LL Cool J grew up fast, and with that came wisdom that was beyond his years.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey for "Oprah's Next Chapter," the hip-hop legend explained how he beat the odds and made it big, becoming a platinum-selling recording artist by the age of 17. But along the way he encountered some horrific challenges that forced him to think outside the box.
When he was four years old, LL witnessed his father shoot his mother and grandfather. Both survived, and his mother later forgave her ex-husband for what he had done. The rapper told Oprah: "My mother forgave my father. He came back into my life and made amends for a lot of things by helping to guide me through my music career early on. My father made a massive blunder, but he also did a lot of things right. I have learned to hand out the mercy that I like to receive."
At age 14, while watching a group of friends smoking pot, the future star had an epiphany that many kids that age don't: "There must be more to life than this," he said.
But perhaps the most telling example of his unique way of thinking was at age 7, when the he suffered physical abuse at the hands of a male friend of his mother's. (The rapper detailed beatings with vacuum cleaner pipes and being stripped naked and kicked out of the house into the snow). He got through the torture with this mantra: "This is terrifying, but no one can get inside my mind."
Indeed, inside LL's imaginary world everything was perfect, and that's what got him through the tough times.
When he got his first big paycheck, he admits he went a little crazy with the spending; at one point he had 10 cars parked outside of his grandma's house, where he still lived, causing the neighbors to speculate that he was dealing drugs. "When you get a pretty decent check at 16, you're pretty much crazy anyway," he said. "It's like being 16 with an unlimited allowance."
And while the man nicknamed "Ladies Love Cool James" admits he was "naughty" when it came to the ladies -- in his early days, anyway -- by the late 1990's he was settled down and married with children. His wife Simone, also on hand for the Oprah interview, calls their marriage "awesome." (One sticking point: Her husband had to tone things down; Simone is not fan of the wiggly women in the rapper's "Doin' It" video, and says she didn't speak to him for two weeks after she first saw it.)
The two-time Grammy host (after hosting in 2012, he's set to emcee this year's festivities) had the enormous task of addressing the death of Whitney Houston at last year's ceremony, and he chose to do it the only way he knew how.
"The only way to address the elephant in the room was through prayer," he told Oprah. "I'm Christian, I'm a believer." (Check out the words to his moving prayer here.)
He also talked about the intruder that broke into his L.A. home last summer. The "Mama Said Knock You Out" rapper took matters into his own hands, and says of the incident: "It's one of those things that leaves a stain on your soul. You don't know what you'll do to protect your family until you're put in that position. You become another person."
At age 45, LL is about to release his first album in five years. "Authentic Hip -Hop" is due out on Feb. 12. But lest you think he plans to surround himself with a posse of 15-year-old rappers to appeal to young audiences, think again.
"My fans grew up with me," he said. "I'm not necessarily singing to their kids. I'm singing to them."
And he dropped these final words of wisdom, which show he's still thinking big: "I'm a big believer that dreams don't have deadlines. You have to envision … and then a little grace in your life. Some grace helps. I couldn't have mapped all of this out."
"Oprah's Next Chapter" airs on Sundays at 9/8c on OWN.
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