Reflection Section: Behind The Music – LL Cool J, Huey Lewis and the News

by Jordan Mark

For this Reflection Section, I’m looking back at the second and third episodes of the new Behind The Music series that showed LL Cool J and Huey Lewis and the News respectively.

While I knew a few things about LL Cool J before watching the episode, I never realized he’d been known as a carefree rapper that didn’t talk about the issues his fellow contemporaries did. His burly body frame nowadays made me think he would have tackled serious issue at some point in his career. In his defense, one of the things I did know about him before watching was his participation in a campaign encouraging people to vote, so it’s not like he just did indulgent things. It just makes me that much more blind-sided by his perception.

From him witnessing his mother being shot by his father at a young age to being Def Jam’s first artist, LL Cool J took all that energy and became a force in the increasingly popular hip-hop world. The idea that he lost his touch with that world is a little laughable at this point, not just from a success standpoint, having earned a Grammy for “Mama Said Knock You Out” as a response to those seeing his softer image as a cop-out to “real” hip-hop culture, but also from the idea that LL Cool J was never trying to represent hip-hop culture to begin with (though I will side with the critics in regard to his 13th album Authentic, originally titled Authentic Hip-Hop, to not live up to the title). His intention was to represent himself.

Even as he ventured through successful acting and branding, LL Cool J maintained a type of tenacity that also carried him through hardships in his life. Being at a crossroads of sowing his oats, despite having children with his then-girlfriend (now wife). His father, after reconnecting and being his manager, not speaking to him for two decades when he cut ties with him. As he (and Eminem) put it, he was “evolutionizing.” Had he not, he might have not been where he is today: a Kennedy Center Honors recipient, a successful actor, a family-man, and a hip-hop cultivator; not just a hip-hop cultivator.

Huey Lewis and the News were the subject of the third episode. Despite the implication, only Huey Lewis gives a new interview. Various members of the News giving interviews were still shown, but only through older footage. In addition to Huey Lewis, comedian Jimmy Kimmel and actor Topher Grace were also interviewed. (Even with COVID-19, Paramount can sure pull in the big guests!) The largest takeaway was how sad it was to hear how both of his ears had been impaired. (That, and my opinion of him looking more handsome without glasses and facial hair.)

Throughout my life, I’ve always seen people talk about never fitting in a group when they were growing up, and Huey Lewis is no different. In fact, feeling out-of-place was uniquely constant throughout his life. From a physical standpoint, he needed shots for earaches as a kid; a social standpoint, when he transferred to a prep school after growing up in a Bohemian environment; a musical standpoint when he joined the loosely-defined band Clover. Despite situations like these, Huey Lewis made the most of them, finding light in darkness.

To bring it back to my takeaway, even with Ménière’s disease making him destined to never be able to perform again (post COVID-19 world included), he still was hopeful in not letting that stop him. It’s always a shame whenever someone who positively impacts the world gets a setback they don’t deserve, and while the odds of doing live concerts are against him, contributions such as being involved in The Heart of Rock & Roll musical are never going to separate Huey Lewis from performance. After all, this is the same guy that, to me, finds light in darkness.

Keep an eye out for the next Reflection Section where I’ll look at the next two episodes featuring Busta Rhymes and Duran Duran, respectively.