Menlo News March 30, 2023

Hip-Hop Legend LL COOL J Inspires Students in Virtual Visit

The artist, actor, and activist fielded thoughtful questions and offered advice

LL COOL J, two-time Grammy winner, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, and first-ever hip-hop artist to receive the Kennedy Center Honor, dialed into the Spieker Center via Zoom to engage in a wide-ranging conversation with Margaret Ramsey’s Lyric and Lifeline class. He answered questions and shared some wisdom, while leaving students in the senior elective feeling inspired and even a little starstruck.

Ramsey’s Lyric and Lifeline explores hip-hop’s origin story from a historical, political, spiritual, and economic perspective and often welcomes artists and activists to share their perspectives. Previous visits have included Bay Area rap artist Bukue One and a beat-making workshop with Hip Hop for Change.

Students prepared questions for the rap legend, asking LL COOL J advice about how to transition into adulthood after high school, how he has stayed true to his roots as he became more and more successful, and how he still manages to find inspiration even when the industry has changed so much. When he was asked about his philanthropic work, particularly his community basketball initiative Jump & Ball, LL emphasized the importance of giving back and never forgetting where you came from.

“I’m from the inner city. Queens, New York. In our neighborhood, there was not a lot to do, and a lot of people ended up in trouble because of it,” he said. “My grandmother used to tell me, ‘An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.’ That’s why I started Jump & Ball, so some of these kids can learn real basketball skills from some of the best coaches in the city. The most important things about sports are what you can learn from them: determination, how not to give up even when there’s a struggle, how to hang in there when things are tough, how to be humble when you’re victorious, and how not to be overly hard on yourself when you lose. Always remember you have the opportunity to incorporate what you learned from failure and turn it into a future success.”

Responding to a student who asked about whether or not he thinks about his own legacy, LL COOL J shared, “No one gets to choose their legacy. No one can determine their legacy. Your job is to maximize your potential and let the world and history decide. Keep making good choices and doing things that align with your goals and your spirit.”

“As expected, LL COOL J was awesome,” shared Ramsey. “The students left the class full of smiles and joy and were genuinely inspired by what he had to say. They were particularly impressed that while he was encouraging and optimistic, he was also realistic. LL COOL J believes in chasing your dreams, but he also reminded them to be strategic and to think about their capabilities. They especially liked it when he suggested ‘not trying out for a dunk contest if you have a three-inch vertical jump.’”

When a student asked him about technology and advancements in Artificial Intelligence, LL had a profound reply that doubled as a life-lesson: “When you get out into the world, I’d encourage you all to remember what fulfills you. All of you deserve an opportunity to do something that’s fulfilling. I’m pro-technology, but human beings count, especially when we’re talking about art and creativity. This is soul stuff. We have souls. We can’t forget about our souls. Culture is about serving the soul and that comes from human connection.”

By all accounts, the students agreed: “That was like chicken soup for my soul,” one student remarked as she headed to her next class.