If it's up to LL Cool J, when he dies, he'll have nothing left.
"I wanna max out everything that's inside of me. I want to die empty," he said, referring to accomplishing all his goals. "The richest place on Earth — the place with the most books, dreams, treasures, albums, paintings, novels, architectural innovation and technology — is the graveyard. So many people don't max out. I always ask myself, 'Are you making the best use of your talents?' If not, you need to do something about that."
LL — who has been a mainstay in the rap world for more than 20 years — is doing just that. On April 11, he'll release his 12th album, Todd Smith (the title comes from two-thirds of his real name, James Todd Smith). "It's a blessing, man," he said of his lengthy career. "When I sit back and think about it ... If I was to tell you I mapped it out and knew how it was gonna go, I'd be lying. I'm not smart enough to orchestrate this. I'm just blessed."
This time around, Cool J collaborated with more guests than ever before, including Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Lopez, Ginuwine, Teairra Marí, Lyfe Jennings, Mary Mary and City High's Ryan Toby. Even his onetime nemesis Jamie Foxx contributed to the track "Best Dress," which is dedicated to finding true love.
"I had so many people involved, it was crazy," he said, laughing. "But the way the guest appearances came about, we would hear a song and be like, 'This would be great for such and such to be on. Mary [J.] would sound good on this. Lyfe would sound good on this.' It just kind of evolved. It's definitely something you have to listen to, though — take your time and digest it, but it's right.
"[Todd Smith] was almost like [Dr. Dre's] The Chronic in the sense that Dre and everybody was involved with the writing and the music. People were throwing around ideas left and right. I've never done that for a whole record. You have to allow yourself to grow. A great general [U.S. Army General Eric Shinseki, actually] once said, 'If you don't like change, you'll like irrelevance even less.' "
LL's current single, "Control Myself," features Jennifer Lopez, but at one point, he considered the Black Eyed Peas' leading lady, Fergie, instead.
"We were talking about Fergie, but it just didn't work out," he said. "I think that me and J. Lo work so well together. The chemistry is beautiful" (see "Jennifer Lopez Drives LL Cool J To Lose His Cool").
Producer Jermaine Dupri recommended that LL use his flow from "Going Back to Cali" for "Control Myself." "So many people take flow from other people's records that it's nice to take flow from your own songs," LL said. "It's nice to say, 'That was an old record; let me take that flow.' It just so happened that flow was from my record.
"[Dupri] is a genius," he added. "Very intelligent, brilliant. When I heard that Afrika Bambaataa 'Looking for the Perfect Beat' [sample on the track], I felt like that was the move."
Daddy Cool is eyeing "Freeze" (featuring Jennings) as a potential second single. "I've had times in my life where I've had a girl I really loved and had real feelings for, but I wasn't mature enough to have just one girl," he explained. "She wanted to be my main girl, and I wanted to be her boyfriend. But it's almost like I wish I could freeze her, go out there and sow my wild oats, go crazy, do all the things I wanted to do, and then unthaw her [when I was ready]. I think a lot of people could relate to that — whether it's a fear of commitment, intimacy. 'Freeze! I love you, I care for you, but freeze. Hold that thought.' It's something I went through, and I captured that movement."
On another possible second single, "Favorite Flavor" (featuring Blige), LL raps a piece of a verse from a remix he did with the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul almost 10 years ago.
"That song is basically about everything flavorful," he said. "Her clothes, car, perfume. My style, my movement. What we eat, what I'm gonna spread on her body. Everything that's flavorful is in that song."
As for LL's other goals, he said there will definitely be more movies and albums, but one of his greatest passions these days is his new clothing line, Todd Smith, which he had a hands-on role in developing.
"There's a bigger world out there than being high-paid talent. I've done that, and now I want to do something else," he explained. "It's a real company with a working business model. God willing, we'll build a company that will represent my community properly, and people all over the world will want to be a part of this brand because it represents classiness, flavor, longevity, success, good values and family."