LL Cool J on “NCIS,” hip-hop and “Lip Sync Battle”

Over his 30-year career, LL Cool J has expanded his reach from the recording studio to movies and television. For the past six seasons of the CBS drama "NCIS: Los Angeles," he's played the role of special agent Sam Hanna and has said it's a role anyone would want to play. "He's a character that believes in protecting his family, he believes in protecting his country, his way of life, he's loyal, he has integrity, he puts his life on the line every day, to persevere and protect the freedoms of the innocent," LL Cool J said Monday on "CBS This Morning." "And there are people like him all around the world and especially in America there are members of the military and also different law enforcement agencies who put their lives on the line every day to make the world a better place." His character, a former Navy Seal, is part of a team of agents who go undercover to bring down their targets. LL Cool J said he had "one-on-one training" with a Master Gunnery Sergeant to prepare for the roll. "Well I'll tell you one thing, it takes more than big muscles to do that job. It takes a lot of brain power, it takes a lot of intestinal fortitude, it takes a lot of will-power," LL Cool J said. "I went down Camp Pendleton and met with some of the Special Ops guys, some of the sailors and Marines and took a tour of the base and saw them doing exercises and stuff like that." Off screen, LL Cool J may be best known as the two-time Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist who first stepped onto the scene in the 1980s. At 16, he signed a deal with Def Jam Recordings. In 1990, the Queens, New York, native released his fourth album "Mama Said Knock You Out," earning him his first Grammy Award. Since then, he's sold more than 13 million albums worldwide. LL Cool J said if it wasn't for hip-hop culture he wouldn't be doing what he's doing. "Hip-hop is just another way of expressing yourself, right? It is a lifestyle and it is a culture, but the rap aspects of it are just a way of expressing Continue Reading

Preview: Smithsonian’s Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap

Public Enemy in front of a "Don't Believe the Hype" mural, 1988.  Hip-hop and rap have made an indelible mark on music and popular culture in America. Now that influence is being chronicled by the Smithsonian in an expansive collection of music, photos and stories. The Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap is part of a joint venture between the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Smithsonian Folkways Recordings to tell the story of hip-hop. The anthology comprises nine CDs and a 300-page book with liner notes, essays by artists and scholars and never-before-published photographs. To help make the anthology a reality, a 30-day Kickstarter campaign was launched and recently reached. Backers of the campaign will receive rewards based on their donation level including limited edition trading cards featuring hip-hop icons designed by Mike Thompson.  Continue Reading

Hip-hop and legal pot: Q&A with DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill

(via Wikimedia Commons) After several decades of recording music inspired by a federally illegal substance, DJ Muggs believes marijuana legalization is a beautiful thing. Serving as the DJ and main producer of the legendary Los Angeles hip-hop group Cypress Hill, Muggs joined bandmates B-Real, Sen Dog, and Eric Bobo as one of the first groups to heavily reference cannabis culture in rap music. Muggs has also earned the distinction as one of the best music producers in the game under his collective known as Soul Assassins. Since opening the floodgates to many more 420-friendly music acts through their infamous Smokeout festival concerts, Muggs and crew now find themselves in an era where cannabis is completely legal. They are embracing the moment with an upcoming line of recreational products, while Muggs has performed special DJ sets for the globetrotting International Cannabis Business conference. In anticipation of his next appearance at ICBC’s San Francisco event this February 1-2, we caught up with Muggs to talk about the past and current state of hip hop and cannabis, the status of a new Cypress Hill album, and why today’s rappers prefer prescription drugs over good old-fashioned marijuana.(photo courtesy DJ Muggs)Smell the Truth: Cypress Hill premiered at a time when smoking weed was not only illegal but taboo to talk about, even in hip hop. Coming from that era, what are your feelings on how much acceptance cannabis culture has gained through legalization? DJ Muggs: I think it’s beautiful man. This is something we’ve had visions for and have been striving for since day one, man. Just to see it all happening and coming to life is like, damn. Part of me is like, I never thought I’d really see this, even with as much work as we put in and as much time and energy. Part of it is surreal, and the other part of it is like, okay cool, our work has just begun. Now it’s time to finish. StT: What more do you think has to be done? Continue Reading

