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Yahoo Finance Presents: Rapper and Entrepreneur LL COOL J

In this episode of Yahoo Finance Presents, Rapper and Entrepreneur LL COOL J joins Yahoo Finance's Brian Sozzi to discuss his Rock The Bells brand expansion as well as give his take on the Black Lives Matter protests and how he has talked to his children about the topic.

Video Transcript


BRIAN SOZZI: I'm joined here by LL Cool J. LL, no introduction needed. You're just LL Cool J.

LL COOL J: Thank you. I'm sure there's a few people who need to be introduced to me, but I appreciate it, man, no doubt.

BRIAN SOZZI: Thanks for taking the time here. Rock the Bells brand, I've been following the expansion on social media over the past week or so. What is it, and what are some of your goals with it?

LL COOL J: Well, basically what it is is it is a platform designed for those Generation X classic hip-hop fans who basically were forgotten about. You know, for the most part, when you think about especially hip-hop or classic hip-hop and entertainment in general, it's either OK boomer or let's chase millennials, but everybody kind of forgot about the Gen X hip-hop fans.

And when I started my channel on Sirius XM, channel 43, a couple of years ago-- well, it's about-- it's been about, well, two years ago. Basically I found out that all of these fans, all of these people who love the culture, who want to be a part of the culture didn't have anywhere to either experienced the artist, celebrate the artist, celebrate the legacy, celebrate the elements like MC, DJing, breaking, graffiti, or, you know, really buy products associated with the culture.

So I decided that I was going to create a platform with-- a modern media platform where anything associated with classic hip-hop culture, whether it be an affordable product, whether it be a premium luxury item, would be on the platform.

And then in addition to that, I wanted to make sure that I lifted up these legacy artists. You know, so I gave ownership to Run-DMC, to Salt-N-Pepa to, you know, so many others- Roxanne Shante; Big Daddy Kane; Fab 5 Freddy; RISK, the graffiti artist; Jonathan Mannion, the photographer; Ernie Paniccioli, the photographer, who really moved the culture.

So this thing is-- this is something that I've been working on for a while, and I think it's really special and a great thing. So we have, you know, people who own the culture, people who built and pioneered the culture taking ownership back and giving something to the community that loves it.

BRIAN SOZZI: LL, why do you think we have been forgotten? Because I am part of that Generation X community. I remember modeling my wardrobe off of you in high school. And I go onto the website, and I see things that I can't find anywhere else, and I can't-- if I do, I can't find them all in one place.

LL COOL J: Right. Well, that was the thing, right? Like, it's about the curation. I wanted to make sure that we really spoke that language and communicated to people that this is about classic hip-hop culture. You know what I'm saying? This is about the foundation. We are unapologetically, strictly OG. You know what I'm saying? Now, we want to bridge the gap for those who are influenced by all the groundbreaking things that happened, but we are unapologetically classic hip-hop. We are not chasing anybody. We want you to come in and just enjoy our world-- exclusive audio, exclusive video, amazing articles.

And we put together a great team. I brought over-- our editorial director came from Highsnobiety. Brought people over from Facebook, people from Lollapalooza. Put together a great group of strategic investors.

Now, the strategic investors don't have-- they don't have governance. They are truly strategic investors who are investing in our culture. We have, like, Mark Cuban. Radical-- you know, from Radical, you know, Ventures, we have Eddy Cue. Glenn Hutchins from North Island. Bozoma Saint John invested. The Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, he invested.

And I think the reason that people forgot is just because time moves on, and somebody had to step up and say-- and get the narrative right, you know what I mean? Because 200, 300 years from now I want people to really be thinking about Rock the Bells. And, you know, history is written by the winners, you know what I mean?

BRIAN SOZZI: Yeah, that's true. That's true. And I did-- you have some pretty impressive backers, and I did exchanged email with one, Geoff Yang at Redpoint Ventures. Here's what he told me about you. He said we spent-- quote, "We spent nine months together before we began to fund the start of the company from our own pockets. During that time, I found LL to be committed, driven to succeed, and passionate. He's everything I look for in a founder."

