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Men's Fall Fashion Issue

Unstuffed Suit

Crossover Artist LL Cool J Wears His Clothes and His Fame in a Style of His Own

September 08, 2002|HEATHER JOHN

What do you get for a man who has nine multi-platinum records, a couple of Grammys, a slew of movie credits and 4,000 hats?

Peppermint tea (with Equal), three salmon burgers, hold the bread, and a side of salad with honey-mustard dressing and candied pecans. "Let's do what we're all thinking," James Todd Smith says politely to the waiter. "Let's put it all on one plate."

James Todd Smith--LL Cool J (Ladies Love Cool James) as his rap music fans know him, or "Mr. Smith," as the snaking tattoo on his right bicep announces, or Todd, as his friends call him--has made a career of having a lot on his plate. He's currently touring for the first time in four years to promote his 10th album ("Ten"), awaiting the release of his romantic comedy film "Deliver Us From Eva" and launching a children's book with a read-along, rap-along CD called "And the Winner Is." Smith, 34, is a man of many, many hats--and most of them are Kangol, if anyone's counting.

Since he exploded onto the music scene at the age of 16, Smith's personal style--the omnipresent Kangol, serious jewelry and baggy clothing such as the Fubu line for which he's a spokesperson and part owner--has come to define the hip-hop look. Though the forthcoming video for his single "Love You Better" might be peppered with Gucci, it surely can't be what Tom Ford had in mind. "You know, no matter how I dress, I still have a hip-hop sensibility," he says. "You can line up three guys wearing the same suit and the vibe is going to be different. If George Clooney and I put on the same suit, he might wear it with a white T-shirt and look more basic. I'm going to be wearing earrings, my watch and my pinky ring, and it's going to look different."

And as with his clothes, Smith's music reflects his personal agenda, which is largely to have fun. "My new album is a party album," he says unapologetically. "People have been having fun for thousands of years and that's not going to change. Everybody can't be on the dark side of the force. Somebody's got to be on the light side. I'm not trying to destroy my life publicly in order to get famous. I'm not going to try to get caught with four guns so I can sell 6 million albums next week. I'm not going to do any of that. I'm just going to be LL Cool J."

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Heather John is a senior Style editor at the magazine.

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