Five years is a long time for any recurring gig. LL Cool J gets that, and he took the Grammy production team’s decision to pass the hosting baton he’s held since 2012 to James Corden with his usual zen.
“They wanted to do something different, and I actually felt totally comfortable with that,” he tells Billboard of the shift to the Carpool Karaoke enthusiast and host of CBS’ The Late Late Show for this year’s awards, airing live Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBS. “I had an amazing run on the Grammys. I’m good. I made some great friends, I have friends at the Academy, friends on the production team, the executives.”
In fact, asked his greatest Grammys takeaway and LL cites working with longtime producer Ken Ehrlich, who just re-upped to helm the spectacle through 2020.
“[Ehrlich], to me, is the most powerful guy in the music business that a lot of people don’t know. He’s amazing, a real artist,” the multi-media mogul says. “Just learning, being a fly on the wall, giving my input when I felt I had something to say was incredible. And being creatively involved, collaboratively involved, with the whole process. I gave my opinions on things. Some ideas were used, some weren’t, but in the end it all worked out for the best.”
Although four more years of “great performances, handshakes and joy” were to come, the two-time Grammy winner’s most salient input came in the first minutes of his first year as host. Head bowed, notes in hand, he opened the broadcast with the words, “Heavenly father, we thank you for sharing our sister Whitney with us,” and offered a simple, stirring prayer to honor Whitney Houston, who had died fewer than 24 hours earlier.
“Whitney, her passing, that was the biggest moment for me,” LL recounts. “It’s not the most joyous thing, but it’s very memorable… I’ll never forget how I felt, and how tough that was for me. Saying the prayer that year for Whitney, that was something I thought was the right way to appreciate her without trying to impose my spirituality on other people.”
While Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow and CBS Grammy producer Jack Sussman are hinting there may be other ways to keep the rapper involved with the franchise, LL is busy with another television hosting gig, Spike’s Lip Sync Battle, and another CBS staple — NCIS: Los Angeles, in which he plays senior special agent Sam Hanna.
“It’s been busy, it’s been wild. The show has been exciting and we’ve been breathing new air into it with Scott Gemmill now show-running,” he says. “There’s a little more edge into it, but with the same wit and banter. It’s cool.”
His acting schedule has left little time for new music, he acknowledges. “I’m just focusing on the show right now. I’m always in the studio, here and there, but I feel good about what I’m doing with the show.”
Still, he’ll hit the road for several festivals this season, including Jazz in the Gardens, on Mar. 18-19 in Miami. “It’s my first love, going out and playing live music,” he says. “But new music from me? Yeah, you’re going to have to wait for a while.”
As he prepares to enjoy this year’s Grammys as a music fan, does LL have any parting advice to Corden? “No. I have none,” he says. “He’s got to do his own thing. I’m not the Grammy guru. I may have been the host, but I’m not the guru.”