Jenny Boom Boom sat down at the GRAMMYs for a fascinating discussion with LL Cool J, Meek Mill and Wale. Top artists of multiple generations, all three had an amazing insight into the music game, as their conversation showed.
With Wale and Meek Mill at the forefront of modern rap and LL Cool J returning to music during his third decade, all three artists have new music out. But that’s not their only similarity– Meek told LL he always identified with the legendary artist based on where both of them came up from. “[LL] started off in the battle game, then you transferred over to the rap game… That’s where I came from, too– That era right there.”
Both Meek and Wale love LL’s albums, but they did admit neither owned many of them, since the elder statesman of rap was making music before they were born! “I’m only 25 right now,” said Meek. “My time when I started getting music, was like DMX– late in the game.”
No matter when you first heard his music, everyone knows LL Cool J… the actor/ singer does everything, he’s multi-faceted– a lesson he’s taught younger artists like Meek and Wale, paving the path for the next generation. “That’s a blessing, and I’m grateful,” he said. “It’s always good to see young brothers succeeding and doing well and making their dreams come true. I’m glad to see they’re not taking it for granted.”
Meek appreciated the kind words from a living legend, and was proud to share his take on making music. “[It's] my first year really in the game, and seeing someone that’s still in the game for that long… I come from that era where you came out of the battling era,” he told LL, adding that he keeps his freestyle skills fresh every day. “We get on the tour bus and rap, for a 17 hour ride.”
“What you’re talking about is hunger, passion and also the spirit of creativity,” LL told the young rapper. “When you have that spirit of creativity, you want to maintain that. Because a lot of times, especially in the music industry, you’ll find that people try to gut you like a fish. You could get tricked into not understanding your own value.”
Mill and Wale agreed with LL’s take, especially on Twitter, which can become a forum for negative feedback from so-called fans. “The crazy thing about Twitter, you read a bunch of people’s comments and they tell you what the don’t like about your music,” said Meek. “It got to me for a day– ‘Should I listen to them?’ Then in my head I was like ‘I didn’t get here listening to anyone’s comments.’ Sometimes people listen to them and change their whole format… I like to stick with what I know best and never get involved in listening to things and having people trick me out of my style.”
LL admitted getting past criticism is something that never goes away, but you learn to live with it, and in the best cases, turn that negativity into inspiration. “You never really stop listening to the critics. They’re there, they’re in hyperdrive. At the end of the day it’s always gonna be hurtful,” said LL. “Because you make art. You create music from the heart and people try to ram it and step on it, it doesn’t feel good. But at the same time… it’s also a good motivation.
For his part, the elder rapper feels it’s important that he continue leading by example for the younger generation of artists. “The fact is that I don’t have a rapper to look at in front of me, to blaze a trail for me, because none of the guys that came out before me are putting out music anymore,” he explained. “Here I am in this position where I wanna make music for your mother and your aunts, for all of these people… can I create music people care about? Can I create music that is gonna be interesting, that people are gonna want to hear, when you’re the only guy [doing this for] three decades?”
Despite his acting skills, LL isn’t being overly dramatic– his second album dropped the same year Meek was born! “That’s the beauty of this challenge for me, that’s why this album is so exciting for me,” he continued. “Is it really possible to do this? This is not basketball, this is our minds, not our knees.”
LL Cool J is unique as a trailblazer, a leader from the previous generation, especially because that’s not something often seen in the rap game. “The rock ‘n roll culture, they embrace their legends a little bit more than [we] do,” admitted Wale. “They embrace the Rolling Stones.”
“I think we have a tendency to not embrace our legends because we see our legends as being in the way,” LL explained. “Not understanding that the people ahead of you are icebreakers, instead of them being in your way, they’re paving the way for you.”
Wale played devil’s advocate, though, saying part of the generation gap also saw the older artists not wanting anything to do with a new crew. “I can say a lot of the legends were gating us, at some point,” said Wale. “They weren’t trying to let us in.”
But LL believes that’s a sure sign for extinction for an artist who’s been around. “The ones that did that, I can guarantee you they don’t have careers,” he asserted. “That’s wrong. I don’t believe you talk down to people, I don’t believe you try to twist your own artist outs… you gotta show love to the young brothers, when you meet them. and set a sort of example– give them something to look at. I’m not interested in competing with you for a 19 year old fan, I’m not even on that page.”
All three artists were completely game for a joint project, too– Meek and Wale admitted they always go back to the old school when searching for their beats, and they’d love to make music with an icon like LL Cool J. “We always dig back,” said Meek. In fact, Wale already has a track in his mind for a potential collabo!
–Bill Sencio, Hot 93.7/ Hartford