April 3, 2018
LL Cool J Hopes to Introduce Gen Z to Old-School Hip-Hop
When he hit the airwaves in the mid-1980s, LL Cool J was a fresh, young face in rap. He was also a bridge between street corner rapping and pop-heavy hip-hop. It took a few years, but his 1989 album, Walking with a Panther, and the Rick Rubin-produced hit single “Going Back to Cali” made LL a legitimate recording superstar.
His fame transcended rap and helped lay the foundation – along with groups like Public Enemy and Run-DMC – for rap as a crossover sensation on the radio and in the Walkmans and boom boxes of millions of fans.
Fast forward three decades and LL is trying to make old school hip-hop cool again in the era of “mumble rap.” Cool J will has launched Rock the Bells Radio on Sirius XM radio. The channel, named after J’s breakout hit “Rock the Bells” off his debut album, will feature artists that J says are the “foundation” of the art form.
“I felt like classic hip-hop needed some leadership… There are so many artists who are the foundation of this culture… But it seems like they have been marginalized and pushed to the side if they’re no longer on the pop charts. I felt like hip-hop has a story and a lot of founding fathers and mothers that the world should know. … People know Run-DMC and myself, but there were people before us.”
There is certainly a rich well of rap forerunners that inspired these breakout acts, helping rap reach mainstream audience in the 80s and 90s. J says the network will play music and do highlight interviews with rap royalty including Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Public Enemy, Run-DMC and later groups like Outkast.
The rapper even joked with the Associated Press about spinning tracks from some of his more famous rivals from the era when battle raps were the stuff of legend. “I’m going to play even those records where they talk about me… I’m not going to deny none of the fans of my rivals’ music. This is not about stroking LL Cool J’s ego. It’s about the hip-hop culture. We’re going to dig into the crates for this.”
There is no doubt that line is music to the ears of longtime rap fans, especially those who grew up with the classics and wonder what happened to the genre in the last decade. It’s an interesting dichotomy, as rap has achieved greater crossover appeal, even surpassing rock in sales, the genre has evolved to the point where some who built the foundation barely recognize it. These purists and their fans are hoping LL Cool J can help them all find the groove again.