The New York rap pioneer on jovial form as he returns with his thirteenth album.
When you’ve had a career as long as LL Cool J’s, you get used to hearing nonsense about yourself. So, inspired by AJ Jacobs’ recent Esquire profile of George Clooney, I decided to take the muscular hip hop legend, whose thirteenth album Exit 13 is out this week, through the sordid history of his own Wikipedia page. The interview was frequently punctuated by his amazing, earth-shaking laugh.
Dazed Digital: Do you read about yourself on the internet much?
LL Cool J: I do. Everything from “He needs to kill himself” to “He should never have started” to “I love him and he’s a perfect artist”, everything you could imagine. People are every passionate online. I understand the mindset, because I’m an internet junkie myself. I’m not one of those artists who’s crying his eyes out and has the blues over the internet. I don’t do self-pity. All that stuff speaks to my sense of humour. Of course there’s a bit of nonsense out there because there are some people who hate their lives, but you do find nuggets of wisdom.
DD: Did you know that it’s possible to go back and look at every single change that’s ever been made to your Wikipedia page, even the ones that get erased immediately? For instance, someone put that you’re “known for being ambitious and pessimistic”. Is that true?
LLCJ: I’m very ambitious, but you have to be realistic, or you implode. You don’t want to be over the top. I’m definitely not pessimistic. I would kill myself if I was pessimistic.
DD: Someone put that you have 30 kids.
LLCJ: Definitely not!
DD: Someone put that your name stands for “Luscious Lips Cool Jams”.
LLCJ: That was never part of the nickname! Especially for a teenager growing up in Queens, that would have been a pretty bizarre way for me to think about myself. Ladies Love Cool James was just a name I made up when I was sixteen years old and wanted some attention and dreamed of having a girl of my own.
DD: Someone put that you have taken “36,000 shots to the head and chest”.
LLCJ: If somebody thinks that, it’s a good omen! Maybe I’ll sell some records accordingly.
DD: Someone put that “he rocks the house and parties like a rock star”.
LLCJ: That has some merit. But you’re not going to find me in a bathtub with a needle in my arm.
DD: Someone put that Will Smith is your step brother.
LLCJ: No! I’ve known him since we were little kids, though. After “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble” came out, we went on tour together.
DD: Someone put that in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you played all of the turtles.
LLCJ: Yes, that is true.
DD: So you’ve got this new album, Exit 13.
LLCJ: I’ve had a lot of fun working on it. I think the last two or three albums were weaker, but I gave myself a year and a half to do this one.
DD: There’s a line on your single “Rockin’ With The G.O.A.T.” about a “booty clap on the floor in the kitchen”. What’s the appeal of sex next to the sink?
LLCJ: It’s just hot in the kitchen. It’s such an odd place for it to happen. It’s so much more exciting than just the run of the mill.
DD: You’re one of the pioneers of New York rap. Hank Shocklee from Public Enemy has an interesting theory that New York rap is heavy on the treble because you walk around listening to it on headphones, whereas Southern rap is heavy on the bass because you drive around listening to it on a car stereo. Do you think that’s true?
LLCJ: It’s not a bad theory, but I don’t think it’s necessarily true, because the instrument that Southern rap is based on – the 808 drum machine – my whole first album was based on that. I’ve been using those sounds for years, so has Rick Rubin, the Beastie Boys, Run DMC… I just think New York rap got away from that a bit. But the Southern kids really like that sound, and they keep on making music that they love and enjoy. They don’t make music to impress other rappers, they make music as fans, and that way they’ve brought a lot of the fun back.
DD: There’s a song on the album called “Mr. President” that’s very political.
LLCJ: Yeah, I’m writing the president a letter. It’s very respectful but it has some fairly intelligent questions that I’m asking about things that a lot of people want to know. I treat it like a journalist or an ambassador for the people.
DD: DMX revealed in March that he’d never heard of Barack Obama. What do you think about that?
LLCJ: I love X, but he should probably stay as far away from politics as he can! Just keep making those aggressive records, man. Do what you do.
DD: Are you an Obama supporter yourself?
LLCJ: I think he’s very inspiring. I went to a dinner last night, an event for his wife that Anna Wintour put on at Calvin Klein’s house. I think he’ll win the election.
DD: That party sounds pretty swank. Are you comfortable at places like that?
LLCJ: Sure, I’m comfortable with those people. But at the same time, I’m still a guy who relates to the average person next door. I’m not one of these elitist hip hop artists who can’t step out of bed unless he has a pair of diamond slippers waiting. I got into this thing because I love the music, and that’s still who I am.