Today LL Cool J spends his time pretending to be an under cover agent on CBS’ hit show NCIS: Los Angeles with his equally talented cast, which includes Chris O’Donnell, Daniela Ruah and Eric Christian Olsen.
Before that, he was one of the most influential rappers and became the first one to receive the prestigious Kennedy Center Honor.
But his life wasn’t always a success story. Coming from an impoverished and abusive background, LL, whose real name is James Todd Smith, turned to music at the age of 9-years-old. By the time he was sixteen, he was creating demo tapes and quickly got signed by a record label.
While his career skyrocketed, he never forgot about his neighborhood and gives back to his community regularly. He started the Jump & Ball foundation to help his local hood, and talked to The Voluntourist about it.
“Coming from Queens, a lot of kids where I grew up, a lot of people get in trouble because there’s nothing to do. If you don’t come from a family that knows better, it’s hard to do better. Some people are born into families where they’re raised with reason,” he said.
“Other people are born into families that have passion. Passion, while it can be good and a great fuel for many things, it’s not always a healthy thing in terms of trying to live a successful life. I’m talking about being controlled my the passions–I’m not saying just passion. Growing up like that, I said, ‘these kids in the neighborhood need something to do.’ When I was growing up, a lot of the hustlers in the community they weren’t always doing the right thing, but I would always see them throwing basketball tournaments,” he revealed.
The international superstar was rather candid about his childhood experiences and talked about how he got through the turbulent times.
“As a little boy, even though they were selling drugs, or doing whatever they were doing, for me seeing them throw these basketball tournaments it made my life better. It made my quality of life better in the community. We were able to go to the park and we were able to play basketball. We were able to watch the games and participant and for us, they were our heroes. They were the only guys who had any money, anything,” he said.
“Everybody else was on TV. They were tangible. So me, I said, ‘you know what, I’m out here in the world doing the things I’m doing, doing TV, but I’m not from Hollywood.’ I’m not even from the midwest. I’m from the inner city in New York. I’m not going to forget about my community. I’m not going to assimilate to the point where I’ve forgotten who I am and where I’m from. So I’m going back here and do these basketball tournaments and give these kids an opportunity,” he added.
But Jump & Ball isn’t just about playing sports. While LL does want to teach the kids to play basketball, he wants to do something else.
“Teach them a skill so they know how to work with a team, how to think, how to strive and succeed. That’s what guys in our community do. I felt like I needed to do that. A lot of times I think we spend time running from something, trying to be something else and running from our own past. I don’t need to do that. It’s about remembering where you came from and when you make it reach back and say, yo. I can help you!'”
“So that’s why for me going back to the hood and going back to Queens, being in touch with real people, that’s what it’s about. It doesn’t mean I have to pretend that I’m still on the block. I don’t have to pretend to be that. I am just who I am,” he said.
LL is all about helping others, but sometimes it’s about making them help themselves and offered this advice.
“I’ve evolved and I’m doing different things. I’m successful at this point, but remember where you came from and just give some love back. I think if people will do that, it will make things better. It can’t only be about what can someone else do for me. It can’t always be about what the government can do or you owe me. Sometimes you’ve got to do it yourself too. Sometimes you’ve got to change your own flat tire if you have a car. So that’s how I live my life.”
For more information on Jump & Ball, click here.