LL Cool J Gets Back in the Ring

With "G.O.A.T.," LL Cool J proves he still loves making music

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The Muhammad Ali of hip-hop, LL Cool J is back with G.O.A.T., his first album in three years. In typical LL fashion, G.O.A.T. is an acronym for "Greatest of All Time." On the tenth album of his career, LL continues to float like a butterfly, deftly moving through a series of sharp, boastful rhymes. And while he also continues to sting like a bee, it is with the venom of a killer bee this time, as tracks like "U Can't F--- With Me" find him upping the intensity. The list of guests on the disc reads like a who's who of hip-hop, with Snoop, DMX, Xzibit, Mobb Deep, Q-Tip, Method Man and Redman, as well as R&B sensation Kelly Price making appearances. But LL remains the man, weaving the album together with his distinctive deep voice.

With G.O.A.T. in the bag, LL is turning his attention back to acting, currently shooting a remake of the Seventies sci-fi film Rollerball with Chris Klein (American Pie) and Jean Reno (The Professional). While he is, in his words "110% focused on the film," while shooting up in Montreal, he was happy to speak about the new album, his guests, touring and Michael Jordan.

Who did you work with on the album and why?
Well, I worked with a guy named Rock Weiler, a guy named Ty Fife, DJ Skratch, Self, Vader Noble, Tone from Trackmatsers. I worked with quite a few different people, but the main thing was I worked with these people because of the music, the sound and the talent. It wasn't about big names, it wasn't about getting with somebody that I think is incredibly popular or that is automatically going to get me on the radio. I even worked with a kid named Adam F, who was born and raised in Liverpool. He did some great music for me too. I feel real good about this album. I worked with talented people that are exciting.

What do you get from the collaborative process?
It's like building a castle in the sand with your friends [laughs]. It's just a certain exchange of creativity that human beings share when we're in the studio or when we're wherever. I can't really explain the bond that we create, but it's just really a lot of fun. I made the record to have fun. I didn't go in trying to be politically correct or incorrect. I didn't go in trying to please, appease or shock people. I just made an honest record, period. I didn't try to follow whatever trend is popular at the time; I didn't try to sound like whoever went platinum last week. I just made LL Cool J music, period.

Did the three years off between albums give you a renewed appreciation for music when it came time to make G.O.A.T.?
Yeah, I think so. And it also was a chance for me to have some fun. It allowed me to have fun and do it for fun, not for any other reason. And that was the main thing. So yeah it renewed me and I just went in with a good spirit.

With all of your past success, how do you get rid of internal expectations?
It's pretty basic. Once the referee throws the ball in the air, it's either your ball or their ball and you have to just take your shot. No matter who it is, whether it's Karl Malone, Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson, you play at the level you play at. If you have a good game, you have a good game [laughs]. But you can't fake that. Michael can't go out there and fake that; that's just the level he plays at. Now whether he scores 30, 29 or 55, it's according to what the game is and how the game goes. I just play at a certain level and hopefully people will enjoy it. And hopefully we got a 55-pointer this time.

You used a sports analogy before so let me throw one back at you. Often a team will rise to the level of who they're playing, like the Wizards playing their best game against the Lakers this year or the Tigers always beating the Yankees. When you're recording with someone very talented or who you admire a great deal, does it raise the level of your game?
[Laughs] I know what you're saying, but I just do what I do. Not really. I love working with them, don't get me wrong. But I kind of just play my game. I think that can throw you off, you start trying too hard. It starts sounding contrived.

When you work with a lot of talented, distinctive voices, what do you do to make sure it stays an LL Cool J album and doesn't sound like a compilation record?
What you've got to do is look at how they're used on my album. Most of them were doing hooks, a couple of people do verses. A majority of the people I named are choruses. What I don't do is try to like become whoever I'm rapping with. The people who go get an LL album want to hear LL. They don't want to hear LL trying to sound like DMX or whoever else is out there. That's not what they want to hear from me, because if they want to hear that they can go get the real thing.

Are there any plans to tour for the album?
There are no plans for a tour. But after the film it remains to be seen. I might do a promotional tour, get out and do a leg or something. Get out there, do some shows and show people how I perform. So it could happen, but right now there are no definite plans. But I did do everything I could to make this music hot and make this the type of album that people would enjoy. And I think that judging from the response it's getting in reviews and people who have heard it, I accomplished what I was trying to accomplish. I could do no more.