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LL Cool J among 2017 Kennedy Center Honors

WASHINGTON  LL Cool J became the first hip-hop artist ever to receive the Kennedy Center Honors, the nation's highest distinction for performers, as artists ranging from Queen Latifah to Uniondale native Busta Rhymes paid tribute to his career Sunday night.

The 49-year-old born James Todd Smith was honored along with singer-songwriters Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan, TV creator Norman Lear and dancer/actress Carmen de Lavallade for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' 40th annual event.

"LL was iconic from the start," The Roots' Questlove said in his tribute. "He pioneered the whole aesthetic of being an MC. He invented the three-minute rap song. He was a superstar who got to the top and then had to defend his honor like a championship boxer."

As is tradition for the Kennedy Center Honors, LL did not speak at the ceremony, which will air on CBS at 8 p.m. Dec. 26. However, he did accept his award at a State Department dinner Saturday night. "I never dreamed that I would ever be in a position to be able to talk to a room like this with all these beautiful people," he said. "What you're looking at is what every young black man in the inner city could potentially be if they were given the opportunity and if somebody put their arm around them."

On the red carpet before the event, LL said he wanted to use this honor to help bring a focus to the arts, brushing aside questions about it being the first time in the awards' history that neither the sitting president nor the first lady was involved in the event. After Lear and de Lavallade said they would not attend the event if President Donald Trump attended, the Trump administration decided to skip this year.

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