Ladies love cool James. They probably do. But that’s not a statement of fact. It’s rapper, actor James Todd Smith’s marquee name. Few minutes of hanging out with the African-American star and you can tell he’s called (or he calls himself) LL Cool J for a reason.
Gangster in his music scene is a hip genre - misogyny, homophobia, accepted purposes for songwriting. LL’s romantic ballads, in comparison, could almost qualify for soothing lullabies: “I don’t exactly go off like mother ****** this, mother ****** that…. There are different standards of what’s acceptable. Its not music when anything goes - gays, kidnappers....”
Like many loved African-American entertainers, LL also carries the rare burden of being a positive icon for his community: an inspirational figure, so to say. Every now and then in the room, this giant, wide ball of “humility and positive energy” gives off his middle name (cool): punches in the air, hugs his fans, cracks a quick joke, before the tone gets semi-serious and he goes, “There is something poetic about maximising your potential as a person; being excellent, as opposed to being mediocre. No honour, no respect in being mediocre. If I have to sweep that corner (of the room), I’ll do my best to ensure it’s the neatest corner in the whole building. But that doesn’t mean you limit yourself. You have to dream a lot, go after different things. Skills take time to develop, but I have to be ok with my learning curve.”
Listening to him for about 20 minutes on the sets of the show NCIS LA, we realise, LL could well be a motivational speaker. He looks you in the eye, and fires up a quote that may well be the next pop-philosophy status update on someone’s Facebook account. Those are the only lines we carefully jot down.
This top hip-hop artiste is just about to walk in to a high-tech set, where monitors the size of cinema screens operate like the iPad tablet. The den’s unreal. LL will probably break into Arabic, having familiarised himself with the language. He plays an ex-Navy Seal special agent, who’s also a specialist in west Asian culture. He fights crime and investigates cases with Chris O’Donnell. It’s a ‘crime procedural’ show, the sort that captured American imagination particularly after strong US interest in the subject post 9/11, and the hit forensics series CSI that spawned off an entire genre across networks (
, as it were). The show comes on AXN in India.
NCIS LA picked up great initial ratings in America. “Just because you’ve hit the first goal doesn’t mean the game’s over.” LL says. Point taken. We nod before the guru. Television is of course not new to LL (
In The House
). It’s still among the many things he does. He’s written four books, cut 12 albums, starred in over 20 films (
Any Given Sunday
), run his own record labels, is about to start a clothing line… He manages so much because, he says, he doesn’t “micro-manage” – “I don’t have to do everything. I give my inputs, and there’s a great team that makes it happen.” He adds, on that spiritual mode again: “I live my life like water – see things and adapt; flow in and flow out.” Hmmm.
There is another actor-musician with the same surname as LL, another Mr Smith, who clearly inspires his community the same way. Their profiles appear quite similar as well, though Will Smith, we guess, is by now a much bigger icon. LL says he’s known Will since their mid-teens, but they took different paths in their careers: “I focused more on music and albums.” Among stuff he wants to do now is a super-hero movie and one on boxing. Will’s already done
! Do we sense rivalry here? “No rivalry; I’d rather do a film with Will,” LL says, “There’s room for everyone.” Certainly.