This is a veteran guy from Silicon Valley. At this point in your career, what drives you?

LL COOL J: I'm really passionate about this culture. I really care about the fact that I put together something that is-- we started on this a year and a half ago, and we did something. It's majority black owned. It's for the culture. It's true. It's sincere. It's authentic. The right people, you know, have ownership in this thing.

And what drives me is my love for the culture and my desire to see all of the artists that-- and the people who contributed to the culture from that generation, I want to see them get a bite at the apple, man. I wanted to build a company where they had an opportunity to capture value because so many times you have the mega-billion-dollar and the mega-trillion-dollar companies, and they have basically got all of the value. You know, they have monetized the culture. They monetized hip-hop culture in a major way.

Very few-- you have maybe three or four guys that you can point to and say, oh, he's on Forbes. He this and that, but they are like-- they're anomalies. The majority didn't really get that bite at the apple, didn't get that opportunity. So the thing that drives me is just seeing these artists not only have ownership in a company but be lifted up and put on a pedestal that they deserve to be on.

Why can't a writer like a Nas or a Rakim get the same respect as a guy like Bob Dylan? Why can't-- you know, why can't LL Cool J get the same respect as a guy like Bono? I think that we have the same fans. We have, you know, a huge culture that's global. And, you know, I just think it's time for us to lift up our own. So I just went for it, man. I said this has to happen.

BRIAN SOZZI: Why hasn't it happened?

LL COOL J: I don't know. You know, I think that-- look, you know, I think the internet has a lot to do with it. There's been a democratization of access, right? But then it's being able to take advantage of the access. I heard somebody say that the internet's like a-- it's like a library-- a huge library, but all the books are on the floor, you know what I mean? So it's kind of like somebody had to-- you know, I had to just jump in and really get this thing organized and really-- I had to organize the classic hip-hop genre, the genre of classic hip-hop. I wanted to organize it. I wanted to consolidate it a bit. I felt like it was scattered. I felt like it was all over the place, and it needed-- it needed to be consolidated, organized, and monetized for the people who actually built it by the people who actually built it because that way you are sending money back into our community, but at the same time, we're contributing to, you know, America in a big way. So it does both.

You know, mind you, it's not an easy journey. I don't want to talk like it's already just, you know, it's all done. But, you know, I believe this is the right way to approach making sure that classic hip-hop is here for a long time.

BRIAN SOZZI: You know, talk about community. LL, you have a very powerful voice, and I think recently you captured the outrage of a nation and what's happening here across America with the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping across the country.

LL COOL J: Yeah.

BRIAN SOZZI: What has been in your head as you've been watching this unfold the past month?

LL COOL J: Well, you know, I think it's-- you know, look, you know, I think outrage is the right word. I think, you know, frustration is another word. I think, you know, I felt a lot of pain, so I put it in the-- I put it in the freestyle that I wrote, you know?

You know, I just feel like the world-- a lot of people-- the majority of people are on the right side of history. And I feel like that-- you know, that small, malignant group of racists are getting more and more marginalized, you know, and by global chemotherapy. You know what I'm saying? Like, the world is kind of moving away from that group, and I think that group is getting more and more marginalized, and I think they feel it. And, you know, they should because it's wrong.

You know, just-- you know, and this was the first time that there was no debate, right? Did he go for the taser? Did he grab something? Did he not? Did he move? Did he resist? Eight minutes and 46 seconds, no debate. So I think that was the catalyst that really just was a turning point for the globe.

And I think people said, hey, wait a minute. You know, you guys are really treating these people bad. And so it's I think, ultimately, we are one step closer to solving this problem. I don't think racism will ever totally go away, but I think it can be controlled, and I think it can be pushed back over in the corner where it belongs and ultimately destroyed. But I think we-- things will get better, you know?

