By Brian Ives
If you get a chance to sit down with Ice-T—born Tracy Marrow—you’ll quickly realize that his personality and philosophy veer from the list of usual assumed talking points — i.e. the “Cop Killer” controversy, early gangster rapper, Law and Order.
Over the course of our interview, Ice delved into topics such as the decline of manhood (hence the title of his metal band Body Count‘s new album, Manslaughter), his support of veteran’s causes (he is, in fact, a vet), the importance of work (even if it’s illegal) and why you have to watch out that you don’t get “Oprahed.”
We did eventually get on the topic of the police, to which Ice-T said, “Cops are human beings.” It seems that at 56 years old, it’s really the men of today whom Ice has beef with. He’d like to see them just stand up and express their opinions, but for now, he’s going to attempt to do it all on his own. “I’m just trying to put balls back into music.”
Radio.com: What inspired the song “Manslaughter”?
Ice-T: I’m just looking at manhood now. People are afraid to have an opinion. If they have an opinion, they might lose some ‘likes’ on Facebook! It’s the ‘p—y-ification’ of males. I’m not talking about gay men. I’m not talking about women. I’m talking about men not standing up, having some balls, and being about something. I just miss that aggression in the rock days when I was coming up, bands that were about something. I’m from the era of Rage Against the Machine, they opened for us here in New York. Punk, Black Flag. You couldn’t just come on stage and yell, you had to push something. Maybe I’m just trying to put balls back into music.
Hip-hop also seems to have lost its aggression over the years.
It’s gone. Right now, hip-hop is basically materialistic bulls–t. A pop bubble full of bulls–t. You’re creating this belief that everybody’s drinking champagne and driving around in Maybachs. But the majority of them aren’t. The [artists] who aren’t, are faking it. They’re basically turning into the people we hated when we started to rap. The people who flaunted their money and threw it at you. We’re turning into that. In rap, there’s room for songs about nonsense, there’s room for songs about clubbin’, but there’s also room to make change. You’ve got to have something in the lyrics that is about something. Even on this album, Manslaughter, it isn’t a political record, I don’t even reference the government. Some of the songs have no meaning…but then there are songs that are about something. That’s missing in hip-hop.
“I Will Always Love You” is about veterans. You’ve gotten involved with the organization Veterans Matter, and you’re a vet, but that’s not that well known.
Yeah, I’m a vet, I always wanted to do a song about the military experience, and I wanted to do it with military jargon so the vets would feel it. Like, if you do a song about prison, and you can talk the lingo, then cats know you’ve been to the joint. So, when I’m talking about ‘A.I.T.’—that’s Advanced Individual Training—or ‘downrange’—that’s what they call it when you go to war—all the different terms that I use, it’s my way of saying, ‘I’m talking your language, guys.’ My thing is, whether we’re misdirected in our wars, or whether we’re fighting for the wrong thing, you’ve still got to respect the kids going over there, they believe they’re doing the right thing. They’re nineteen, they’re 20, they’re 25, they’re coming home with their legs blown off, now they can’t even find a place to live, they’re unemployed. It’s a sad state. Our government will have you risk your life, and when you come home, there’s no reward. They turn their back on you. It’s like, if you’re not gonna re-enlist, we don’t care about you anymore.
You seem to champion a certain kind of traditional values on the song “Get a Job.”
I used to get up at five in the morning and drive to work. And then like, 12 in the afternoon, my friends would call me and be like, ‘I need some money.’ You slept ’til 12! The lyrics, ‘Stop begging, get a job. Get a gun! Go rob somebody!’ Go do something! At least make an effort! I remember one time, my daughter had a boyfriend and he wanted to borrow some money. And I was like, ‘Get him a ski mask and a starter pistol! Tell him to call me from jail. Let me at least see some type of effort.’ But that’s the humor of Body Count. Body Count is grindhouse. It’s over the top. It’s ultraviolent. It’s ultra-sexual. To the point that it can’t be taken seriously. We’re not a rock band that wants to convince you that we’re dead serious about things. Even go back to the first record ‘Smoked Pork.‘ ‘Well, I’m just eating these donuts!’ It’s dark f–ked up Ice-T humor. But there’s a point there. It’s not meant to be taken literally. I had someone come up to me and say, “Well, how come on the ‘Talk S–t, Get Shot’ video, you only shot white people?” And I’m like, ‘Well, the video director only brought white people to shoot.’ I didn’t tell him who to bring. My stuff has always been very based on humor.
You cover Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized,” but you changed the lyrics to fit your life today, talking about your wife bugging you about playing too much XBox, having a vegan criticize what you’re eating and trying to retrieve an online password. And getting “Oprahed.”
