To mark its 40th anniversary, the Kennedy center has chosen to honor rapper-turned-actor, James Todd Smith better known by his stage name LL Cool J.
The 49-ear-old star will be inducted with a prestigious 2017 class — including pop stars Gloria Estefan, Lionel Richie, television icon Norman Lear and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade – on Sunday, Dec. 3 at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, D.C organizers announced Thursday.
The awards ceremony at the Kennedy Center which has been scheduled for December 3 will be the first under President Donald Trump. Traditionally, the honorees are received at the White House before the event. The honorees will be saluted by performers while seated alongside President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump.
While Kennedy Center Honors acknowledge the lifetime achievements of contributors to American culture, the list has traditionally been limited in scope. But the inclusion of Cool J, in this year’s honoree list further expands the center’s growing embrace of hip-hop culture.
Earlier this year the center appointed Simone Eccleston as its first director of Hip-Hop Culture after naming A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip as artistic director of Hip-Hop Culture in 2016.
Historic performances by Kendrick Lamar and Common have also underlined the center’s investment, and more programming for the 2017-18 season is expected to be announced in the coming months.
The 49-year-old New Yorker is seen as one of the pioneers of pop rap and was the first rapper to gain 10 consecutive platinum-plus selling albums. He has parlayed his success into an acting career, with a long-running starring role in “NCIS: Los Angeles.”
At 49, LL will be the Kennedy Center’s youngest honoree since Stevie Wonder. It’s a long way from home for the St. Albans, Queens native who made his first record, “I Need A Beat,” at 16, after his demo tape made it to the ears of producer and Def Jam founder Rick Rubin.
In his statement on the Kennedy Center honor, LL credits his grandmother — the same one who inspired his 1990 hit, “Mama Said Knock You Out”;
“My late grandmother passed some wise advice to me: ‘If a task is once begun, never leave it ’til it’s done. Be thy labor great or small, do it well or not at all.’ That adage has guided everything I have ever done in my life and I couldn’t be more grateful because it has led me here,” he says. “To be the first rap artist honored by the Kennedy Center is beyond anything I could have imagined. I dedicate this honor to the hip-hop artists who came before me and those who came after me. This simply proves that dreams don’t have deadlines. God is great.”