling, who you are, and your fan base. Also, remember that this is a career and not just a moment. What you put in the context of a career and realize the scope and magnitude of what you're involved in changes your perspective on who you are and what you do. It becomes a big deal when you look at it as a body of work and a career.
I remember one time a girl approached me in the parking lot of a fast food joint in Queens, saying, “I like your music.” It made me think about my music as a whole. If you think about it from that perspective and then you think about all the great artists, it's about having a body of work and looking at it from that holistic point of view, which makes a difference. Then, you have a license to be creatively risky and to create things that people may perceive as mistakes. When you have a body of work as an artist, it gives you that freedom.
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