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Hosting debut after Whitney’s death put LL Cool J to the test

The 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards - Show

The 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards - Show

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Updated: March 11, 2013 6:25AM



LL Cool J hopes his second year hosting the Grammys Awards will be more fun than his first, when the death of Whitney Houston cast a pall over the music industry’s biggest night.

The singer died the day before last year’s awards show, prompting producers to hastily rearrange the broadcast to pay tribute to the fallen star. LL Cool J opened with a heartfelt prayer for Houston, and Jennifer Hudson later sang “I Will Always Love You.”

“It made the event bittersweet and there was a whole cloud of sorry on it,” says the 45-year-old rapper and actor (real name James Todd Smith). “But at the same time, I was glad it went the way it went. We were able to pay respect to Whitney and her family, and at the same time give all of those deserving artists an opportunity to shine.”

The 55th Grammy Awards ceremony airs live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. LL Cool J is “excited and grateful to be back” for another year.

He has been comfortable in the spotlight for a long time. As a brash 17-year-old, he released his debut album, “Radio,” in 1985 and appeared in the music film “Krush Groove.” A year later, he acted in the movie “Wildcats,” and he has maintained dual careers since.

He’s in his fourth season as Sam Hanna on CBS’ highly rated crime drama “NCIS: Los Angeles” and expects to release his 13th studio album, “Authentic Hip-Hop,” in May. The set is his first since 2008’s “Exit 13” and will feature a smattering of guest artists, including singers Monica and Joe.

“I used the word ‘authentic’ because it’s really me doing something with heart,” he says. “I’m not going to pretend that I’m 15 or be chasing whatever the current trend is. What I didn’t want to do was make a record that is all about [featured artists]. Nowadays, you hear a record on the radio, and you don’t know whose record it is because there are so many people on it. I want people to know it’s an LL record.”

While the Grammy Awards have been often criticized for giving hip-hop short shrift over the years, particularly in the “big four” categories (album, song and record of the year, plus best new artist), he thinks the Recording Academy has done a good job overall.

“Every person in every genre is always going to want their genre to be represented,” says the two-time Grammy winner. “That’s the nature of the beast. I’d like to see more hip-hop, but you could make an argument for more of everything. The Grammys have made a huge statement by taking a hip-hop icon and making him their host. So I think they’re embracing hip-hop culture.”

The married father of four, who made news last summer when he sent a burglar who broke into his home to the hospital, says he’s not retiring from rapping anytime soon. He says he has the same passion for rhyming that he had 30 years ago.

“You don’t stop loving your art,” he says. “Hip-hop gave me an outlet to express myself creatively. I have no reason to stop loving it. All the people that grew up with me throughout my career are still right there with me.”

Gannett News Service



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