Leann Muller

After a five-year break from music, LL Cool J returns with Authentic.

For a guy who got famous rapping about how he couldn’t live without his radio, LL Cool J (born James Todd Smith) has been conspicuously absent from the airwaves. His last album (2008’s aptly titled Exit 13) marked his 13th and final release under Def Jam Recordings, the label he helped establish as the ultimate hip-hop powerhouse.

Since then, he’s been rocking a different medium, starring opposite Chris O’Donnell on NCIS: Los Angeles.

Now the 45-year-old is getting back into the music biz — but holding onto his TV gig — with Authentic (429 Records, $11), an album dedicated to the fans who have followed him through his nearly 30-year career.

American Way recently spoke with the hip-hop legend about his break from music, his comeback and how the industry has changed.

American Way: Why did you take such a long hiatus from music?
LL Cool J: The break gave me time to see what was going on with the music industry. I wasn’t interested in running around looking for a record deal. This truly has become a business. It’s really different from Rick Rubin, Russell Simmons and myself sitting in a room and talking about music.

AW: Why did you decide that this was the right time to come back?
LL: I felt like I’d laid back long enough. All of the bruised blood had washed out of my system. I didn’t want to make a record and be angry at the industry. My motto is: “Don’t be bitter; get better!” So I cleared my mind and decided to make some music. Ultimately, if we’re going to leave footprints on the planet, you’ve got to create from your heart. Plus, I wasn’t hearing a lot of hip-hop that gave me goose bumps.

AW: What do you hope this record will convey to fans who have stuck with you?
LL: I just want them to be entertained. I can give no more of myself than that. If I create something that people enjoy in their cars, on headphones or on systems in their living rooms, I’ve done my job.

AW: Will we see you on tour soon?
LL: We’re talking about touring this summer. I want to get out there and play all my classic records, then give them three to five songs they’ve never heard before. Although I’m getting some support on radio, the industry’s so different now. In order for people to hear my music, I have to make sure it’s online and get out and play it. You’ve got to feel that passion and aura of experiencing the music. I can’t wait.