The winner of this year's MTV Video Vanguard Award, LL Cool J (real name: James Todd Smith), is not only one of the biggest-selling rappers ever, he's probably the most diversified. This fall, the 29-year-old artist is starring in the UPN sitcom In the House in addition to releasing his seventh CD, Phenomenon (Def Jam), and publishing his autobiography, I Make My Own Rules (St. Martin's), which details the abuse he suffered as a child and recounts the exploits of a sex symbol who wasn't dubbed "Ladies Love Cool James" for nothing. In 1995 he married his longtime sweetheart, Simone; they now have three children and live in L.A.
As a mainstream star, how do you keep that tie to the street?
I make honest music. I'm not a liar artistically. I don't try and run from the things that have influenced me to do my best work.
How do you avoid the downside of the industry?
I make decisions on what I think is right and wrong, not greed. I treat others the way I want to be treated. I really pay attention to what I'm doing and work hard.
Why write an autobiography now?
I felt if I didn't show people all the bad that I've done and the mistakes I've made, then I wasn't living up to my responsibility. Yo—what if Tupac had a book like this? You never know what could have happened.