Photographer’s new book examines Detroit hip-hop

Jenny Risher just keeps crafting love letters to Detroit.The first was the photographer’s 2013 book “Heart Soul Detroit: Conversations on the Motor City” (Momentum Books), a series of interviews and portraits of Detroit luminaries ranging from Eminem to Lily Tomlin to Al Kaline.With her new book, “D-Cyphered” — just released in December — Risher opens up a window into the world of Detroit hip-hop and rap, with about 100 high-style pictures of artists famous and unknown shot in iconic locations across the city.Eighty-three of Risher’s photographs also are on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts, where the exhibition “D-Cyphered” will be up through Feb. 28.Her ambition, Risher said, was to document Detroit hip-hop, much like photographer Leni Sinclair did for 1960s and ’70s rock ‘n’ roll.“Leni Sinclair was a hero of mine,” Risher said. “I thought it was so amazing how she captured the rock ‘n’ roll decade, and I wanted to do that with hip-hop.”The 43-year-old College for Creative Studies graduate says she grew up hearing some hip-hop as a kid in Mt. Clemens, but makes no claims to expertise.“I really wanted people to tell their own story,” she said. “I just produced the book. I took the pictures and put the puzzle together, but I could never tell that story myself.”The result is an epic visual tour through the hip-hop world, with beautifully composed portraits that alternate between the serious and the amusing. (Case in point: DJ Godfather is shot with the giant I-94 Uniroyal tire rising up around his head like a medieval halo.)To give the work gravitas and a real grounding in hip-hop history, Risher turned to Hex, aka Ironside Hex, the impresario who managed some of Detroit’s key acts and wrote the lengthy essay that opens the book.Risher notes that Hex is paralyzed from a stroke and only has limited movement. As a Continue Reading

‘The Simpsons’ to do hour-long hip-hop episode based on ‘The Great Gatsby’

"The Simpsons" is about to get bigger than ever. The much-admired animated half-hour Fox series will present its first hour-long episode in its upcoming 28th season that crosses hip-hop with the classic American novel “The Great Gatsby.” Airing in January, the XL-sized “Simpsons” is called — no doh — “The Great Phatsby” and will feature the voices of Taraji P. Henson and Keegan-Michael Key. The plot swirls in betrayal and revenge and follows the friendship between Burns, who owns the Springfield Power Plant, and a mysterious hip-hop mogul Jay G. That name could have come from the mind of “Great Gatsby” author F. Scott Fitzgerald. “This was just going to be a regular episode, but the table read went so well, in a fit of passion and excitement and ambition and excess, we decided to supersize it,” Simpsons executive producer Matt Selman told Entertainment Weekly. Elsewhere in the episode, Lisa lands a rich boyfriend and Marge launches a boutique. Henson, who plays the tough Cookie on “Empire,” will play Praline, who’s not to be messed with. “She teams up with Burns and Homer and Bart and our all-star team of rappers to help get revenge on Jay G,” Selman told EW. Key will play Jazzy James, a rapper who’s also hellbent on vengeance. Jim Beanz — a music producer for “Empire” — created original hip-hop songs for this episode, including a betrayal rap and a revenge rap. “We haven’t done a huge amount of stories in the world of hip-hop and rap culture,” Selman told EW, “so we just went for it.” Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Harlem International Film Festival to include films about hip hop and 9/11

Hip hop and international terrorism — plus the usual mix of urban comedy and drama — will be the highlights of the five-day Harlem International Film Festival now through Sunday. More than 60 films from more than 20 countries — and Harlem — will be featured at the eighth annual series, which begins Wednesday night at the Schomburg Center with a slate of 9/11-themed films, including "16 Acres" about the reconstruction of the World Trade Center; “Post 9-11: Fear, Anger and Politics,” a documentary about Islamophobia; and “The Bully,” a feature about a Muslim girl who is abused by her classmates. On Friday night, the action will shift to Aaron Davis Hall at City College with live performances and a screening of “American Beatboxer” to mark the 40th anniversary of hip-hop. The location is particularly ironic; less than one block away in a neighboring campus hall in 1991, eight people were crushed to death in a stampede before a charity basketball game featuring rap stars Heavy D and Sean Combs. Saturday’s main event is a bit lighter, thanks to Judianny Compres’ rom-com "Happy New Year!" Award winners will be announced on Sunday. Harlem International Film Festival, Sept. 11-15, multiple locations. For info, visit harleminternationalfilmfestival.org. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Beats N Brews mixes hip-hop and craft beer

Hip-hop is no stranger to references about drugs and alcohol; as a matter of fact, just about every genre of music references it in some way.One Delaware rapper has decided to combine hip-hop and alcohol, but not in the way that most do. Wilmington native Rob Dorsey, 29, is not only a local rapper who has been grinding in the industry for years, he now is the lead host for the Beats n Brews podcast, which airs weekly on YouTube.Each show Dorsey combines conversation about hip-hop and pairs it with a different beer. The craft beer explosion of the last 10 years has led to more locally made beers with as many varieties -- or more -- as wine. The explosion of beer connoisseurs has opened the door for the show like Beats n Brews to reach the masses.Not only is Rob just drinking and talking about beer, he also has become a brewmaster of his own. Recently he partnered with Argilla Brewing Company in Newark to host a live podcast and taste their new Green Tea, which the company and Dorsey collaborated on.Dorsey also has begun brewing his own beer in his house labeled with his company brand, Nurd. Even though Rob can’t legally sell his creations, he plans to host more events and live podcasts where fans will get to taste and comment on the beer. COLUMN: A Firefly fan’s suggestions for next year’s hip-hop lineup With the craft beer explosion in full effect, Dorsey and his Nurd brand seem to have a lot of room for growth. We chatted about Rob's upcoming music, and why beer and hip-hop pair so well together.Q: So when did you first start rapping?Growing up I was heavy into Tupac from a very young age. I read that he started out writing poetry, so that's what I wanted to do. By the time I got into middle school, I was writing poetry. I also remember seeing Bow Wow as a kid and thinking that if he could rap as a kid so could I. So that's when I started to formulate bars. I used to record with friends in high school and my man Pete had a studio. But Continue Reading

