LL Cool J on the Women in His Life

02/05/2004 at 10:26 AM EST

Grammy nominee LL Cool J, who's up for best rap/song collaboration category (for "Luv U Better") tells PEOPLE that he's hoping things go smoothly at this Sunday's big event -- just as was the case those previous times he's attended the ceremony.

"I've never seen anything crazy," says the rap pioneer, 35. "Hopefully, this isn't the year something crazy happens. It's just been pretty basic." So basic, in fact, "I got a chance to take my grandmother before she died. That was kind of fly."

His grandmother, in fact, exerted quite the influence on the Queens, N.Y.-born artist, who was born James Todd Smith but who gained the nickname because "Ladies Love Cool James."

"My grandmother used to tell me, 'Don't put all your eggs in one basket,' but that didn't discourage me," he says, adding fondly, "I used to give my awards to my grandmother. but I can't do that anymore."

And despite his reputation as a ladies' man -- in fact, he and the former Symone Smith have been married since August 1995 and have four children -- he sweetly remembers his first date as "more like a girl coming backstage hanging out. I didn't really (go to someone's house and ring the doorbell), ding-dong, how you doing, my name is ...."

Instead, he recalls "I was kind of baptized by fire. One blind date I remember getting into a cab and riding over to the girl's house and as soon as I got out the car I said, 'You think I'm ugly?' She said, 'No, no.' I said, 'Okay, now we can continue.'"

As he surmised: "I just wanted to make sure off the bat because I didn't want to waste a lot of time and energy you know with a lot of corny jokes and extra drama if she was sitting there like, 'Ewww.'"

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