You gotta pay homage to Suicidal Tendencies. Suicidal was the first band to connect the gangster/skater thing. Mike Muir is a beast. We have the same look. ‘Institutionalized’ is a masterpiece! ‘All I wanted was a Pepsi!’ Small world — the guy who did a lot of my early album covers, Glen E. Friedman, used to manage Suicidal and produced their first album. So when we went to get the rights for the song, we’re calling our buddy up! Who happens to be a vegan! ‘God, Ice, why’d you go so hard on the vegans!’ I just wanted to rant. So I picked some targets, like Oprah. We had a term, ‘Getting Oprahed.’ That’s when you come home from work and your wife has been watching daytime television, and you get broadsided: ‘You’re eating too much celery, you’re gonna get cancer!’ ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘I saw it on Oprah!’
‘Getting Oprahed’ is getting broadsided by daytime TV. The first rant about the XBox, that’s not my real life. My wife doesn’t have a problem with me playing XBox, her theory is, ‘At least I know where he is.’ Then I talk about the internet, who hasn’t had a password problem? At the end of the record, we made sure to say, ‘Suicidal!’ We wanted to make sure no [younger] kids thought I invented that song. I want them to say: ‘Suicidal? What did he mean when he said that? Oh, that’s a band.’ Maybe it will help them to sell some records.
Which brings me to “99 Problems.” You did the original version of that on your 1993 hip-hop album, Home Invasion. Then Jay Z did his own adaptation, but never really talked about you in interviews, he didn’t really give you any props.
He didn’t steal it. Here’s the original story behind ’99 Problems,’ a guy named Brother Marquis from 2 Live Crew, he made the hook. We were talking about “Whoomp! There It Is!” [by Tag Team] which was a big hit, and he said, ‘Man, all the days when I was in Magic City and the girls would bend over and the DJs would say, “Whoomp! There it is!” It was the phrase that pays!’ And then out of nowhere he said, ‘Man, I got 99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one!’ I said, ‘That’s a song [title]!’ So I made the song and called him to do a verse on it. [Years later], Chris Rock heard the song, and told Rick Rubin that Jay Z should remake it. They paid for the publishing and they made the song. Why Jay Z never said, ‘This is Ice-T’s song,’ and showed me some love, I don’t know. I’m friends with Jay, I met him with Big Daddy Kane. I would have handled the situation differently. If I use your music, I want to let people know. You hear my song “Shut Up, Be Happy,” that’s Black Sabbath in the background. I think that being a real life player, there’s nothing you like better than to give props with other people. That’s just what you should do. But you know, that’s how I get down.
The song “Pop Bubble” mentions Kim Kardashian and her family, but you’ve said it’s not a diss to them.
That’s not a diss on the Kardashians, it’s just an observation. You know, yeah, I said guys went from ‘Fight the Power’ to ‘What does Kim have on today?’ I said, ‘What the fuck is going on right now?’ 99% of the news today is gossip, its not really things that are going on. And now you have the real news organizations like CNN, giving up gossip. Once CNN, or CBS, or NBC bring me a story that was first aired on TMZ, the world’s fucked up. Ya’ll are going to TMZ? You’re the news! We’re not all driving in Rolls-Royces drinking champagne. There’s an economic crisis. You have homelessness. You’ve got unemployment, but the music does not reflect that and I’m not even talking about rap, I’m talking across the board. Nobody’s thinking about it. It’s hard to believe in [rock] groups today. Like, you’re a fan, what do you like about them? ‘I just like their songs.’ But what do you like about them? I’m from a generation when you knew why you loved Chuck D, you was behind him. I would love to see a 19-year-old Public Enemy coming out. I’d like to see the next 17 year old KRS-One to come out and tell everybody to kiss his a– and talk some s–t.
Chuck has been pretty critical of hip-hop radio.
[Quotes Public Enemy’s 1988 classic “Rebel Without a Pause”] ‘Radio! Suckers never play me!’ Chuck is just being Chuck, the problem is since he ain’t on the pop charts, the kids can turn it off and say, ‘He’s the same age as my father, and he doesn’t have an impact.’ Now one of the young cats that love Chuck D needs to step up and chime in, and tell kids to listen to him. But they won’t, because they have no balls! I never needed radio to play me, I don’t care.
It seems that the word “relevant,” which used to refer to an artist who was making an impact, not necessarily commercially‚ now only means that someone has sold a lot of albums or tickets.
