For his much-anticipated Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, rapper LL Cool J amped up the energy in Cleveland considerably, thanks to a career-spanning set that featured two of the night’s first major surprise guests: Eminem and Jennifer Lopez.
LL started off his set with a bang, going into 1987’s “Rock Around the Clock”-quoting “Go Cut Creator Go,” from Bigger and Deffer. Sporting an all-silver iridescent jumpsuit with silver sparkle accents on the cuffs and neck, as well as a gray knit hat and sunglasses, he darted and jumped on the stage like a prizefighter. LL was clearly fired up to be performing, channeling the hunger and passion of his younger, Eighties self as he rapped.
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After a bit of 1988’s “Going Back to Cali,” surprise guest Eminem nonchalantly walked onstage. What ensued was a positively incendiary collaboration on “Rock the Bells.” Eminem and LL dueted like they were in a rap battle, trading lyrics on the song with no-holds-barred ferocity; it was clear they were each pushing the other to perform better, faster, more.
After a bit of “I’m Bad” came another one of the night’s surprises: Jennifer Lopez strutted on stage for the duo’s sinewy 2003 No. 1 single “All I Have.” Wearing black pants, a bra top with silvery accents, and a blue jacket (and matching fingernails), she and LL playfully and flirtatiously sang together, representing well for the rapper’s R&B-influenced side.
LL’s performance closed with an equally fiery “Mama Said Knock You Out.” Figures wearing white hoodies appeared on the arena floor, dancing in the aisles of the floor around tables of inductees and audience members, before heading to the stage to mimic the music video’s fighter theme.
By this time, LL was clearly on another level — more than confirming that his induction was long, long overdue. Incredibly, however, he had been nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame six previous times before finally earning the nod in 2021.
Speaking to Rolling Stone after news of his induction broke, he expressed gratitude for the honor. “To be honest with you, it’s humbling and it’s inspiring. It makes me want to get in the studio and give something back for this recognition. In a weird kind of way, it makes me want to pay it forward by creating something special for people and outdo myself in a way, creatively. That’s what it does. It makes me want to give the world a new music project.”
Later in the interview, LL admitted that the Rock Hall wasn’t really on his radar when he was starting out in the Eighties. “I was thinking about getting a pair of Pumas, a gold chain, and writing my rhymes in my composition notebook,” he said. “And just going to the block party and just being the best rapper I could be, the best MC I could be, and just going through that process. I didn’t know about these things.”
However, in hindsight, he noted a tiny bit of foreshadowing could be heard in his 1984 debut single, “I Need a Beat.” “I said, ‘I predict this jam will hit the highest plateau in the world of music/Paparazzi, wealth, and fame/Total proportion of my name.’ I said that on that song. And it came to fruition.”
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