LL Cool J admits "it's devastating" after learning the grandparents who raised him were not his biological match. He also confessed he previously had doubts about their relationship without any visible features linking them to him.
“My family is a very interesting family,” LL Cool J once told Oprah Winfrey. He was speaking about his childhood and the tragic incident when his father shot his mother and grandfather. At the time he spoke to the media mogul, he had no inkling that he would later learn a family secret that would further justify his opinion about them.
A few years ago, in an episode of “Find My Roots,” LL, whose real name is James Todd Smith discovered that his maternal grandparents who raised him had no biological relations with him. More surprising, his mother, Ondrea Griffith had no idea.
The show hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. specialized in using DNA technology to trace family roots. After undergoing standard DNA testing, the results revealed Ondrea was born out of a different family tree.
Ondrea revealed she was always suspicious about not being genetically related to her mother. This study proved her instincts were right.
The process of learning about LL's roots was tedious. Ondrea's DNA was first matched against two million registered in a DNA database which turned up a surprising result. LL’s mom’s genetic makeup was relevantly similar to a woman named Joan Lewis whose name didn’t appear in Ondrea’s family lineage. The ratio of their match suggested Joan may have been Ondrea’s first cousin. This would mean that one of Joan’s aunts or uncles had to be Ondrea’s parent and that Ellen or her husband, Eugene Griffith was not.
When LL learned about these details, he said, “It’s a little devastating.” However, he believed it was a blessing that Ellen and Eugene turned out to be “so loving and so kind.
With further DNA testing, the show discovered none of Ellen or Eugene’s existing family members matched Ondrea’s DNA. Thus, it was clear she’d been adopted by the Griffiths and they never told her about it. Ondrea revealed she was always suspicious about not being genetically related to her mother. This study proved her instincts were right.
When LL learned about these details, he said, “It’s a little devastating.” However, he believed it was a blessing that Ellen and Eugene turned out to be “so loving and so kind.” He also admitted wondering why he would “feel the love” but that they didn’t share any similarities physically. This was also the reason why he decided to get on "Find My Roots" which uncovered more secrets as they dug deeper.
By tracing Joan’s roots, they learned that one of her uncles (she had no aunts) was LL’s grandfather and his name was Nathaniel Cristy Lewis. Ondrea would also learn that she had half-siblings with her biological father whose photo reveals a striking resemblance to LL.
Moreover, a birth certificate of Ondrea showed she was born Andra Jolly in 1946 to Nathaniel and her real mother, Ethel Mae Jolly. She was renamed Ondrea Griffith when Ellen and Eugene adopted her the year after.
“I can understand why they didn’t tell her. They didn’t want her to feel like she didn’t belong.”
“That’s heavy,” LL says and sighs after learning the whole truth about his family. It was something he said he never expected, that there was a whole other tree he came from.
The uncovered secret may have altered LL’s version of his family but it doesn’t change how he felt about Eugene and Ellen.
"This doesn't change how I feel about people that raised me. I respect Eugene Griffith. I respect Ellen Hightower Griffith. They did so well for us. I have more love and respect for them than I have ever."
LL also understood why his grandparents opted to keep Ondrea in the dark about her adoption.
“I can understand why they didn’t tell her. They didn’t want her to feel like she didn’t belong. They didn't want us to feel like we didn't belong.”
LL was only four years old when he was awakened by a horrific scene in their home. In a fit of rage, LL’s father, James Smith, shot Ondrea and Eugene
LL holds his grandparents at high regard because they practically raised him. He lived with them after his mother left his father following a tragic incident.
LL was only four years old when he was awakened by a horrific scene in their home. In a fit of rage, LL’s father, James Smith, shot Ondrea and Eugene. According to the rapper, he heard a moaning sound and the next thing he saw was his mother with a gunshot in her back and Eugene hurt in the stomach.
LL later tells Oprah, the incident which both his mother and grandfather survived could have left him scarred but he opted to take the path of forgiveness, the same way his mother did.
“My mother forgave my father…he came back into my life and made amends,” the rapper said. He even helped LL with his music career.
For LL, his decision to forgive his father was simple because of one important lesson.
“I’ve learned to hand out the mercy that I’d like to receive."
We couldn’t agree with LL more when he said his family was interesting. More importantly, we salute him for taking both the tragic shooting and the revelation of his true roots in stride. Many would be scarred by these events but the rapper just proved he isn't LL "Cool" J for nothing.