Arts & Theater

LL Cool J believes he’s the greatest. Why the Kennedy Center helps boost that claim

Rapper and actor LL Cool J is the first hip-hop artist to be named a Kennedy Center honoree.
Rapper and actor LL Cool J is the first hip-hop artist to be named a Kennedy Center honoree. Associated Press file

Rapper LL Cool J doesn’t just consider himself among the best. He believes he’s the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time), as suggested by the name of his eighth studio album and his lines in multiple songs.

While that claim has been heavily debated in the hip-hop community, his skills in music and entertainment received landmark recognition Thursday.

The 49-year-old rapper and actor is the first person in hip-hop history to be named a Kennedy Center honoree. He joins singers Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan, dancer Carmen de Lavallade and Norman Lear, a television producer and writer, as this year’s winners. The Washington, D.C.-based performing arts center named for former President John F. Kennedy honors those who use the arts to influence American culture.

“Yo, this is amazing,” LL Cool J told The Associated Press. “To be able to go from the corner in Queens beatin’ on a garbage can to getting a Kennedy Center honor with this type of company and to be first is just an amazing feeling. You know, it just adds another level of legitimacy to hip-hop culture.”

LL Cool J, whose real name is Todd Smith, is tied with singer Stevie Wonder as the youngest honoree in Kennedy Center history. Wonder was 49 when he was selected in 1999.

On the opposite end of the age spectrum, Lear, 95, is tied for the oldest recipient. George Abbott, a playwright and director, was honored in 1982.

The 40th annual Kennedy Center awards will take place Dec. 3. CBS will air the ceremony on Dec. 26.

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