Before LL Cool J became a household name, he strangely found himself sitting at the end of a bed in his grandmother’s house in Queens with folk-superstar Paul Simon. Prior to this moment, the duo had never even met.
While they are from different generations and cultural backgrounds, both musicians were made in Queens. The meeting was ahead of the pair giving back to the local community by appearing as special guests for a Black Spectrum Theater Company production, which encouraged the New York Times to bring the duo of them together for a profile piece.
The feature details how the pair of them played each other cuts of unheard material and exchanged notes. However, they were forced to stop “when LL’s grandmother sends word from upstairs to ‘turn it down.'”
By the time they stepped on stage as part of the local theatre show, there was a mutual respect between the pair of Queens natives. When LL Cool J introduced Simon to the stage, he encouraged the audience to buy Graceland and said: “I just want to say good luck, and tell you that you can make it if you try! He has a new album he put together with some brothers from South Africa who are going through some serious changes and are unable to sit down together the way we are tonight. You should check it out!”
Simon added: “I’ve just been listening to L L’s new record and it sounds fantastic,” he says. “You know, I went to school in Forest Hills, and tonight it’s like coming back home.”
Decades later, LL Cool J reflected on the experience during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live and admitted he was “blown away”. He told the host:”We were doing some kind of interview, and Simon just wanted to come by. I remember we went to a high school or junior high school. And I remember saying, ‘I’m not sure they’re gonna know who Paul is.'”
He added: “These are Black kids. I was blown away that all these little Black kids knew Paul Simon. It was shocking. You gonna sit there and tell me you think Paul Simon is known in the hood? Would you think that?”
The experience was beneficial for both parties, who crossed the musical divide to benefit the community in Queens. Even though Simon wasn’t previously a person of note in LL’s world, the reaction he received from the audience at the Black Spectrum Theater Company proved he was an artist whose star power transcended demographics and showed the rapper what a superstar looks like.