When LL Cool J (born James Todd Smith) was just a teen his mother used her income tax return (about $600) to buy him a drum machine. Some 27 years later, the Queens MC has become one of hip-hop music’s greatest of all time, parlaying his success into numerous ventures that don’t require the microphone he has tattooed on his arm. Needless to say, the return on his mom’s investment has been astronomical.
With LL receiving the well-deserved I Am Hip-Hop lifetime achievement awards at this year’s BET Hip-Hop Awards, BlackEnterprise.com takes a hard look at the living legend’s diverse portfolio as part of our Decoded series. —Alvin Blanco
At just 17 years old, LL became Def Jam Record’s flagship artist. His debut album, Radio, went on to go platinum and his 13-album catalog features many more million-plus sellers, including 1992’s Mama Said Knock You Out and 1997’s Mr. Smith, which both sold over two million copies and earned LL a pair of Grammies. To date, the Queens rapper’s catalog includes a dozen proper albums chockfull of classic records, and all that songwriter publishing means plenty of guaranteed money in the bank.
HOLLIS TO HOLLYWOOD
LL figured out early that acting pays better and faster than recording albums. His earliest onscreen performance came via 1985’s Krush Groove. After cutting his teeth with minor roles in films like Wildcats (1986) and The Hard Way (1991), LL has come into his own as an actor, with strong performances in films like Any Given Sunday (1999), which made over $100 million at the box office, Kingdom Come (2001), which tripled its $7 million budget and S.W.A.T. (2003), which made over $207 million worldwide.
<li><strong>SMALL SCREEN SUCCESS</strong></li>
Not only a threat on the big screen, LL has scored high rating on the small screen as well. He’s come a long way since playing ex-NFL player-turned-landlord Marion Hill on the 90s sitcom <em>In The House</em> for five seasons and earning multiple NAACP Image Awards for his performance in the process. Last year, LL made his return to serialized programming as one of television’s top paid actors, earning <strong><a href="http://www.tvguide.com/News/Top-TV-Earners-1021717.aspx" target="_blank">$125,000 per episode</a></strong> of <em>NCIS: Los Angeles</em> where he plays Sam Hanna, a former Navy SEAL and Senior Field Agent.
DRESSING FOR SUCCESS
Over the years LL has been associated with a number of fashion lines but the most prominent was easily FUBU. The rapper grew up in the same neighborhood as the clothing company’s founders and became its spokesman. Thanks to the LL co-sign, FUBU’s sales reportedly hit $350 million in 1999. However, LL hasn’t been as fortunate with his own clothing lines. In 2009, his self-titled line through Sears flamed out almost as soon as it started due to oversaturation of celebrity-endorsed lines and a sluggish market.
After a happenstance meeting with Jeff Schachter while flying first class, LL Cool J become of one of the investors in Cedarview Capital, a $150 million hedge fund. While that transaction netted a sizeable profit— a 95% return in 2009 and 23% during the first nine months of 2010—it’s still too early for numbers on his recent investment in Gendarme Fragrances.
BETWEEN THE LINES
Always in tip-top shape, LL Cool J has dropped a pair of fitness books, LL Cool J’s Platinum Workout (2006) and LL Cool J’s Platinum 360 Diet and Lifestyle (2010), with the former being a New York Times Best Seller. He’s also written an autobiography (I Make My Own Rules) and a children’s book (And The Winner is…) that have added some more zeroes to his hefty bank account.
LL Cool J is just one of the many iconic artists billed as a “Game Changer” in the new coffee table book, Hip Hop, A Cultural Odyssey. To purchase your copy of Hip Hop, A Cultural Odyssey click here and every 10 books sold will result in a copy being donated to a HBCU library.