LL Cool J Reveals the Sweet Reason He Lent His Kehinde Wiley Portrait to the Smithsonian (Exclusive)

The vibrant painting depicting the rapper is currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery



LL Cool J

LL Cool J has already cemented his place in hip-hop history, but now he has brought that same legacy to the halls of the Smithsonian.

In an exclusive conversation ahead of the release of his book, The Streets Win: 50 Years of Hip Hop Greatness on Oct. 3, the Grammy Award-winning lyricist opens up about his decision to lend his sizable Kehinde Wiley portrait to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. — a move he says that he made for the sake of his family.

“I had a painting by Kehinde Wiley. It was done for me for the commission for the hip-hop honors,” LL Cool J, 55, shares with PEOPLE. “It was actually commissioned. Fab 5 Freddy set it up, and I purchased my painting. It's this ginormous portrait of me.”

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Upon receiving the portrait, LL Cool J says it could only be described as “unbelievable.”

“I put it in my house, and I walked in, and I was like, ‘Yo, this is crazy.’ It was taking up a whole wall. And it was me staring at the whole family,” he explains. But to the rapper, this massive homage to himself displayed prominently in his family’s home was a bit too much.

“It felt like it was leaning... It would lean on their dreams a little bit. It could inspire, and make them aspire, but it'd also go either way,” he says of his thoughts regarding the portrait’s impact on his family’s psyche.

What does one do when they have a Wiley painting the size of a wall that needs a home? Pass it on to The Smithsonian, of course.

“I ended up loaning it to the Smithsonian, so people could see it, beautifully framed, hanging in the National Portrait Gallery,” he tells PEOPLE, adding, “I think that's a great, obviously, institution for me to loan it to.”

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While LL Cool J considers the homage to himself in the Smithsonian to be “beautiful,” he is also aware of how his family benefits from the painting finding a different home.

“To me, that's an example of being there for your family,” he shares. “For a person who's, maybe, not doing what I'm doing, maybe the version is you try your best to have a man cave. Or, maybe this particular week you watch the game on your phone and let them have the big TV.”

All-in-all, the “Going Back to Cali” rapper made the decision to display his art in the Smithsonian in an effort to “just try to give the family space.”

LL Cool J by Wiley is currently on view at the National Portrait Gallery.

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