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LL Cool J has been making music for more than 25 years. Through it all, he says, he's tried his best to remain authentic.
"The last thing that I want to do is be a hack," says the rapper and actor, born James Todd Smith. "Someone who is adapting to whatever the current trend is, and manipulating the public into being on board with me even though, from an artistic standpoint, I'm not doing anything."
Authentic is the name of LL Cool J's new album. It's his first in five years, as well as his first since splitting from Def Jam, the label that launched his recording career.
Authentic bursts at the seams with guest artists, including Chuck D, Eddie Van Halen, and Earth, Wind and Fire. It also comes hot on the heels of his controversial collaboration with country singer Brad Paisley, "Accidental Racist."
"Music is like a Rorschach test: People hear what they want to hear," LL says. "With that being said, when it comes to that particular song, the only thing that really surprised me is that, me being in the public eye for so long, and people knowing my history and my background, for people to suggest that I was trivializing slavery," he says, chuckling hard enough to lose his breath for a moment. "That was pretty shocking."
LL Cool J spoke with weekends on All Things Considered host Arun Rath. To hear more of their conversation, including LL's story of hearing himself on the radio for the first time, click the audio link.