Podcast Of The Week: LL Cool J Affirmations

LL Cool J did an interview on Questlove Supreme. LL’s one of those rappers, he’s been there since the beginning, he’s never faded away, and he just – sticks in your head. 

He’s done more firsts than people give him credit for. 

Not out of spite, but probably because folks don’t know. That’s what happens with people who just repeatedly show up and do the work. 

In 1984 he helped establish Def Jam as their first breakout artist. If you know anything about art industry economics, you know you need a hit to pay for all the other attempts. LL did that. Over 100k singles sold, paving the way for the label to put out the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC. All from 16-year-old Ladies Love Cool James’ song, “I Need A Beat.” 

He went on to release 10 consecutive platinum-plus-selling albums (yeah, 10!). Along the way, he changed fashion, he expanded into TV and movies, and he became a family man.

Towards the end of the 2-part interview, he gets into why making music is more about the feeling than anything technical or fancy. It’s relevant because, especially in the first 20 years of his career (yeah, 20?!), rapping had a lot of technical critics. LL somehow could appear beside them, consistently, without needing to be anything but himself. 

He pointed to Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, and James Brown. He pointed to great boxers and athletes. He said you don’t need to put up 30-40 points a game, you just needed to put up the amount required to win. The great artists know they don’t have to be insanely great every single time on an absolute basis. They just have to be insanely great over time on a relative basis. 

Phonte points out LL’s verse on the “Flava In Ya Ear” remix. How even next to Biggie and Craig Mack doing their lyrical flexing, LL stands out. The song came on and Phonte and a group of friends new every word. 

Even the word LL made up. 

Because we sang the whole “Flava In Ya Ear” verse, and “flowticious” – ain’t even a word! 

It just felt good… it’s just a vibe. 

Somewhere around this story, almost an hour into the second part, he starts dropping ideas like this (summarized)

“Part of being able to run fast is being able to run slow.”

On married life: no detective stuff, no drama. They help each other with their dreams. To be the best version of yourself is to be the best for each other, and to be able to bring out the best in the other, because you both know what you want help reaching.  

On taking chances: “Don’t fear the misstep.” Don’t self-sabotage, don’t limit yourself, and see the possibility beyond the impossible. “A lot of people feel like success is like hitting the lotto. And it’s not. The effect is like hitting the lotto, but the journey isn’t.”

He’s in proper philosopher mode at this point, and somewhere after he informs the hosts, “Your mind is not a cork floating in the ocean,” the interview ends. 

All he needed was a beat. And somehow he got us here. I’m still in awe. 

The total number of games played successfully is worth more than any one successful game. 

I want to carry that with me into 2024. 

This was a perfect podcast to go out on. Check it out. Here’s a link and some LL for your NYE-pregame (including Dre’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame intro speech, which is amazing too – jump to the prepared video at 4 minutes).