In a statement, Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein praised the "talent and ingenuity" of LL and the rest of the 40th Annual Kennedy Center Honors recipients. "Landmark hip-hop artist LL Cool J taught the world how to rhyme as one of the pioneers of the hip-hop phenomenon," Rubenstein said.
LL reacted to the news with a touching note to fans on Instagram, in which he pointed to his late grandmother as an influence on his career path. "To be the first rap artist honored by the @KennedyCenter is beyond anything I could have imagined," he wrote. "I dedicate this honor to the hip-hop artists who came before me and those who came after me. This simply proves that dreams don't have deadlines."
Gloria Estefan, Lionel Richie, Carmen de Lavallade, and Norman Lear will also be honored at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, D.C. in December. "They are creators of the highest order, and as President Kennedy's living memorial, the Kennedy Center is so proud to shine a light on their boundless 'contributions to the human spirit,'" Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter said.
The gala will air on CBS and the CBS All Access app on Dec. 26.
Jay Z became the first hip-hop artist to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame back in June. In his acceptance speech, delivered on his behalf by Warner Chappell Music CEO Jon Platt, Jay sent an encouraging message to young artists. "To all the songwriters and artists from our community and our generation, Jay would want you to know that this induction is a signal that your time has come and your time is now," Platt said, according to Variety. "He would tell up-and-coming hip-hop artists today that there can be no mistake or question that you are indeed songwriters, and your gift cannot ever be overlooked."