VIBE Q: LL Cool J Talks Def Jam Beginnings, Failures And Beefs That Got Under His Skin
LL Cool J dubbed himself the “G.O.A.T.” for a reason. With over 20 years of recording and acting under his belt, the ladies man talks about his Def Jam beginnings, his latest album (Authentic, in stores now), biggest successes and failures, and infamous beefs
VIBE: We haven’t heard much from you on the recording front since Exit 13. Do you usually stay in the studio or did you hop back in to record new material?
I stay in the studio a lot. I’m always writing and messing around, but when I start working on a record, I’m in much more. As far as the space between Exit 13 and now, it was a matter of wanting to challenge myself. Exit 13 came right at the beginning of the huge shift in the music industry. There was a huge downturn. I took my time and took four or five years, let all the bruised blood get out of my system, and once I felt good and wasn’t cynical, I said: Now, I want to make some moves.
Compared to your previous releases, Exit 13 wasn’t your strongest performance. Why such a poor reception?
You can never tell. Art is a funny thing, man. Every song you put out isn’t going to connect with everybody. That’s the reality. Music is very subjective and it’s about opinions, but it’s also about timing. On the business level, it can be as simple as promotion. But that’s not always the case. For me, Exit 13 was a failure and a victory. It was a failure in a sense that I didn’t feel like the record performed. But the victory is that I completed my contractual obligations and owned my catalog and was able to move to a different phase in life. It was some bitter, but it was more sweet.
Let’s take it back. Do you remember the day you signed to Def Jam?
Oh, man. I actually did my first couple of singles without a contract. It was the highest of highs. We basically started the label to put the record out. Def Jam was a production company. Rick Rubin had done a single with K La Rock and had problems getting money from a distribution company. They decided to start their own label. They went to Russell’s apartment. I was the first artist, and I was through the roof. It was an amazing feeling.
If you could talk to yourself then, knowing what you know now, what would you say?
That’s a good question. I like where I ended up so far, so no [Laughs]. I don’t want to mess it up or overthink it. That little kid was smart [Laughs].
Is there anything you would have done differently?