BRIAN SOZZI: So it sounds this-- to you, this is the moment of real change. Once and for all, there will be real change in this country.

LL COOL J: Well, I think it's the moment where some real movement is taking place. I think that, you know, the change is going to take time, you know, because really what you're talking about is changing hearts and minds and souls, right? You have people that argue that there is no systemic racism. We know that's false-- or institutional racism. They'll tell you, well, point to the institution.

But the reality is those institutions live in people's hearts. So it's not about a building or a corporation written down on a piece of paper. It's about the hearts and minds of certain people. But I do think things are changing for the better, and we're going to do everything we can to just-- I think we have to bootstrap and take action, right?

So when you start a company like Rock the Bells and you give ownership back into the hands of the people who pioneered the culture, those are the right steps too, right? It's not just about-- it's not only about letting your voice be heard, which is very important, but it's also about taking action. And I think that we're taking the right kind of action.

And, you know, I'm really proud of the demonstrators who got out there, you know, on the front lines, people of all ethnicities, of all colors out there taking batons on the legs and in the head and getting shot with rubber bullets because, I mean, they're the real heroes. They're the ones who said, hey, enough is enough. And then myself, if I can jump in there and let my-- and speak to millions, I'll do that, and it's a good thing.

And I also want to tell people, like, just as an aside on, you know, that thing I did, that freestyle. We created some Ts, and we're, you know, donating the proceeds to Black Lives Matter and the Jump and Ball Foundation.

But this is a real thing we're doing, and I think we'll be better for it. I think America will be better for it because I'll say this. It doesn't matter if the stock market-- the stock market could be at 100-- the Dow could be at 100,000 right now. Yes, everybody would be-- those with money and who are part of the market would be over the moon. But if the morale was lower than it's ever been, it's still not right. It doesn't feel good. What is the point? If I could give you a billion dollars but you'd never be happy again, what would that mean?

So we need, I think, not just-- we not only have to be financially sound as a country. We have to be morally sound. You know, I didn't say perfect. I didn't say-- none of us are perfect. We're all a work in progress, but at least morally sound to a certain extent, you know what I mean?

BRIAN SOZZI: You know, LL, I still-- I see you, and I still see 25-year-old LL Cool J and myself way back. And you're a dad. You have four beautiful kids. What have you told him? Have you had a conversation in your house about what's been happening the past month?

LL COOL J: I think it's more about setting the example, right? It's not about what I tell them. It's about what I show. You know, you could tell your kids to read, but do they see reading? You know, you could tell your kid to contribute to America, but are you trying to contribute?

I think it's about actions. I think actions speak way louder than words. You know, I think, you know, the true-- any true reaction, any true chemical reaction requires a catalyst of some sort, and that's active. A catalyst is active. You know what I'm saying? So you need action. So for me, I just try to show them by putting as much energy as I can into everything I do and being a stand-up guy.

And the other thing I want to say that's very important is that we have to be careful just in general not to lump everybody in one basket. I think that's very important because, you know, there are good and bad, you know, in all areas of life, right? So we just want to-- we want to root for the people that are on the right side of history, you know? That's the focus.

BRIAN SOZZI: What about your music? You recently signed a new contract with Def Jams late last year. How will your music change? I've always viewed your music as positive, as a positive [INAUDIBLE]-- just in positivity. How will it change? How will this situation change, if maybe at all?

LL COOL J: I think-- I got to see what happens. I got to see what I'm inspired to create, right? Like, there's no prediction. There's no way for me to predict that. I've got to see what I'm inspired to make and inspired to put out there. You know what I'm saying?

But one thing I know is that in creating this platform, in doing the freestyle that I did, in thinking about the music that I'm going to do, one thing will be-- one clear through line will be truth. It'll be truth. It won't be, you know, me pretending or facade of any sort. It will be truth, and I'll be dealing in truth.

