It had been five years since LL Cool J had released an album – an eternity in the trend-chasing hip-hop world, where keeping a steady stream of music coming has been an important way to maintain career momentum.
Between their own albums, singles and guest appearances on albums by other artists, maintaining a chart presence is a priority in the crowded hip-hop field.
LL Cool J didn’t do that, although his co-starring role on the hit television series “NCIS: Los Angeles” has kept him very much in the public eye. Even worse, his return to the rap game came via an unconventional album, “ Authentic,” released this past April.
“The first rule I broke is, most of the time when veteran rap artists make a new album, the first thing they do is go and grab whatever new current rap artist is out and put them on the album in order to kind of secure their fan base kind of moving forward,” LL Cool J said in a mid-May phone interview. “You know, like, I bucked the trend.”
The diversity of the guest artists on “Authentic” (only one song, “Bath Salt” lacks guest artists) also makes it a different kind of hip-hop album. LL Cool J enlisted the likes of old-school musical heroes and country guitar slingers to welcome his return to hip-hop.
“While most rap artists will delve into R&B a bit, a lot of them are afraid to go really beyond that and go get the Seals of the world and the Eddie Van Halens of the world and the Brad Paisleys of the world, those other artists,” he said. “Then another thing I did that was bucking the trends is I went and got acts that are actually even generations before me, like Earth Wind & Fire and Charlie Wilson.
“There is a lot of ageism in hip-hop. So … in hip-hop, people are always trying to figure out how they can still be a teenager.”
There won’t be much ageism on LL’s latest endeavor. He’s headlining the Kings of the Mic tour, which on Saturday brings a collection of ’80s and ’90s hip-hop heroes to nTelos Wireless Pavilion in Portsmouth.
The tour features three other iconic acts from the first wave of hip-hop – Ice Cube, Public Enemy and De La Soul.
“I just wanted to do a tour that spoke to people who grew up with my music and, you know, grew up with my fans,” LL Cool J said.
“To me, these three acts represent people that I think are great partners for me on a tour. We have a similar fan base. We came up together. We’re all different. I mean, Cube, obviously, has all kinds of music, a little more gangster. Public Enemy has its music; Chuck D and those guys (are) a little more social/political. And De La Soul is really like more forward and cutting edge in terms of their creativity. So all of us on the tour, I felt like it had diversity, but we had a commonality from a generational standpoint.”