​The very confident LL Cool J

The rapper, actor and Grammy host has made the most of his talent and drive, despite what was said to him back in the day.

CBS News

"What's in a name?" is no idle question when it comes to LL Cool J, who stars in the CBS show, "NCIS: Los Angeles." He's an actor, a rapper, and host of the Grammy Awards. But still, what about that name? Michelle Miller has discussed that with the man himself:

Watching LL Cool J backstage is like watching a boxer getting ready to enter the ring. He gets psyched up . . . gelled up . . . loosened up.

And then, the bell sounds.

Has he ever had a problem with self-confidence? "No, that's never been my issue," he laughed.

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LL Cool J with correspondent Michelle Miller.
CBS News

It's that self-confidence -- together with talent and a lot of drive -- which made him a rap star, then a movie star, then a prime-time star.

And lately he's the face of the Grammys, after winning two of the awards himself. Tonight he'll host the show for the fourth time.

"Do you ever ask yourself, 'Why me? Why did they pick me?''" asked Miller.

"You know, that's a funny question. I'm very grateful. Very, very grateful. But my answer to the other side of that is: Why not me?"

There were plenty of reasons why not. when he was James Todd Smith, growing up in Queens, N.Y., there were plenty of reasons why not. His home life was turbulent. When he was four years old, he saw his father shoot his mother and grandfather in a jealous rage. They both recovered, and while his mother worked multiple jobs, he was largely raised by his grandparents.

"My grandfather exposed me to music, exposed me to different cultures," he said.


When he was 11, his grandfather gave him a $2,000 turntable setup so he could play DJ in the attic. That gift put him on his path.

"I don't know many granddads, or dads, moms, anybody who's going to drop that kind of money," said Miller.

"Yeah, but he was willing to dig deep in his pockets and pay that kind of price just to keep me in the house and keep me out of trouble," said LL.

It was the early '80s; rap was in its infancy, and young Todd wanted in.