LL Cool J becomes first hip-hop artist honored at Kennedy Center as an American pop-culture pioneer
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Grammy-winning rapper LL Cool J made history on Dec. 3 at the 40th Annual Kennedy Center Honors by becoming the first hip-hop artist to be recognized for the esteemed accolade. The Kennedy Center Honors recognizes members of the performing arts who have made lifetime achievements in American pop culture. Joining LL Cool J on this year’s prestigious roster of Kennedy Center Honorees are legendary R&B singer-songwriter and producer Lionel Richie, Cuban-American songstress Gloria Estefan, iconic television producer and writer Norman Lear and dancer-choreographer Carmen de Lavallade.

Receiving a Kennedy Center Honor has been compared to earning a British knighthood. As a national honor, it is one of the highest American honors an artist can receive. 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of the Kennedy Center Honors. With a career spanning more than three decades, New York native rapper LL Cool J has been hailed as a hip-hop pioneer. He’s released 13 studio albums, has multiple acting credits in both film and TV, and has won dozens of awards including two Grammy Awards out of nine nominations.

LL Cool J’s 1985 debut studio album Radio received widespread critical acclaim and has been heavily lauded for its innovation. It was one of the first records to blend hip-hop and rap vocals with rock music-style riffs. Hence, it helped pioneer the rap rock sound. His next album, Bigger and Deffer, notably topped Billboard’s R&B Albums chart for 11 weeks.

The “I Need Love” singer went on to cement himself as an icon in the genre. Per NPR, Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning actress and Grammy-winning rap artist Queen Latifah paid tribute to LL Cool J before he received his Kennedy Center Honor. Questlove and Black Thought from Q-Tip and The Roots were there to support him. Busta Rhymes, DMC, and DJ Z-Trip delivered a musical tribute.

"Each of this year's Honorees became known to and loved by the world because of their complete originality and bold genius," said Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter in a press statement. "They are creators of the highest order, and as President Kennedy's living memorial, the Kennedy Center is proud to shine a light on their boundless 'contributions to the human spirit.'"

LL Cool J joins an elite list of previous Kennedy Center Honorees across music history including Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., Bruce Springsteen, Buddy Guy, Tony Bennett, Tina Turner, Barbra Streisand, Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney, Neil Diamond, Brian Wilson, Dolly Parton and more.

The 40th Annual Kennedy Center Honors will air in a two-hour primetime special on Tuesday, Dec. 26 at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT on CBS. Stay tuned to AXS for LL Cool J information and updates.