LL Cool J Is First Rapper Honored by Kennedy Center

By Sameer Rao Dec 04, 2017

Ladies love Cool James, and so does the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Washington D.C.-based organization recognized James “LL Cool J” Smith and his decades of hip hop and acting achievement at its 40th annual Kennedy Center Honors celebration last night (December 3). The rapper behind “Rock the Bells,” “Mama Said Knock You Out" and “Doin’ It” made history as the first hip hop artist to receive a Kennedy Center honor. 

Fans will have to wait until December 26 to watch the Kennedy Centers Honors ceremony and see the speeches and performances made in tribute to LL Cool J. In the interim, The Washington Post reports that fellow rapper and actor Queen Latifah recognized the importance of his award in her introductory remarks. 

“We are witnesses to history,” Queen Latifah said, as quoted by The Post. “Tonight, we honor L for his contribution to our culture that began with him banging on a garbage can on the corner of Farmers Boulevard.”

The Post adds that DJ Z-Trip then led a tribute performance that included a rendition of “Rock the Bells” by Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run-DMC, as well as a take on “Mama Said Knock You Out” by Busta Rhymes and Spliff Star.

Other Kennedy Center honorees for this year include musicians Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan, as well as dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade. All but one of the recipients—television writer and director Norman Lear—are people of color.

The Post notes that President Donald Trump declined to appear at the ceremony after Lear and de Lavallade refused to attend a companion White House reception, which was subsequently canceled. Trump’s absence made him the first sitting U.S. president to skip the awards.