James Todd Smith, LL Cool J: American\African American
Born Queens, New York
Hip hop star and actor James Todd Smith III changed his name to LL Cool J (short for "Ladies Love Cool James") at sixteen, when he released his first single, "I Need a Beat." In the late 1980s, the success of his recordings helped make Def Jam a major label: his broad popular appeal and nine consecutive multiplatinum albums were significant in transforming rap from an underground genre to a mainstream cultural force. He has also crossed over to acting, both in film (Toys, Rollerball), and television (30 Rock, House); currently, he costars in the series NCIS: Los Angeles.
Kehinde Wiley was commissioned to paint LL Cool J for the VH1 Hip Hop Honors program in September 2005. Inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography of John D. Rockefeller, LL Cool J wanted this portrait to have a pose similar to that in John Singer Sargent’s painting of the philanthropist.