Posts Tagged ‘LL Cool J’

A week or so ago, I decided to, for the first time in forever (no Frozen), check out HipHopDX to see what they had to offer. While perusing through the troll comments, I saw Fat Trel had released a couple new freestyles. I listened, and they had some quotables–most of which unfit for the site (if you want to hear it, click here. Be forewarned that it is NSFW). But what really shocked me was a comment on the song. Some dude made it about appearance rather than verses, saying that because “[Trel] look like a monster” (sic), he couldn’t rock with him. This, of course, brings me to this week’s TWIHH discussion.

When did it become about looks versus artistry? Is this a modern social construct based on the (oft-quoted, but often-misappropriated) “feminization of the black man” theory. Or has appearance been just as much a part of hip-hop culture as the graffiti, turntables, and bars?

As far as I can remember, artists have attempted to distance themselves from the pack. Often, that’d involve some sort of image, some sort of look. Some artists reflected what they felt was gangster culture while others reflected afro-centricity. Artists such as LL Cool J made a career out of showing how much more attractive they were to people when compared to, say, an ODB. Heck, LL made a career out of showing his chest to his audience and he is still one of the most-respected artists (even though he’s had his miscues).

So, for someone to say “oh, hip-hop’s gone soft; it’s homoerotic now because dudes are commenting on how a guy looks” is flat-out silly. I’ll agree that the focus on looks has become more intense over the years, with commentators teetering between critique and general creepiness and artists wearing skirts as fashion (a la Young Thug). But, at the core, hip-hop has always been about looks (and marketability). Perhaps now, since we’ve been brainwashed (somewhat) by reality television, social media, et cetera, an artist’s appearance is becoming more prominent in regards to how they’ll be perceived. But again, it’s always been about a look. If you look different, people will want to know more about you (even if it’s in a “WTH are you doing this” sort of way). But inversely, an artist must still look a part.

Artists are, typically, groomed (either by their surroundings or by their team) to look a certain way to fulfill a role. In the case of a Fat Trel, you wouldn’t expect him to appear in a video in skater shoes, clean-shaven, with a big cheesy smile. That’s not the image he represents, nor would it be a believable image. And then listeners would call him fake. This brings me to another point.

Hip-Hop is, in some ways, a stereotypical art form. I’m strictly talking appearance here.

As an artist, I’ve spoken on this once before, as I’ve been stereotyped as being a “college rapper” a la Asher Roth because of my demeanor and dress. It’s one of the reasons why I tend to stay out of the “spotlight,” per se. I’d rather let the music speak for me and then have people see me and say “whoa, that Speed guy looks like that but he speaks on real issues. Kudos.” If I went about it inversely, I’ve been told that I probably wouldn’t be heard, because I’m a shorter guy with a mental illness (shameless plug) who prefers bars to clubs and a Corona to Patron. And that’s even before people got through the “no-fi” approach.

So what can we, as artists and listeners, bloggers and critics, do?

Open our minds, plain and simple.

Greetings and salutations everyone. For this edition of “#TWIHH,” I decided to switch things up.

As I perused through my email recently, I noticed I’d received a notice about a new Master P song. My first instinct was to laugh maniacally at the thought “hmm, I really wonder why Master P continues to put out music years after his popularity fell to the wayside?” I mean, it’s not like he’s flat broke completely hurting for the money (legal troubles aside). Ultimately, I put my thoughts aside and began to listen to the track, “We Poppin’,” which featured Eastwood (formerly of Black Wall Street Records) and everyone’s favorite Auto-Tuning rap-sanga not named Teddy Pinnedher***down (that’s still a nickname I shake my head over), Future.

To be honest, I found myself bobbing along with it with the screwface a couple times. As you’ve probably seen, it takes a lot for me to be like, “Yoooo! This ish cray.” on the first listen. For it to come from a Master P song made me curious about what he’s been doing since Romeo left USC and started appearing in ICDC College commercials his last full-on mainstream release (aside from the following video).

While the original Ice Cream Man hasn’t been as workaholic musically as he was, he’s actually put out some decent stuff over the past couple years. Sure, some of his verses are on some “so bad, it’s good” stuff (like “Brick to A Million,” featuring Fat Trel and Alley Boy). But, when he gets on a roll, he still puts out halfway listenable music. This is more than I can say about some of our…younger artists. Now, I’m not saying he’s putting out classics. But, his reemergence still begs the question: Is age really nothing but a number in hip-hop these days?

