LL Cool J (continued)

Page two of three page LL Cool J feature.

Along those lines, you're a father of four children whose ages range from 5 to 16. The subject matter of hip-hop and videos has gotten much racier over time. As your kids get older, how do you reconcile that with what you do?

A: Look, let's be frank about: it could be cleaner. There's room for a little more positivity. I think women can be displayed in a way that's beautiful without making them look like tramps. It is what it is. There's no need in pretending that's not a problem. It is.

Everybody has the right to see what they want to see and at a certain age. God gave us free will, so who am I to try and impose my will on someone else? But that being said, he gave us liberty, but at the same time you still want to take responsibility for the people you're influencing.

That doesn't mean I won't do any sexy videos. It doesn't mean I don't want to have beautiful girls in my videos or in the stuff I'm doing. I just think it could be a little classier sometimes, that's all. I don't want this to seem like I'm bashing my industry because I'm not. The industry as a whole is in a good place. We've just got to take a few more risks [and understand] that people would like something different.

What was your aim when you started out in this business?

I just wanted to hear my record on the radio and get a Mercedes. In that order. [laughs] That was it. I just kept working at it, and God blessed me.

What has changed the most about the music industry in the last 20 years?

Rap music has become much more visually driven, much more money-driven and even more producer-driven.

Is that a good or bad thing?

Just different. The visual thing is tough but not necessarily bad. Nowadays, your video is as important as your song. So now you not only have to be a person who can make great music, but you have to be able to deliver a vision on it. But then again, that part is good, because it makes you really have to dig deep as an artist.

As far as it being more economically driven, I mean, you know, that's good and bad. You make more money, but at the same time it's a trade-off.

Do you think you could start in the record business today?

It's cool that's a question I'll never have to answer. [laughs] I'll let you answer that. Whatever you say is right. How about no? That's even funnier.

After all these years, do you consider yourself a legend?

A legend? I guess I'd say no, only because considering yourself a legend would mean letting your past hold your future hostage, and I don't do that. At some point you embrace what you've done and [are] happy. If you've got your hands on the plow and you look back, the lines won't be straight in the ground. You've got to keep moving forward.

But I definitely respect and appreciate the amount of time I've been doing what I'm doing, and I know it's a unique position to be in, and I don't take it for granted.

But it's still fun for you?

Absolutely. I love it. I love the creative and the people. The politics I could do without. But the politics and the hard work just come with that.

Jay-Z once said no one wants to see a 45-year-old rapper. Do you agree there is a shelf life, so to speak, for rappers?

We've got to see where this industry is going. As much as I respect that sentiment, the reality is there will be 45-year-old rap fans. Who will they want to see? So the question more importantly for me would be, do I want to be doing this in 10 years? I can't answer that. I don't know what I want to do 10 years from now. I don't know if when I'm in my mid-40s I'll want to do what I was willing to do in my mid- to late 30s.

For the past 10 years you have managed your own music career. Is it hard juggling being an artist and a manager? Do people think they can take advantage?

[laughs] Well, you can think what you want to think. Now whether or not you can actually pull it off, that's another conversation. This ain't just been... 20 years of champagne popping and going chain swinging. I prefer to take a hands-on approach to my career; it just gives me a certain level of comfort. I don't want to make it seem I'm the be-all, end-all and the buck stops here all the time. I have a lot of people I consult with.

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