12 LONGISLANDPRESS.COM • JANUARY 2019
LL COOL J: COVER FEATURE
BY NICK CICCONE
A short distance takes a long time
for LL Cool J.
We’re on our way to a private
room at Hirshleifers, a high-end retailer
wedged between many other
high-end retailers at Americana
Manhasset mall, where LL has just
held a fundraiser benefitting his
Queens-based youth basketball
camp, Jump & Ball. Once we find a
quiet space to talk, he will trade the
Instagram-worthy LL swagger for a
He will sit and sip water in a chair
next to his mother, Ondrea Smith,
and talk about the art and craft of
hip-hop with exasperated, childlike
joy. He will explain why he thinks
it’s incumbent upon him to return
to the neighborhood he grew up
in — St. Albans — and foster a sense
of community and stability among
young children. He will dismiss his
impressive and meandering career
by saying that he simply does “whatever’s
on LL Cool J’s schedule,” as if
he’s talking about someone else.
But we’re not there yet. We’re still
swimming in a sea of his adoring fans
who want to shake his hand and hug
him and take photos with him.
“This is going to be a process,” a
member of LL’s team jokes.
Without hesitation, LL stops and
greets every last one. The birds-eye
view of the situation must look like a
human blood clot, as we float toward
a comfortable spot to sit and talk.
The annual shopping benefit at
Americana Manhasset has participating
stores donate 25 percent of
each customer’s purchase to a chosen
charity. LL and his wife, Simone
Smith, appeared at Hirshleifers on
Dec. 1 to encourage people to patronize
the store and host an auction of
luxury clothing items to benefit Jump
& Ball. Smith, a cancer survivor and
a self-proclaimed hoop-earring connoisseur,
also sold pieces from her
custom jewelry line to benefit the
American Cancer Society.
Despite the palpable excitement of
fans and other local celebrities (Long
Island Medium Theresa Caputo was
also in attendance, casting spells on
auction items like Vanna White with
taller hair) the evening seemed pretty
run-of-the-mill for Manhasset’s
hip-hop power couple. Smith conceded
that their family’s lifestyle can
seem pretty hectic, but she stressed
that downtime is downtime for them.
She and LL have four children and
married in 1995. They watch movies,
she bounces creative ideas off her
husband (whom she refers to as simply,
“Todd”) and they toggle between
New York and Los Angeles, surfing
between business ventures.
“We raised our children here in
Manhasset,” Smith says before adding,
“New York is always home.”
The only thing perhaps as mesmerizing
as LL’s wide-ranging career is
the coolness with which his family
seems to handle it all. Born in Bay
Shore but raised in Queens, LL Cool
J’s official music career began when
he was 16, with the release of 1985’s
single “I Need A Beat,” on Def Jam
Recordings, and has continued to
evolve in the decades since. He went
on to become rap music’s first-ever
mainstream icon and sex symbol.
Now 50, the multiplatinum musician’s
work transcends categories.
LL has grown into an all-out media
mogul. He has starred in the hit CBS
crime series NCIS: Los Angeles for
Actor-rapper LL Cool J founded Jump & Ball, a basketball camp, to help keep kids out of trouble.
"My grandmother used to always say the idle mind
is the devil's workshop."