Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
Ask rapper LL Cool J the secret of longevity in a genre peppered with short-term careers, and he laughs. "I don't know," he says. "If I had the secret, I'd sell it for $50 million. Wait, why sell myself short? I'd sell it for a billion a shot."
Since bottling the intangible isn't in the offing, LL Cool J (aka James Todd Smith) keeps doing what he still loves: making records. On Oct. 15, Def Jam releases "10," appropriately the rapper's 10th album.
It's notable that Russell Simmons' and Rick Rubin's fledgling Def Jam that released the then-teen rapper's debut single -- and the label's first single -- in 1984, "I Need a Beat." Since that auspicious debut, he's logged No. 1 R&B chart stats with the albums "Bigger & Deffer" (1987), "Walking With a Panther" (1989), "14 Shots to the Dome" (1993), and 2000's "G.O.A.T." (an acronym for "greatest of all time"), which marked his first No. 1 on The Billboard 200.
Leading the charge on "10" is the Neptunes-produced "Luv U Better." With its move to No. 8 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart last week, the song became his highest-ranking solo single since "Loungin" hit No. 4 in 1996. "Luv" now stands at No. 5 on the chart.
A beat-conscious song about relationships co-written by LL Cool J and the Neptunes, "Luv U Better" features R&B singer Marc Dorsey. "It's a song that definitely came from the heart," LL Cool J says. "I just wanted to communicate that we need to get love out there."
Getting to the heart of things was foremost in the rapper/actor's mind when he went into the studio. In addition to the prolific Neptunes -- with whom he "worked before but the records were never released" -- the set includes the production skills of the Trackmasters and the Dream Team. Joining Dorsey on the guest roster are LL Cool J labelmates Dru Hill and Kandice Love, P. Diddy, and newcomer Amerie.
LL Cool J says he "wanted to do a positive record with no profanity, strong energy, and tight beats; a record that makes you feel better after hearing it." While tracks like the single and the cautionary tale "Fa Ha" about life's motivations reflect his introspective side, other songs convey his feel good, party persona.
Those alter egos play a pivotal role in the rapper's ongoing success, notes Def Jam/Def Soul president Kevin Liles. "One of his 'L's does stand for longevity," he says. "That's because he's been able to reinvent himself with every album. Older fans grew up with LL, while younger fans continue to get excited about him because of his movies and relevancy."
In the movie realm, LL Cool J recently joined the cast of Columbia Pictures' police drama "S.W.A.T." with Samuel L. Jackson, which begins production Oct. 19 in Los Angeles. Other film projects include Dimension Films thriller Mindhunters and Focus Features comedy "Deliver Us From Eva."
He's also become a children's author and will be on the road for book signings on behalf of "And the Winner Is," part of Scholastic's new Hip Kid Hop series of read-and-rap-along books packaged with companion CDs, all written and performed by various hip-hop stars.
Excerpted from the Sept.28, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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