Last week I interviewed rapper-actor-Grammy host LL Cool J. The big issue swirling around him lately has been the controversy over “Accidental Racist,” the song he recorded with country singer Brad Paisley. I briefly go into that in my story, which you can read in the SF Examiner. But since space is at a premium, here’s more on the issue, as well as LL’s plan’s for the future, why he chose Public Enemy, Ice Cube and De La Soul for touring partners and more.
RIFF: First I just want to say that I really liked the way you handled hosting the Grammy’s two years ago (after the death of Whitney Houston). I covered the event and snuck down to the floor to watch rehearsal, and you were clearly putting a lot of effort into handling it the right way. Do you intend on hosting the event as long as you keep getting asked? Or would you rather go back to being a nominee and guest?
LL Cool J: (Laughs). Hey, if they ask me to host, I’ll be happy to host again. I would be more than pleased by being nominated; you know what I’m saying? It’s kind of, like, “both.”
You took a step back from recording and performing to do TV. What gave you the fire to get back at it?
I think it obviously came a little bit earlier, but I was definitely just thinking about getting back on the road. It’s been so long since I did music. I had five-year layoff from music. In hip hop, five years might as well be 50. I was just ready to get out there and have some fun, and I wanted to put together a tour that really appealed to the people that grew up with my music and my true fans. I wanted to make sure the tour was hot for people who grew up during my era and enjoy the music that I make, and Ice Cube makes, and Public Enemy makes, and De La Soul makes. That’s why I said, let’s put these guys together and do a great tour. These guys rip the stage apart.
You’ve been around in the industry for about, what, 30 years now? I spoke to Chuck D last year and he was very proud of Public Enemy’s status as rap pioneers. What’s your take on being an elder statesman?
I think it’s phenomenal because either you grow or you don’t, you know? Or you go into oblivion. I’m very pleased with where I’m at. I mean, look at the debut of my record. Thirty years later in this genre, and after a five-year layoff, I (have the) No. 4 rap album. I’m No. 23 in the top 200. Who could ask for more? When you look at my career and where I’ve come from, I’m very pleased with where I’m at. I’m very cool with it.
What’s the trick to writing the perfect love jam?
Oh, man. I don’t know, but if I did know, I wouldn’t tell you. (laughs). I just write from the heart and have fun with it. I’m not afraid to just say what I’m feeling.
The “Accidental Racist” controversy has been covered to death. Have you gotten any positive critiques?
I’ve heard all kinds of positive stuff. People understand that basically what we’re saying is “don’t judge a book by its cover.” We were saying that love conquers all. The majority of people were very positive. It’s just that sometimes when people on the fringes have a negative opinion of something, they just scream really, really loud, so we have a tendency to think that it’s more negativity out there than there is. It was overwhelmingly positive. The reaction of Brad’s (Paisley) album shows that. The record charted, and (“Accidental Racist”) wasn’t even a single. It was an album cut. His record is the No. 1 country album and No. 2 pop album. The numbers speak for themselves and tell you that the overwhelming feedback was positive.
How long do you think people will take to get the message of that song?
To be frank with you, usually when I put something out creative that people are all over and have issues with, usually it takes about five to seven years before they get it. Somebody else imitates it, and then they understand it. Any time you do something that’s outside of the box, and you’re the first one to do it, people are always up in arms. But then, you have those people who know what you’re doing, and they do it. Because you broke down the door, more people start doing it, and all of a sudden it’s more palatable.
IF YOU GO
Kings of the Mic Tour, with LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Ice Cube and De La Soul
Where: Shoreline Amphitheatre, 1 Amphitheatre Pkwy, Mountain View
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, May 25
Tickets: $25 to $123