If it is, throwing down, in the musical sense, really may be nothing but a thang (RIP Aaliyah). If we look at some of the biggest acts recently, a lot of them are elder statesmen. MCHGYeezus, and other albums by some of these elders haven’t really been the greatest collections, but they’ve still been able to drum up numbers and fans. Some of this is based off the familiarity factor alone. If we have an option between Artist A (who’s dropped three CDs) and Artist B (a newcomer with a few mixtapes to his name), we often go with Artist A. But, familiarity alone can’t keep an artist relevant. It can sure as hell help, but familiarity alone isn’t enough.


The second part of the puzzle is the (idea of the) element of surprise. Part of the fun of a new CD from a vet is wondering what will be pulled out of the proverbial (and cliched) hat next. Will they retread bygone eras and familiar topics for a new generation (Master P, Jay Z, Lil Wayne, Ludacris, etc.)? Will they recreate themselves as a party rapper who finds himself featured on songs with Bieber (Juicy J, 2 Chainz) or a Mafioso-like BAWSE (Rick Ross)? Will they come out of jail overly hungry, but still deliver a song that’s not exactly the greatest work they’ve done (Lauryn Hill, DMX, Mystikal)? Will they make complete fools of themselves in trying to connect with the younger generation (Will Smith with “Switch,” LL Cool J with “Baby”)? Will they put over a new(er) talent (Jay Z in his “Mr. Carter” and “Light Up” verses–even though he kind of buried both Wayne and Drake on their own song)?

The possibilities, even the sucky ones, are almost endless. And that’s what makes seeing a Master P return to music interesting (even if he never really left). It’s also what makes hip-hop interesting, for as many times as people say it’s a young man’s game, the veterans still make noise.

How It Began (Rappers turned Actors)

Rapper and Actor. Two careers that were the furthest thing from one another 20 years ago. But today, in 2011, seem almost synonymous. I’d say it began on September 10, 1990 when a young up-and-coming rapper from Philly took his skills from the studio to the television screen with his mega-hit, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The rapper I am speaking of, is of course present day Hollywood superstar Will Smith, best known then as The Fresh Prince. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air went on to air 148 episodes over the course of its six year span, solidifying not just Will Smith as an actor, but Hip-Hop as a possible pool for leading sitcom roles. It’s high fan base and viewership quickly translated into dollar signs for Hollywood and an increase in roles for black actors. On April 10, 1995 a suave, future Hip-Hop icon by the name of James Todd Smith, took the moniker LL Cool J (Ladies Love Cool James) and made it a household name with his hit tv series In The House. The success of these shows took rappers from the radio to the small screen and eventually to the big screen. Will Smith went on to star in the box-office hit Independence Day (1996) which solidified his position in blockbuster films like Bad Boys (1995) , Men in Black (1997), Ali (2001),  I Am Legend (2007), Hancock (2008) and most recently Seven Pounds (2008). Today he is Hollywood’s highest paid and most sought after actor. LL Cool J went on to star in blockbuster hits like Deep Blue Sea (1999), Any given Sunday(1999),  Charlies Angels (2000), S.W.A.T. (2003),  and now has a starring role in the television series N.C.I.S. Los Angeles alongside Chris O’ Donnell. Garnering monetary success for the movie industry, LL Cool J and Will Smith have proven that the inclusion of a Hip-Hop figure’s image in a project on the small and big screen can do big things for television and cinema. As a result, within the last ten years we have seen a huge increase in rappers appearing on t.v. shows (most of them are reality shows these days though) and movie screens across America.

What it is Now

Some famous rappers who have been in movies are:

