LL Cool J was born and grew up in Queens, New York City. He signed to Def Jam in 1984 and released the underground hit "I Need a Beat" (see 1984 in music). The song was the first hit record for Def Jam, and its success persuaded LL to drop out of school to record Radio (1985 in music). The album was released to critical acclaim, as LL was one of the first rappers to use conventional song structure to make pop-oriented rap. "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and "Rock the Bells" were successful and helped the album go platinum. In 1987, LL released Bigger and Deffer (see 1987 in music). The ballad "I Need Love" was one of the first pop-rap songs to be a hit. Critics scoffed at his new direction, though, and by Walking with a Panther (1989 in music), LL was booed offstage at the Apollo Theater.
LL was eager to regain his hardcore audience, which he did with Mama Said Knock You Out; it was easily the hardest record he had made, and re-established him in the hip hop community. After acting in The Hard Way and Toys, LL released 14 Shots to the Dome to muted sales and mixed reviews. He starred in In the House, an NBC sitcom before releasing Mr. Smith (1995 in music), a double platinum hit. Its singles "Doin' It" and "Loungin" were two of the biggest songs in 1996 and both songs' music videos were hugely successful on MTV. LL also helps advertise a clothing line named FUBU.