I hate that word, it holds no weight. I don’t use the word ‘relevant’ because it is based on perspective. If you’re a kid and you’re out there worried about the new [Air] Jordans, that’s what’s relevant to you. To me, what’s relevant would be the cost of jet fuel, because I fly private. Chuck D will always be relevant, he changed the world. KRS-One changed the world, Ice Cube changed the world. I don’t care how many records you sold, if you haven’t changed people’s minds, if you haven’t made a difference, you’re not relevant.
Kanye West seems to push the envelope as much as any contemporary artist.
Kanye says important things…at times. See, we live in such a pop bubble… after Hurricane Katrina, he said the president don’t like black people, the whole world’s head exploded. Back in the day, we were like, ‘Hang the motherf–king president.’ Back then, Public Enemy was down south hanging a Klansman [dummy] on stage. So now, when everything is so pacified, any little murmur of being radical or any bit of rebellion is taken as important. The game’s f–ked up.
Has your attitude about the police changed?
My attitude has changed tremendously since I was in the game breaking the law. When you’re breaking the law, you don’t hate the cops. It’s like the movie Heat, I’m gonna try to rob this bank, you’re gonna try to stop me, let’s see who wins. I hate brutal cops. I hate racist cops. I hate racism, period. That’s the number one thing I hate. But has it changed? Not really. Cops are human beings. There’s some good ones out there, there’s some bad ones out there… but when you’re breaking the law, there ain’t no good ones, because you’re trying to beat them, they’re your opponents. But now, I don’t break the law. They’re just human beings. One time, me and Chuck were in Australia, we met this old aboriginal man. His people were quarantined off in this little corner of Australia, but once they owned the whole land. The man knew who I was, he said, ‘Ice T, the police are not the enemy, the law is the enemy.’ This dude was heavy. And me and Chuck had to think about it, once upon a time that man could cross this river, but now a law says he can’t cross this river and the cop is the one to enforce it. The cop is just doing the job, the law is what you gotta watch out for, the law will come into your own house and tell you what you can and can’t do. So you have to transfer your energy from the cop to the law.
But one time we were up in New York, and we were double parked in front of a club and we get rolled on and the cops are doing their thing, messing with us, and I’m like, ‘Look man, there ain’t no drugs, you can let us go.’ But this cop was like, ‘Well you made that record’… he made the mistake of saying that. And I asked, ‘If that’s why you’re messing with me, you should either let us go, or you could give me your badge number and we’ll discuss this.’ But if they do hate me, they should never let me know that’s the reason they’re messing with me. Because by their rules, they can’t do that.
What did you think of the news that Tupac’s last words were “f–k you.”
That’s stupid. I mean, who the f–k knows what Tupac’s last words were? Who said that, a cop? If Tupac did say ‘F–k the police,’ so what. Tupac’s dead. It’ll get all the police lovers to hate him more, it’ll get all his hip-hop fans to love him more, but Pac’s not here to comment on that. I didn’t pay no attention to that s–t, that’s some blogger bulls–t. How long has Pac been dead? Twenty years? Somebody had to wait twenty years to say that? F–k outta here!
What hip-hop artists have you been impressed with in the past decade or so?
I like Lupe Fiasco, of course Kendrick Lamar, I like Young Jeezy, too. When he said, “Oh, God, please don’t let me go to jail tonight,” [on Jadakiss’ “Traffikin'”] I was like, “He’s really dealing with that from a real place.” T.I. There’s a lot of really good lyricists out there, you’ve got people like, Immortal Technique, or Tech N9ne, who have been around forever. There’s a lot of really garbage-a– rappers out there, it’s just disgusting. And they’re popular, that’s scary.
Do you think as one gets older, they have trouble enjoying newer music?
Newer doesn’t make it better. There’s something to be said about classic s–t. Do they make cars as good as they used to? No! Back then, you had to stand up to certain scrutiny. I knew when I went into the studio, that Chuck was in the studio with Public Enemy, and Kris [Parker] was in the studio with Boogie Down Productions and Big Daddy Kane was making a record and [Eric B &] Rakim was making a record. I knew what the competition was. You can’t come with no soft s–t!
You seem to be making fun of Drake in your new video for ‘Talk S–t, Get Shot.’
We’re not mad at Drake, I mean, Drake is what he is. Drake is a young very talented rapper, he can sing too. I actually like Drake’s songs better, I like it when he sings. I’m not hating on Drake. I met Drake, he’s very humble, he’s very cool. That was just a play on the streets. This guy [in the video] is saying he’s from the street: he’s not saying, “All we listen to is M.O.P.!” He’s saying “All we listen to is Drake!” And that was a comedian, I didn’t tell him what to say, he just ad libbed for a few minutes and we just thought it was funny. People thought we were trying to diss Drake. No, Drake, we weren’t trying to diss you, it was just fun. I know Drake has a sense of humor.