When I was eight years old, I started going back and forth between Queens and North Babylon, Long Island, every summer. Sometimes my mom, who worked two jobs, would have my next-door neighbors, the McCulloughs, babysit me.

The McCulloughs lived in a big brown and beige house on a dead end. They were from South Carolina and would grow all kinds of vegetables in an empty lot on the side of the house. On any given day, the smell of fried chicken, barbecue, greens and macaroni and cheese would come spilling out of the house.

They had two kids of their own, Ivan and Andy. There were also their foster kids from all over the city: Wayne, Eric, Todd, Raynard, Tracey and Kenny, who had all gotten Cold Crush Brothers and Force MC tapes from their different neighborhoods.

We were all friends, but Kenny and I hung out a little more and started rapping together. I still remember my first rhyme: When you get off the wall and you bust your balls and you skipbideebop di do, I’m gonna rock ya’ up, I’m gonna rock ya down, I’m gonna do it just for you. For those of you who don’t know me, I’ll be the famous rappin’ rapper T.

We eventually formed a group. I called myself Silver Streak, and Kenny was Sold Gold (LOL).

During those summers, I received my doctorate level education about the Cold Crush Brothers, Force MCs, Treacherous Three, Fearless Four, Crash Crew, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. While other kids my age were more interested in all kinds of childhood things, I was laser-beam focused on Hip-Hop–with a sprinkling of football.

I’d write a rap in my grandparent’s basement in Queens, finish it, and start right back over again. I’d get an idea, find whatever I could get in my hands to write on, grab a pen or pencil, and repeat the process. I wrote rhyme after rhyme after rhyme and practiced consistently for years. I eventually filled up a whole bunch of garbage bags, suitcases, shoe boxes, and cardboard boxes with rhymes. I dreamed daily of making it big. I used to stare at the vinyl spinning and wonder what it was like on the other side of that magical world.

It took me a while to find a name. I was Silver Streak, Rapper T, MC Deluxe, Lord Supreme, J-Ski, Cool J, and Ladies Love Cool James. I finally settled on LL COOL J only because Ladies Love Cool James was too long for the physical record labeling. I would go to sleep at night imagining that girls loved me and that I had the hottest records in the world spinning all over the radio all day long.

When I was sixteen years old, I eventually recorded a demo with Frankie Forbes (aka DJ Spinmaster Finesse) in his basement in Queens. We were both too eager to learn how to program the drum machine, so we played the drum machine manually. The instrumental of the demo was a pause tape, and we overdubbed the scratching and the rhymes. The demo had two songs: the original version of “I Need a Beat” and a re-do of Rose Royce’s “I Wanna Get Next to You.”

LL COOL J book cover

I used to go to the record store. If I couldn’t buy the record, I would copy down the information of any record that I thought could potentially be a rap song. My friends and I all loved T la Rock’s “It’s Yours,” so I saved my money and went to the store and bought it. I sent a demo into the address on the label like I always did: 5 University Place, 8th Floor, Weinstein Hall Dormitory. I’d also call the phone number. Sometimes, Rick Rubin would answer; sometimes, he wouldn’t. I’d get the answering machine: “This is Rick. No one’s here. Leave a message.” And I’d do just that: “Yo, this is COOL J. Did you get my demo yet?”

I did this for about five days straight.

Unbeknownst to me, Ad-Rock of Beastie Boys listened to all the demos. He found my tape, liked it, and let Rick hear it. The rest is history. Or should I say, the rest is the history that we made.

LL COOL J Presents: The Streets Win: 50 Years of Hip-Hop Greatness is available in stores October 3.