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(Soundbite of rap music)

L.L. COOL J (Rapper): (Rapping) When I'm alone in my room sometimes I stare at the wall and in the back of my mind I hear my conscience call telling me I need a girl who's as sweet as a dove. For the first time in my life, I see I need love.

ED GORDON, host:

From hard-hitting rapper to romantic rhymer, L.L. Cool J is among the pioneers of hip-hop. Tonight, he'll be in the spotlight on VH1, which is paying homage to rap pioneers at the Second Annual Hip-Hop Honors. Despite L.L.'s myriad of accomplishments in music and movies, he says he's still surprised to receive this accolade.

L.L. COOL J: It's actually, you know, very exciting. I never thought I would see the day when, you know, this type of an award would be given to myself, much less a rap artist. And it's amazing. I'm very humbled and flattered by it and very thankful that, you know, I'm in a position to receive and allowed to receive something like this.

GORDON: We should note that you, along with Big Daddy Kane, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, Notorious B.I.G., Ice-T, Salt-n-Pepa and the film, "Boyzn the Hood"--all being honored by VH1 in terms of your impact, not only in hip-hop, but in the world of entertainment.

You know, when you look back, man, and see that you are now heading into--and this is hard to believe L.--year 2-0 of your career.

L.L. Cool J: You know what? I'm actually in year 2-0 and I'm very thankful. It just seems like yesterday that we just began this journey, and the journey truly is the reward. You know, I still get the opportunity to do all of the things that I love to do and, you know, I'm operating in a--from a place of passion, you know what I'm saying. And my decisions are made from a place of passion and what I love to do. And I'm just very thankful, man.

(Soundbite of rap music)

L.L. Cool J: (Rapping) Don't call it a comeback. I been here for years. I'm rockin' my peers and puttin' suckas in fear. Makin' the tears rain down like a Mon-soon. Listen to the bass go Boom, explosion...

GORDON: When you look at your song "Library," when you talk about classic hip-hop music, you're going to be right in there with them. How important is it for you now as you look back and realize that many of the songs that you've put out there are now classic.

L.L. COOL J: You know, to be honest with you, I'm very thankful that it's like that and that's the way it is. But--no pun intended. You know what I'm saying? But, man, I think about the future. As much as I enjoy the moment and I appreciate it, I don't get caught up. It's kind of like in boxing. If you stand around admiring your work, you could get knocked out.

(Soundbite of song "Mama Said Knock You Out")

L.L. Cool J: (Rapping) I'm going to knock you out. Mama said knock you out. Don't you...

GORDON: You have become successful, like a number of hip-hop artists, in going between music and acting. As you get older, do you love one more than the other?

L.L. COOL J: Let's be realistic. I've achieved everything basically that I want to achieve in music. So, you know, for me the future would absolutely have to be more acting-oriented. I mean, I'm getting, you know, a Hip-hop Honors award and Vanguard awards and those types of awards, so my rap career is in a different place and it's matured. And I'm thankful and I'm grateful for that. And I can accept that.

In acting I'm a young buck. I'm still new. I'm still, you know, just starting out. So, yeah, you achieve one goal, then you set another. That's how I live my life. So, you know, I've achieved most of the goals in music I want to achieve, and I've set new goals in acting. Like I just did a nine-picture deal with Lions Gate Film to produce movies. I mean, that's something new and fresh. I just finished a movie with Queen Latifah, romantic comedy. That's new. I've just finished a film with Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey and Justin Timberlake. That's new. I have a film with Ray Liotta. That's new.

GORDON: That's pretty heavy duty to play off names like Liotta and Spacey and Morgan Freeman.

L.L. COOL J: Yeah, I mean, you know, if you want to strive to be as good as the best, you've got to work with the best and that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to work with the best people I can and get the best roles I can and actually, you know, break some new territory and some new ground, and do some things that people haven't seen me do; some things that have nothing to do with my personality or my celebrity or what people perceive me to be publicly, but really are just characters that I build from the ground up.

GORDON: Yeah. As you look at two decades in the business, L., what has been the hardest thing to deal with in this industry?

L.L. Cool J: I guess the hardest thing to deal with is just the fact that there are going to be times when people that you think love you have an opportunity to be merciful towards you or express love towards you and they don't, you know, in business. Any real businessman who has achieved any amount of true success knows that there is a lot of heartbreak associated with doing well in business, because you're going to have letdowns, you're going to have disappointments, you're going to have people turn on you. But you have to have the emotional stamina and endurance to take the steps when the elevator's broken. You know what I'm saying?

GORDON: Mm-hmm. What about the other side of the coin? What has been the most promising, the most exciting, aspect of all of it?

L.L. COOL J: First of all, I'm going to thank God for my health and strength, but just the financial end of it has been amazing. You know, the ability to just do for my family and people I love and my church whatever I want to do for them. I mean, you know, that's an incredible feeling and it's very rewarding. But it's definitely tempered and balanced by the emotional and psychological sacrifices that you have to make in order to achieve those financial goals.

GORDON: Well, it's been a long way from 1985 with "I Can't Live Without My Radio," but as, you know, one of your classics has said: You're still doing it and doing it and doing it well. And you are saluted for all of that...

L.L. COOL J: Thank you.

GORDON: ...by VH1, man, and, again, congratulations, buddy.

L.L. COOL J: All right. One love, Ed. Congratulations on the soul, baby.

GORDON: Thanks, man.

L.L. Cool J: All right. Peace.

(Soundbite of rap music)

Unidentified Girl: (Rapping) ...doing it and doing it and doing it well. Doing it...

GORDON: That again was hip-hop trailblazer and actor, L.L. Cool J. VH1's Hip-Hop Honors airs tonight.

(Soundbite of rap music)

Unidentified Girl: (Rapping) ...doing it and doing it...

GORDON: Thanks for joining us. That's our program for today. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of rap music)

L.L. COOL J: (Rapping) ...she was raised up in Brooklyn. I'm in the mix now, searching for the right spot to hit now, hit down...

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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