With his latest CD, LL Cool J is readying his exit and preparing for his future at the same time.
“Exit 13” is his 13th CD and final official album for Def Jam records, which has been his label home for 23 years. But LL is hardly about to leave the music industry, despite his success in film and other areas. The 40-year-old says he feels rejuvenated, and credits fellow Queens rapper 50 Cent, who is a producer on the album, with teaching him a new way to approach his music.
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In a recent interview, LL talked about his new album, staying fresh after more than two decades in the business, and his impact on the genre.
AP: What's different about “Exit 13” compared to your past 12 records?
LL Cool J: As far as the difference between this record and the last couple of albums, it's light years away. The last couple of albums, I was making those records in two or three months. This record took two years. I don't know if people can really grasp how big of a difference that is. … It's like the idea of training for a fight for two weeks, or training for a fight for six months. It's that kind of a difference. And I think that musically it reflects that.
AP: Did 50 Cent produce this record?
LL Cool J: I actually ended up executive producing “Exit 13,” but 50 did executive produce an album for me; I have a whole album I did with 50. I only used like three or four songs for this album. Working with 50 was inspiring. You have to realize I had no reason to be hungry. When you're the best at something for a long time, and you make albums in a couple months and they're still going gold or selling a million records … and you're making a living in films and stuff, it affects the music. But watching 50 crouch over that notebook and seeing him bounce back and forth in the studio, that inspired me and made me hungry again. And it made me want to get busy. It just really inspired me. It's going to be a lot of people apologizing to me after this album drops; I don't think they understand what's about to happen.
AP: You've been in the game for about 25 years. What do you think your contributions are to hip-hop?
LL Cool J: First of all, I am the first solo rap artist period in the world to really blow up in hip-hop on the whole planet; that's one contribution, that's a starting point. I took my shirt off too, that's another starting point, but Melle Mel might have beat me to that (laughs). I introduced the big gold chains, the Champagne, the models, the diamonds, the (Mercedes) Benzs — I did all that on (1989's) “Walking With a Panther” and got eaten alive for the same things that they celebrate everybody for now. If you look at “Walking With the Panther” the album cover and you look at the front and back, I got crucified and persecuted for stuff people love now. So I bought that to the game: the diamonds, the ice, the flash. … (Also) I made love songs a necessary part of any hip-hop album. Before I did it, if you did a love song, you was soft, corny, ridiculous, (but) once I go out and get stabbed up 95 times and make it OK. They tenderized me like a steak, stuck me with forks all over, then they come after and drop it, and it's OK.
AP: You were critical of Jay-Z's tenure as president of Def Jam. As you release “Exit 13,” he is no longer in charge. How has that impacted the release of this album?
LL Cool J: As far as him leaving, it's not really relevant because I was already working on my record anyway. It was nothing he would have been able to do to stop it. It would have been what it was going to be either way. And I don't think he would have wanted to stop it.
AP: You've covered a lot of ground in your career, what else is there to do?
LL Cool J: I just want to do it bigger, bigger and bigger, and show people that anything is possible. I'm in a funny position because I'm the first guy that has to show people that hip-hop can keep going. Like, I don't have a rap artist in front of me to look at to say, “OK, what do you do when you're in your 25th year of your rap career?” Because most of the guys that are my age, they've only been out for 12 years, or 13 or 14 years max. The guys that people call veterans in hip-hop are like new guys to me. Let's take a guy like Nas. I love Nas; I respect Nas. He's from Queens and I love him, but Nas is like a new cat to me. You know what I'm saying? It's incredible to me, but I respect him as a legend and I respect him as a man. … I just want to make hot records; I want to give people hot music, and I just have to lead the way.