There are few figures in hip hop who can make a claim to progressing the nascent art form into the massive enterprise that it is today. Run DMC, Eric B and Rakim, Melle Mel from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five are all on the shortlist, but you can’t talk about the Big Bang of hip hop without talking about LL Cool J.
Hearing the early sounds of hip hop from his home in Queens, New York, a young James Todd Smith began rapping at the age of ten and had enough confidence to introduce himself to Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, who had recently established Def Jam records in the dormitory halls of New York University. J’s debut single, ‘I Need A Beat’, helped Def Jam land a distribution deal with Columbia Records, bringing hip hop to a wider audience than ever before.
LL Cool J managed to progress beyond the initial wave of golden age hip hop and adopted his style to more modern trends throughout the 90s and 2000s. Although primarily working as an actor today, J still gets on stage occasionally to prove why he’s one of the Mount Rushmore figures of rap.
So who does a titan like LL Cool J think are the best lyricists? During a video on one of his Instagram livestreams back in 2020, J gave shout outs to two modern MCs who he believes stands head and shoulders above the competition.
“I think Lupe Fiasco is really complex and interesting because a lot of the schemes and plots he puts in the lyrics. He has a certain level of complexity that’s interesting. I think Aesop Rock is really interesting in his complexity.”
Two fine choices, and even though he might not be the first name you think of when it comes to tongue twisting lyricism, J obviously has an affinity for the rappers who can spit circles around slower MCs.
Check out the clip, plus Lupe’s humbled reaction, down below.