SXSW Interview: LL Cool J and Z-Trip Talk About Their Collaboration, Their High Esteem For The Hip-Hop "Blueprint" and Their Thoughts On Rap's Up-And-Coming Talent.

Categories: Interviews
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Marco Torres, Houston Press
Ladies Love Cool James
Don't call it a comeback: Despite having been absent from performing in the hip-hop world for some time now, legendary rap originator LL Cool J has been around for years, rocking his peers and putting suckers in fear. And, at last night's Red Bull Thre3style event at SXSW, after an earlier set from legendary turntablist DJ Jazzy Jeff, LL made a surprise appearance at the tail-end of headline performer DJ Z-Trip's set.

It was a short offering, lasting just ten minutes or so, and only a few songs long, but the collaboration was a fruitful one, with Z-Trip dropping various beats and LL rhyming his classic lines over the top of them -- like when he spat his "Mama Said Knock You Out" "I Need Love" lines over a chopped-up beat that Z-Trip provided of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama."

After the offering, LL and Z-Trip hugged on stage, with LL promising future collaborations from the twosome in the future, with Z-Trip nodding along in agreement.

A few minutes later, back stage, we caught up with the new collaborators to ask about their future efforts, the preparation that went into this offering, and to hear why they felt it was important to throw their own legendary names onto the SXSW bills otherwise filled with up-and-comers.

"I was just so excited to do this," LL said, still out of breath in a back stage tent. "I've been doing television for so long, and Z actually came at me. It was great. I didn't hear any A&R conversations, no label conversations."

For him, he said, it was just a refreshing experience. And, though he promises future collaborations with Z-Trip down the road, he refrained from getting into specifics.

"I just think we could have a lot of fun and push some boundaries," the legendary emcee said, while throwing accolade after accolade Z-Trip's way, and more than once calling him a "true artist."

Z-Trip was quick to respond in kind, speaking on the fact that, between the two of them, their aim was simple, even if their pre-show conversations had been brief: "To be honest, we didn't speak a lot," he said. "We figured out where we wanted to go and did it."

"It was organic," LL concurred.

"It's funny," Z-Trip continued. "This was the original concept of what hip-hip was based off of -- it's the age-old blueprint, with an emcee rhyming over a DJ's beats. We didn't even have to speak."

To that end, their collaboration was a success -- and one that LL said went a long way toward restoring his faith in hip-hop.

"What happens is you kind of get a little worn down and you run out of gas," he said of the day-to-day hip-hop grind. "With Z-Trip doing his thing on the turntables, it made a big difference. What you saw on stage tonight wasn't intelligent -- it was creative. We might not have broken any new music, but we broke a new chemistry."

Their conversation was, for all intents and purposes, a hip-hop lovefest -- one bolstered when the two caught each other's eyes mid-interview and started throwing compliments each other's way once more.

"This guy's great," LL said.

Z-Trip was less verbose, simply shaking his head, saying "This guy...," and pointing at LL.

It was a far cry from the up-and-coming hip-hop acts so prevalent elsewhere at the festival, for sure. And that was fine by these newfound collaborators, who were content to simply do their own thing on this night.

"A lot of people, the longer they do it, the more they get caught up in criticizing what the artists these days are doing," LL said, dodging a question asking him what he thought of some specific members of the new hip-hop set cropping up. "It's all just arrogance disguised as criticism -- arrogance walking in the club with a mask on."

There were no masks on this night, though. Just a couple of hip-hop legends clearly enjoying a new spark.

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James Hahn II
James Hahn II

*Correction He spit "I Need Love" over Sweet Home Alabama. I can't remember the beat Z-Trip dropped for Mama Said Knock You Out, though.

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