CLEVELAND — LL Cool J got together some of his heavyweight musical friends to usher him into rock immortality.
Part of an eclectic 2021 class that includes Carole King, Tina Turner, The Go-Gos, Jay-Z, Foo Fighters and Todd Rundgren, Cool J was joined on stage by rapper Eminem and Jennifer Lopez for a powerful performance on Saturday night during the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
With New York street style and swagger, Cool J was one of hip-hops first superstars in the 1980s and remains a relevant artist more than 40 years later.
“What does LL really stand for?” asked rapper/produced Dr. Dre at the opening of his induction speech for his good friend. “Ladies love? Living large? Licking lips? I’m here because I think it stands for living legend.”
Cool J then did a medley of his hits, including “Rock The Bells” accompanied by a bearded Eminem before he was joined by J-Lo for “All I Have.” Cool J wrapped up his blistering performance with one of his biggest hits “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
After the final note, Cool J pointed to a photo of his mother behind the stage and said, “Mom, I made it.”
He was enshrined for for musical excellence along with keyboardist Billy Preston and guitarist Randy Rhoads.
Electronic pioneers Kraftwerk, singer-poet Gil Scott-Heron and Delta blues legend Charley Patton are being inducted as early influencers and Sussex Records founder Clarence Avant is receiving the Ahmet Ertegun Award.
Superstar Taylor Swift opened the show by performing one of King’s best-known songs, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” which appeared on “Tapestry” her seminal 1971 album. It became a soundtrack for a generation and has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide.
Swift gave a moving, heartfelt induction speech for one of her musical idols.
“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know Carole King’s music,” Swift said, saying her parents taught her several important lessons as a child with one of the most important being “that Carole King is the greatest songwriter of all time.”
King thanked Swift “for carrying the torch forward.” She concluded her remarks by noting other female singers and song writers have said they stand on her shoulders.
“Let it not be forgotten,” King said. “They also stand on the shoulders of the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. May she rest in power, Miss Aretha Franklin.”
King then introduced Jennifer Hudson, who did a powerhouse performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” before King sang “You Got A Friend.”
The 81-year-old Turner, who found her greatest success when she left abusive husband Ike Turner, lives in Switzerland and did not attend the ceremony.
“If they’re still giving me awards at 81,” Turner said in a video message. “I must have done something right.”
She was inducted by actress Angela Bassett, who played the magnetic singer and tour de force stage entertainer in the 1993 biopic “What’s Love Got To Do With It.”
Bassett called it “one of the most demanding roles I’ve ever played and one of the most fulfilling. Like Tina, I was a little black girl who had dreams far beyond what the world expected of me.”
Keith Urban and H.E.R. then performed Turner’s “It’s Only Love” a duet Turner did with Bryan Adams before Mickey Guyton sang “What’s Love Got To Do With It” and Christina Aguilera belted “River Deep, Mountain High” one of Turner’s first hits.
This year’s ceremony was held for the first time at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the 20,000-seat home of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and a venue familiar to Jay-Z and Foo Fighters, who have played shows in the arena before.
It was a return to normalcy for the event, which was forced to go virtual in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Artists are not eligible for induction until 25 years after release of their first recording. There are lively debates every year over omissions, and as Public Enemy’s Chuck D noted during a plague induction ceremony on Friday at the hall, patience is sometimes another requirement for entrance.
“It ain’t no overnight thing,” he said. “You can’t stumble into this place.”
That was certainly the case for King, who had been eligible for enshrinement as a solo artist since 1986. She went in previously as a songwriter with Gerry Goffin, her late husband, in 1990.
It was also a long wait for Cool J, who had been nominated six times.