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LL Cool J celebrates Grammy-hosting gig at dinner

LOS ANGELES – LL Cool J spent the night before the Grammy Awards sipping Hennessy with some of his famous friends.

The 45-year-old rapper-actor and returning Grammy host was the guest of honor Saturday at a private dinner sponsored by the liquor brand. Celebrities such as Mark Cuban, Michael Bolton, Neil Patrick Harris, Mark Burnett, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Gene Simmons were among those who raised a glass when LL Cool J proposed a toast to “success in every form.”

“All kinds of wealth. Not just money, but the wealth of wisdom, the wealth of happiness, the wealth of joy, the wealth of love. That’s why we’re here,” he said at the intimate gathering at the Bazaar by Jose Andres at the SLS Hotel, where the menu featured cocktails frozen with liquid nitrogen and 14 different dishes. “We want to have a good time, we want to enjoy ourselves, and we want to have some fun tomorrow as we celebrate music.”

LL Cool J is set to host the 55th annual Grammy Awards Sunday at Staples Center. He’ll also perform on the show, debuting a song from his forthcoming album, “Authentic,” due in May. He’ll be joined on stage by Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker, DJ Z-Trip and Chuck D of Public Enemy, who also appear on the album.

The album, his first in five years, is taking him in new directions musically.

“It doesn’t sound like I’m playing catch-up with what’s going on now. It doesn’t sound like I’m trying to do whatever it is that one would think hip-hop is doing now. It’s just me being LL,” he said. “I made an LL Cool J album. There’s no limits. The governor’s off. I’m going to experiment. I’m going to work with different people – people you would expect, people you wouldn’t expect – and just do some great stuff, hopefully.”

He released his first album, “Radio,” in 1985 when he was still a teenager, never envisioning a path that would take him to the Grammy stage.

“When my first records came out, they weren’t even eligible for a Grammy. That’s how far the Grammys have come,” he said. “The first decade of my career, or maybe even more, rap wasn’t really seriously a contender in the Grammys. At a certain point we got a category, but that was just kind of up in the air, it wasn’t televised, etc. So this is amazing for me.”