It’s been more than a year since LL Cool J announced his qualms about Def Jam — his recording home since 1984 — and the Queens legend still isn’t satisfied with how the label is handling its business. He’s been very vocal about the matter in interviews and on songs he’s leaked to the Net, such as “Queens.” He’s got a new album, Exit 13, on tap — which is executive produced by 50 Cent — and he’s concerned about how the label will promote it.
“I address a lot of issues I have with the record company, but I kept it business. It feels good to speak my voice,” Cool J said recently in New York. “People are listening. These guys fail to realize that when you talk about Def Jam, you’re talking about my legacy. Everything that ever happened at Def Jam is my legacy. Without me being a 16-year-old with my rhyme book, Def Jam [wouldn’t] exist. Everything that’s ever been a success up there is a product of me, and I’ve given birth to it. I didn’t personally attack anyone [on ’Queens’], but at the same time I have the right to speak on something I helped build. When [Def Jam co-founder] Russell [Simmons] feels something, he speaks on it as Russell Simmons; LL speaks on it through his music.”
LL’s claims are no exaggeration: His “I Need a Beat” single was one of Def Jam’s first releases (and his 1985 Radio LP was its first full-length), he was the label’s first major success and he’s been one of its franchise artists for more than two decades. He signed with the label when its office was Rick Rubin’s dorm room at New York University, so obviously he’s emotionally invested. He was unhappy with the way his 2006 LP, Todd Smith, was promoted (see “LL Cool J Can’t Knock Out Billboard Champs” ) and has not been shy about saying so (see “With 50 Cent In Tow, LL Cool J Slams Def Jam, Jay-Z” ).
“This is a time when everything’s real,” he continued. “You go on blogs and everything, people know when people are lying. Things are not all rosy up there [at Def Jam]. Too many [artists] have suffered: Method Man, Redman, the Roots, Fabolous, Ludacris! The list goes on. Nobody is getting promoted the way they should be promoted. I’m one man. I can’t battle a whole record label. So we not gonna try to turn this into what it’s not. To try and battle a record label is foolish. It’s bad enough they are calling around to radio stations telling them not to play my records.”
Def Jam President Jay-Z denied any such accusations on Friday during a listening session for his Greatest MC of all Time, so he’s allowed to throw that title around.)
A YouTube interview with LL surfaced soon after, with Cool J saying to Jay: “I don’t even know why you did that to yourself. When you doing that verse, you should have been doing your job, B. See?”
However, when talking to MTV, LL did seem to soften his tone.
“I don’t need to go all-out,” he said. “At this point I think the focus should be to make great music, trying to keep it positive, trying to have some sort of relationship where we can work together. Hopefully [Def Jam] can do well and look great, I can do well and look great. We can part company as civilized businessmen and give the world something great. I’m working on some new music. I wanna have some fun.”
50 Cent, who has long been billed as executive producer of Exit 13, accompanied LL on the red carpet at last year’s VMAs and performed with him in Queens last month (see “50 Cent Brings LL Cool J, Remy Ma To His Old ’Hood For Last Of Five NYC Shows” ). Fif also talked with Hot 97’s Envy about the matter a few weeks ago.
“[LL’s] got his own issue [with Def Jam], to be honest with you,” 50 said. “He feels that they’re not prioritizing him. He’s been there from the start. I talked to him and I talked to Jay. I’m the liaison between them for that project to keep that functioning. And I’m gonna bring the material necessary for us to have a great project. … Jay’s priority is business. He’s a businessman. If it makes good business sense, he’s doing it.”
So far there is no solid release date set for Exit 13 (the last album on LL’s Def Jam contract), but those close to the project say it’s slated for sometime in early 2008. In addition to “Queens,” LL has leaked another record called “New York Gangstas.”
“This is my last record on Def Jam, so it’s important that the record is not just another record,” he said. “It has to represent my legacy, be incredibly hot. All of the energy I put into building that company, it’s gonna be a great reminder to people that I really did start that company with Russell [Simmons] and Rick Rubin and Heidi Smith, the secretary. I’mma get busy on it. I’mma deliver [what] I’m supposed to deliver and I’m not gonna ignore my male fans this time. I’m gonna embrace everybody. It’s gonna be real. I’mma be blunt, brutally honest, be frank, speak with clarity, and they gonna feel me.
“It’s hip-hop, true hip-hop,” he continued. “It’s about the bars and beats, it’s fly. I’m not trying to look down on anybody. I’m not gonna try to hurt people and tell them how rich I am or what I’m driving. It’s a little of that, but that’s not my focus. It’s never been my focus to make the ’hood feel bad. This record is for the ’hood — specifically for the ’hood. It’s for Queens, it’s for people who are real hip-hop fans. It’s the real thing. I’ve been throwing records away, trashing some records; I’ve had some records that I thought were garbage, records I thought were hot. I’m mixing it up.
“The hip-hop community, especially in New York, is paying attention to L and paying attention to what’s coming out my mouth,” he concluded. “So now I need to give them what they want and a little of what I think they need. The combination will be great.”