There can be no doubt that LL Cool J deserves his place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Throughout hip hop history, there are a few albums that one can point to as watermark moments. The kind of albums that land on the collective consciousness and deliver a brand new way of thinking. LL Cool J’s 1985 debut album, Radio is most certainly one of them.
But, the act of getting out of your bedroom or off the streets and onto the radio airwaves is often far longer than most people would admit. But, in a now-iconic interview from 1985 — apparently, LL’s first — the rapper explains the exact “evolution” he went under to become a famous face.
The impact of LL Cool J on the hip hop world is immeasurable. Count everybody from Snoop Dogg to Eminem as fans. In fact, Slim Shady is such a fan that he prank-called his hero on LL’s SiriusXM radio show while pretending to be ‘Jason from Miami’. After a couple of minutes, Shady revealed his true identity and then started begging the rapper to hang out with him, even telling LL about how he’s got cable TV in a bid to lure him in.
In a later appearance on the same radio show, Eminem spoke with Cool J again to discuss how much he aspired to be him when he was younger. “I wanted to be like you; I hope that doesn’t sound weird,” Eminem explained.
“I absolutely wanted to be like you,” the rapper continued, “I wanted to be like Run-D.M.C. It was something about the energy to just say what you want to say, and you could talk about your life, and you could talk about shit that bothers you. I just gravitated towards it, and I never strayed from the first day that I heard a rap song.”
For LL Cool J, in 1985, there weren’t as many heroes to look up to. He explains in the interview that his evolution started out with his uncle buying him a lot of music, “about $2000 worth,” which the rapper would spit bars over. Using his tape recorder, he would create his very own rough and ready demo tape.
That’s all well and good, but where does such a tape go? Well, LL had a pretty smart idea. He took himself down to his local record store and picked out all of the “rap records and started taking down all the addresses. I sent out a tape to every label that was currently making rap albums.”
With the kind of confident smile that only arrives with supreme talent, LL Cool J continues the story: “Finally, Rick Rubin (DefJam Records) called me back, and here I am.”
Watch the clip below as LL Cool J revealed how he got into the world of hip hop.