LL Cool J, aka James Todd Smith, has gathered 1990s-era hip-hop acts for his Kings of the Mic Tour. Fun fact: LL Cool J is short for Ladies Love Cool James.


LL Cool J wasn't looking to win any popularity contests or to cozy up to radio when he put together the lineup for his Kings of the Mic Tour.

"I was looking for artists who grew up with me and who my fans will appreciate," he said, ticking off the 1990s-era acts that will share the stage with him when the tour kicks off at Casino del Sol's AVA next Thursday: early gangsta rapper Ice Cube; late 1980s alternative hip-hop trio De la Soul; and the politically charged Public Enemy.

"They are going to make it exciting. They are veterans. They're wild on stage, and that's what I want. I want the crowd to be exhausted when they leave," said LL Cool J, aka James Todd Smith.

We spent a few minutes last week on the phone with the rapper, who also stars in the CBS crime procedural "NCIS: Los Angeles," to chat about his just released album "Authentic" and the tour.

The lineup is an interesting survey of almost the evolution of rap music.

"I think hip-hop has gotten to the point where you can own who you are. I don't want to try to use current acts as crutches. It doesn't mean I won't work with a current act; I will. Doesn't mean I won't tour with a current act; I would. But things that I do, I want them to be organic and real and come from my spirit. I don't want to just do contrived stuff. I don't want to be tactical when I make art. I just want to make great music and have fun tours and do my thing."

The new album has a very classic LL Cool J vibe to it.

"That was the whole point - to do music from the heart, work with artists that I truly respect, work with artists that I think move me and would sound great with what I'm doing. To make music again and be truthful. And that's what I did. I didn't want to be a follower. I wanted to lead musically and I wanted to break from the convention of grabbing every new rapper and have them come on my album so I could fit in on radio."

You did a guest shot on country star Brad Paisley's album ("Accidental Racist") and he repaid the favor on yours ("Live For You"). You totally took the twang out of him. He sounds like a soul singer.

"Absolutely, because I wanted Brad to break out of his box same way I broke out of my box on his album, do something people would not expect him to do."

Did you anticipate the fallout "Accidental Racist" brought on?

"No, I didn't expect it, but music is a funny thing. I look at that song like a musical Rorshach test. You listen to it and you hear what you want to hear. Art is very subjective so people can hear literally what they want to hear, and there's nothing you can do about what somebody chooses to hear. ... I feel really good about ultimately how history will look at us."

Hip-hop has found a place in all genres of popular music. Is that a good thing or bad?

"It's great. Rap music has always been about touching different genres. The fact that it has grown to the point where other genres are accepting it and using it to draw from, that's great for hip-hop. But it's also important for hip-hop artists to be true to who they are as artists and not to get caught up in chasing airplanes and chasing trends and chasing whatever's hot at the moment. You can be on the radio spinning all day and make albums that don't mean anything to your fans because it's not based on anything that's true."

So what truth do you hope we will get out of "Authentic"?

"That I am person of many tastes who is all about expanding the mind and soul and embracing all kinds of music to create an experience that is mind-blowing for people. ... I want people to see that I am multidimensional and there's more than meets the eye. It's not just about the guy who takes his shirt off and brags on records. ... There's more to me than that."

Do you still have those ripped abs from your early days and can you still take your shirt off ?

"Yeah, I do. I don't think I would make you terribly uncomfortable by taking my shirt off. "

What can we expect from this show?

"These are the best performers in hip-hop getting out there and doing their thing. It's going to be excitement; lots of fun. You've got to wait and see. I don't want to give the cat away."

If you go

•What: Kings of the Mic Tour, featuring LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Public Enemy and De la Soul.

• When: 8 p.m. next Thursday.

• Where: Casino del Sol's AVA, 5655 W. Valencia Road.

• Tickets: $35 to $85 at tickets.solcasinos.com

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@azstarnet.com or 573-4642.