50 Cent (Get Rich or Die Trying, Righteous Kill), Andre 3000 (Semi Pro, Four Brothers, Idlewild), Big Boi (Idlewild, ATL), Busta Rhymes (Higher Learning, Shaft, Halloween Resurrection), Common (Brown Sugar, Wanted, American Gangster, Street Kings, Smokin’ Aces, Terminator Salvation, Date Night, Just Wright), DMX (Belly, Exit Wounds, Cradle 2 The Grave, Romeo Must Die, Never Die Alone), Dr. Dre (The Wash, Training Day), Eminem (8 Mile, The Wash), Eve (Barbershop 1 & 2, Whip It), The Game (Street Kings), Ice Cube (Boyz n The Hood, Friday, Higher Learning, The Barbershop 1 & 2, All About The Benjamin’s, Torque, XXX: State of the Union, Are We There Yet?, Janky Promoters, Lottery Ticket & many more), Ice-T (Breakin’, New Jack City, Tank Girl, Johnny Mnemonic), Ja Rule (The Fast and The Furious, Half Past Dead, Assault on Precinct 13), Ludacris (2 Fast 2 Furious, Hustle & Flow, Crash, Max Payne, Fred Clause, RocknRolla, Gamer, Fast Five), Mark Wahlberg (The Happening, Three Kings, The Perfect Storm, The Big Hit, Shooter, Invincible, The Italian Bob, Four Brothers, The Fighter and many more), Master P (I Got The Hook Up), Method Man (How High), Mos Def (Bamboozled, Brown Sugar, 16 Blocks, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Be Kind Rewind, Cadillac Records, Next Day Air), Nas (Belly), Nelly (The Longest Yard), Queen Latifah (Set It Off, Sphere, Chicago, Brown Sugar, Bringing Down The House, BeautyShop, Last Holiday, just Wright & many more), Redman (How High), The RZA (American Gangster, Due Date , Ghost Dog, Repo Men), Snoop Dogg (The Wash, Baby Boy, Bones, Starsky & Hutch, Training Day, Soul Plane), T.I. (ATL, American Gangster, Takers), TuPac (Juice, Poetic Justice, Above The Rim, Gridlock’d, Gang Related), Tyrese, yes he raps too (Transformers 1 -3, Baby Boy, Waist Deep, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Four Brothers, Annapolis, Death Race, Legion, Fast Five), Will. I .Am (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Xzibit (8 Mile, Gridiron Gang, Derailed, XXX: State of the Union), and many many more.

Here are some lists and ratings of rappers turned actors that can be found on IGNMusic, FirstShowing.Net, and

Role Reversal (Actors turned rappers)

Drake as Jimmy Brooks aka Wheelchair Jimmy

With that said, it is no longer a surprise to see a rapper turned actor these days. But, it is however, a shift in conversation when actors take on the role of rappers. With Hip-Hop being one of the most dominant genres in music and one of the highest grossing, some familiar faces in television are beginning to cash in on the opportunity and translate their skills from the screen to the mic. Case in point, one of the biggest names in Hip-Hop right now: Aubrey Graham, best known as Drake. This budding actor went from his semi-popular role on Canadian television series Degrassi: The Next Generation as Jimmy Brooks or a character many of us refer to as “Wheelchair Jimmy” (he rolled around in a wheelchair in the series and even occasionally rapped on one or two episodes) to currently toasting it up with some of Hip-Hop’s elites on sold out tours and award shows everywhere. In an unprecedented event, his critically acclaimed third mixtape So Far Gone launched him from Hip-Hop nobody to having his voice heard every hour on the hour on all major Hip-Hop radio stations in the country. Garnering record deal offers from various top label execs, he eventually signed an alleged $1 million+ deal with his good friend Lil Wayne to become a member of Young Money and later released his now certified platinum album Thank Me Later. Since his introduction to the Hip-Hop scene, Drake has worked with music heavyweights like Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne, Mary J, Blige, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Kanye West, Trey Songz, Timbaland, Rihanna and Alicia Keys, to name a few. As a result of his success, other actors are starting to follow suit.

Case in Point, may I divert your attention to actor recently turned rapper Donald Glover, also known as Childish Gambino. This star of the NBC series Community and writer for the critically acclaimed NBC series 30 Rock is making waves in the Hip-Hop scene with his self titled EP. Although it only has 5 songs on it, the Childish Gambino EP is filled with great production and great lyrical content, proving that actors can rap as well. And while there are some similarities to Lil Wayne’s style of delivery and Drake’s lyrical content on the EP which may challenge the integrity of who he is as an artist, it is still a project to lookout for and it is gaining him a lot of buzz. With six music projects currently under his belt, an ever-growing fan base, a mini tour in progress, a Comedy Central special and countless appearances, Childish Gambino is setting himself up to be a breakthrough mainstream artist. So to answer my own question, “What happens when Hip-Hop moves to the big screen and vice versa?” Well, so far it seems to be: GREATNESS!!!