LL Cool J Hoping For Duet With Fellow Stud Muffin Usher

MC wrapping things up on his LP X, due in September.

His current tour is taking him from state to state. His film career has already seen him bounce from Hollis to Hollywood, and most recently, to Holland, for a new thriller. But for LL Cool J, there's nothing like going back to the place that's most familiar — the recording studio. He's hoping for a helping hand to finish up his next album, X, which is due in September.

"It's a strong possibility," he divulged last week in Chicago about a last-minute duet with fellow chiseled stud muffin Usher. "Me and him have been talking about working on something. He's a real good dude. I have one more song to do and it might possibly be with Usher. I didn't do a lot of collaborations, I just wanted to give the world LL Cool J. They haven't been getting enough of that."

His first offering from the album, "Love You Better," can currently be heard on mixtapes and some radio stations. He rhymes about taking his mate for granted and making promises to work his way out the dog house ("I know you don't feel appreciated and what not ... Every other sentence is 'You make me sick.' ").

"It's just something I was really feeling and it came directly from my heart," Cool J said of the Neptunes-produced cut while preparing to take to the stage later that evening. "That's how true art is, at least for me. Maybe it's true in my life somewhat. I don't know."

"Love You Better" is just one of many tunes he and the Neptunes and Trackmasters concocted while in the lab making X (see "LL Cool J Turns Focus Back To 'Ladies Love' On Ten").

"When we got in the studio and locked up, the vibe was totally right," he said of the collaborations, which accounted for most of the album's 10 cuts (Neptunes produced five and Trackmasters did three). "When you got the right vibe, why mess it up? I was like, 'This is the direction I want to go in.' The music was flowing crazy, the beats were sounding unbelievable. When you hear the album you'll know exactly what I mean."

Several of the LP's cuts, such as "Paradise" (where Amerie has replaced Tweet as the guest vocalist on the hook), are reminiscent of some of LL's vintage cuts. However, the man who bestowed upon himself the title of "all-time greatest MC" said he just wants to keep it moving.

"I just [want] to make a hot record," he clarified of the blueprint. "I never choose to take things backwards, I choose to take it forward. I just wanted to make a real hot joint. A clean, positive, romantic, party-oriented joint."

From Cool J's description, X sounds like it will be at the opposite end of the spectrum from his last LP, 2000's G.O.A.T.

"I'm pleased with it musically," he said of G.O.A.T. "I feel it's exactly what I wanted to accomplish at that time. It's more a male-oriented street album, it came off exactly how I wanted it to come off. The only thing I think was a problem for me with G.O.A.T. was that rap music changed so much. There was a time when you say you're 'the greatest of all time,' people know it's your job to say you're the best.

"But in this era, when you say things like that, they take it literally," he continued. "They take it kind of personally, like you're desecrating the memory of every hip-hopper that ever existed. Run-DMC couldn't name their album King of Rock nowadays. That would be labeled narcissistic, [people would say,] 'They love themselves.' I think that's the part that was kind of unfortunate. But even that I learned from, so it was no harm in it. It was a great experience."

No matter how people rank LL among the kings of rap, they can't deny he has one of the most extensive catalogs in the game. He's been digging deep into his arsenal of hits on a nightly basis during his summer tour, which ends late next month (see "LL Cool J Going Back To Cali — And A Lot Of Other Places").

"Everything is good, phenomenal man," he said. "Doing films and everything else I was doing, you don't really get a chance to interact with the fans on the same level. I just wanted to get out here and touch the fans, let them touch me and we vibe together and mix it up. Tear it down every night."

As far as his other means of getting checks, he's completed two films this year — a thriller called "Mindhunters" and the romantic comedy "Deliver Us From Eva," both of which he said will drop in 2003.

" 'Mindhunters' is with Val Kilmer and Christian Slater," he explained. "I play a character called Gabe Jenkins. He's a Philadelphia homicide detective who's basically doing some investigating of his own and things get real ugly. [In 'Deliver Us From Eva'] I play a guy named Ray. He's a loverboy who ends up running into a young lady played by Gabrielle Union. She's gets on everybody's nerves around her so much, all her friends get together, pay this loverboy $5,000 to come in and to break her off a little bit and loosen her up. All hell breaks loose. It gets crazy."

A little tamer is a children's book he's putting out in August called "And the Winner Is."

"It's a book and a CD," he said. "Kids nine and 10 years old are going to be able to rap along. It teaches them about sportsmanship. Not being arrogant when you win. Not being insecure when you lose. It's a real positive book."