It would appear as if LL Cool J’s (The G.O.A.T) The Greatest Of All Time, career is all about breaking boundaries. On Sunday evening (Dec. 3), LL became the first rapper to earn the prestigious Kennedy Center Honor, which is America’s highest achievement for any performer.
The Queens NY resident, born James Todd Smith in Bay Shore, will be honored along with singer-songwriters Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan, TV creator Norman Lear and dancer/actress Carmen de Lavallade for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ 40th annual event.
The ceremony, which will air on CBS at 9 p.m. on Dec. 26, is historically a secret affair. The event, while very distinguished, is also top secret and the evening’s honorees usually don’t know who will honor their artistic achievements. In LL Cool J’s case, he has a pretty robust catalogue of music so that should mean someone spending some time on his work as a rapper, with tender songs like “I Need Love” and hard-hitting hip-hop like “Mama Said Knock You Out,” so whomever is tasked with praising Todd Smith’s musical career, they’ll have a healthy arsenal to choose from. Currently, he’s focused as an actor on the weekly series “NCIS: Los Angeles,” and as the host of the popular “Lip Sync Battle.”
At a State Department dinner Saturday night, LL told those gathered that his success is proof that anything is possible. “The inner city is a maelstrom,” he said in a portion of his speech released by the Kennedy Center on Twitter. “I liken it to a bunch of little creatures caught in this whirlpool… every now and then you’ll have someone make it out. You’re looking at what every young black man the inner city could be if they were given the opportunity.”
On Instagram before the event, he sought to be even more inspirational. “I believe that we are built to do anything we put our minds and proper actions to,” he wrote as the caption to a picture of him wearing his Kennedy Center Honor. “You have all the tools inside you that are required for you to fulfill your GOD given purpose. This one is for those who came before me and those who followed me. We were sent to this planet to love and inspire one another. Manifest our dreams and make them a reality. I hope you’re inspired by me because I’m absolutely Inspired by you.”
One change for this year’s ceremony, however, is that President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump will not be involved in the celebration, after Lear and de Lavallade announced they would not attend if he did following the president’s statements about the Charlottesville, Virginia, protests this past summer.
After those announcements and a statement from Richie that he would “play it by ear” on whether to attend, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the Trumps would not participate in the event or hold the usual White House reception for the honorees “to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction.” It marks the first time that neither the current president nor the first lady will attend the Kennedy Center Honors.