Whether people like it or not, I can't predict. You know, I'm not even going to try to go there. But I'm just going to-- I'm going to stay in my truth with the things that I do.

BRIAN SOZZI: Is that new album in the works? I have to ask.

LL COOL J: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, I'm a-- it's in my mind. I'm pondering. I'm pondering.


LL COOL J: It's formulating, believe me.

BRIAN SOZZI: And lastly too-- I don't want to keep you all day here-- the pandemic. We've all been quarantined. In addition to your music, you're also-- you've been on "NCIS" for quite a time. How are those things going? What have you been doing during the quarantine?

LL COOL J: You know what? I've just been really just working on myself, trying to be better when I come out than when I went in to the quarantine, which means exercising, which means, you know, grabbing the, you know, oatmeal with the blueberries and [INAUDIBLE] you know, and just, you know, trying to be the best, you know, person I can, the best-- the best man I can, you know? That's what it's about, right? It's about maximizing your potential.

So you just want to make sure that when you, you know-- when we come out of this pandemic, you are better than when we went in on every level. Are you reading? You know, are you, you know, improving your mind? Are you improving your body? Are you improving your soul? You know what I'm saying? Those are the things that I think are important, and that's what I'm trying to do, just maximize my potential. You know what I mean?

BRIAN SOZZI: You know, and actually lastly, should you-- are you doing, any Instagram posts, anything planned for Juneteenth? You know, it's finally-- that day is finally getting the recognition it has long deserved.

LL COOL J: I am absolutely going to do something. I don't know exactly what it will be, but I will do something, of course. It's about time that people, you know, recognize that day worldwide.

And look, let me tell you something, man. You know, blacks in America have come a long way, all right-- long way. Got a long way to go, and there's a lot of remnants of-- you know, there's a lot of systemic issues that still exist that try to exclude us from participating in certain things.

So I'll definitely be celebrating that day. And a lot of people will try to point to LL Cool J or some other entertainer and say, oh, there's no racism. There's no systemic racism. Look at him. But that's really availability bias, right? Because the reality is most people aren't in this position, and a lot of people are unable to get, you know, inside the door, so to speak. It's been slammed in their face and locked on every angle.

And so I'm glad to see that people are starting to recognize, you know, the humanity. And I would encourage people not to get bitter, to get better. You know what I'm saying? Don't be bitter. Get better. But yeah, I'm going to definitely celebrate that day in a big way. It's a very important day to me, a very important day to black people, you know?

And it's beautiful, you know what I'm saying? Like, you know, when we get to the point where we can all celebrate ourselves without being intimidated by others or being like, well, we can celebrate who we are and celebrate our ethnic and cultural differences in a way that is not offensive to everybody else, that's going to be a beautiful day. We're not there yet, but that's going to be a beautiful day.

One day we'll be able to be proud of who we are and sit around our collective dining-room tables, our individual dining-room tables and tell the stories about our history in a way that-- where it'll be celebrated. You know what I mean? You know? Yeah. Yeah.

BRIAN SOZZI: We'll leave it there. LL Cool J, thank you for joining Yahoo Finance, and keep driving the change. You've always been a difference maker. You keep doing it.

LL COOL J: Thank you, man. And I would just encourage everybody, check out rockthebells.com. It's a great platform for classic hip-hop culture, and I appreciate you. Thank you, man. Appreciate you.

BRIAN SOZZI: I have my eyes on a pair of one of those 600 pairs-- $600 pair of Jordans.

LL COOL J: Yeah.

BRIAN SOZZI: [INAUDIBLE] Not when I was in high school. I have the money now.

LL COOL J: No doubt. No doubt. Yo, look, we've got affordable stuff and premium luxury, baby. No question. It's there for you.

BRIAN SOZZI: LL Cool J, thanks so much.

LL COOL J: All right, peace and love, man. Peace.