LL Cool J will become the first solo rapper to receive the Kennedy Center's presidential honor. The 40th annual Honors ceremony, set for Sunday, December 3rd, will also recognize Gloria Estefan, Lionel Richie, Norman Lear and dancer-choreographer Carmen de Lavallade, the New York Times reports.
In a humble statement about the induction, LL Cool J (born James Todd Smith) told the Times he is proud to help "knock the door down for a new genre." "To be able to come from the corner of Farmers Boulevard in Queens, banging on a garbage can, all the way to the Kennedy Center Honors, that's a long journey."
The rapper also stressed the importance of separating politics and art. "I don't have any stunts planned. I'm not saying I need to be there backslapping and all of that, but this time, this one ain't about him," he said, alluding to President Trump. "I'm not going to block my blessings or let the political divide stop me from embracing my art. I'm banking on the goodness and the optimism of people to say: 'You know what? I get it. Let this guy have this honor.'"
The rapper's induction marks the Kennedy Center's move to improve diversity at the Honors event. In 2016, the Center selected A Tribe Called Quest rapper Q-Tip as their first artistic director for hip-hop culture.
Other recipients are approaching the honor with a different mindset. Lear, who revolutionized the sitcom format with innovative shows like All in the Family and The Jeffersons, has already informed the Kennedy Center that he will forgo the event. "This is a presidency that has chosen to neglect totally the arts and humanities – deliberately defund them – and that doesn't rest pleasantly with me," Lear said.
Estefan said she is eager to speak directly with Trump to "make clear and express" her views, particularly on immigration. "As a proud immigrant of this country, it's very important for me that you see the wonderful contributions we have made. We have seen a lot of anti-immigrant backlash this year, so for us, it may hold even more beauty than for someone who has lived here all their lives. To get this kind of award is so American."