Hip hop’s inner demons add fuel to the fight

Last week in Los Angeles, I participated in a town hall meeting put together by Black Entertainment Television (BET). The meeting reinforced my belief that there seems no end to the controversy brought to hip hop by its extremes of exploitation. Since Essence magazine began its fizzled campaign against hip hop a few years ago, a number of things have happened to keep the fire burning.We have seen some remarkable things. Don Imus, apparently taking a cue from the rap idiom, referred to some black women on the Rutgers basketball team as "nappy-headed ho's," and it all hit the fan. In one moment, Imus was on everyone's tongue in the middle of a discussion of offensive language. Soon the shock jock was taking it from the boots of CBS and MSNBC, both of which fired him from radio and television. Oprah Winfrey devoted two hours of discussion to demeaning images of black women that are pervasive in popular culture. All roads led to hip hop. Perhaps most damning were the grim connections between hip hop and urban crime that Anderson Cooper reported brilliantly for CBS and CNN.BET's panel discussion on hip hop had a remarkable cross-section of black people from myriad occupations. Though the focus was on hip hop, the series was actually about how the intersection of race, sex, violence and adolescent rebellion has produced billions of dollars in profit. Some of that profit goes to the rappers, much more to the corporations, but most of that comes at a great cost to the black community. In fact, the cost of crime and violence to the black community has become the new violent minstrel show in which suburban white boys drive the market by purchasing four out of five rap recordings devoted to destruction and self-destruction.Rap star Nelly complained that his good deeds do not get as much attention as the adult videos featuring his music. Like most millionaires who have philanthropic hobbies, Nelly should hire a publicist to make sure that everyone knows how much he is doing for Continue Reading


BURSTING WITH the energy of a teenager, his chunky diamond rings glinting in the sun, Grandmaster Caz threw off his jacket, pulled down his oversized baseball cap and cued the music. "Hip hop was our version of a party! " the bearlike 46-year-old exclaimed, pumping his arms to a booming downbeat before striking a classic rapper's pose. It was just before noon yesterday and about a dozen bleary-eyed tourists from around the world were on a chartered bus with him at the corner of Malcolm X Blvd. and Lenox Ave. in Harlem for a "Hip Hop Tour. " The tour - equal parts rap 101, African-American studies and standup comedy - began at a basketball court in Spanish Harlem for a briefing on graffiti. "We didn't invent it," Caz, whose real name is Curtis Fisher, said, as he stood amid dozens of the works on the court at 106th St. and Park Ave., "but graffiti is the art of our culture. " John White of London marveled at the spray-painted works. He said the tour, not mentioned in most guides, was at the heart of his trip. "I haven't seen the Empire State Building, Ground Zero or any of that other stuff," said White, who was nearing the end of his one-week stay. He and his friend, Nabil (Billy) Hanafi, 23, said they had planned their vacation around hip hop and graffiti. "The benefit of the tour is that you're not just wandering around these areas lost," Hanafi said. While Caz provided the entertainment, the tour's creators, John Shepherd and Debra Harris Shepherd, rode along on the bus. "We just felt New York had so much more to offer than the tours that were offered," John Shepherd said. "For years, visitors have been told not to travel north of 110th St. " While HushTours "Hip Hop Tour" has a regular schedule, it will run special tours from Thursday through Sunday to coincide with VH1 Hip Hop Honors week. Melbourne, Australia, resident Adam Fisher, 30, called the tour the "best thing" he had done in his weeklong stay in New York. Most tourists Continue Reading

Michelle Obama attends sold-out hip-hop historical show ‘Hamilton’

It helps to be the First Lady of the United States to score a ticket to the hottest musical in town. Michelle Obama spent Saturday afternoon at the matinee of "Hamilton," the soldout hip-hop history lesson about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton by “In the Heights" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Cast members and theatergoers tweeted about the VIP audience member, as well as additional security measures implemented at the Public Theater in Manhattan, where the show is running to capacity crowds. The musical, infused with hip hop and rap rhythms, is inspired by Ron Chernow's book "Alexander Hamilton" and includes historical figures George Washington, Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson. "Hamilton" ends its run at the Public on May 3 and begins its Broadway run at the Richards Rodgers Theatre on July 13. Continue Reading