By Rahul Lal
Ice-T is one of the founders of gangsta rap; his first few albums changed the game and his influence is still felt in hip-hop today. He’s expanded far outside hip-hop; his metal band, Body Count, release their next album Bloodlust, on March 31, and he’s been a cast member on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit since 2000 (the show recently celebrated its 400th episode). This week, he was N.O.R.E.’s guest on the Drink Champs Podcast.
Ice discussed his early days in hip-hop, in the late ’80s and early ’90s: “At that time, the bus was aimed towards groups like Public Enemy or KRS-One. So, as an artist, you knew they were in the studio. You knew Ice Cube was over here dropping some s—, you knew Geto Boys was dropping some s—, you knew you could keep it gangsta but you had to have a political aspect to it. You couldn’t be talking no nonsense, you had to come and break it down. So, when you know Rakim and who else is out there is in the studio, you had to attempt to bring the bar up and do your best. It was a degree of difficulty and a degree of respect you wanted along with being able to have a good record. I didn’t want people to go ‘Yo, I like your beat.’ I liked n—-s who walked up to me and said ‘Yo, Ice, thank you.’”
Rather than trying to bring the west up, he was just rapping because he knew he had a talent and wanted to tell the stories of his hood. Although he was born in Jersey, he moved to Los Angeles at a young age and not only became gang-affiliated but also began robbing and tried his hand at pimping. After realizing how much he had to lose, he turned to rapping and decided to rep all of Los Angeles rather than just a color or a set.
“I’m in this world so I have to make a music that those people will really relate to so without claiming a set, you’ll notice that nobody claimed a set until after ‘92, even Snoop wasn’t wearing all that blue because it was real, I was trying to just let n—–s know where we from,” he said. “New York was so powerful so we had to say ‘Look, that’s great but this is where we from.’ We had to rap about our life. Gangsta rap comes from talking about gangsta s—. My homies was like ‘Yo n—-, talk about that s— we do.’”
Sometimes pegged as ‘reality rap,’ Ice went on to show a completely different side than what was coming out of the East Coast showed. While Run-D.M.C. was making friendly music and others were making dance music, Ice-T spoke about two of the rawest topics facing the inner-city communities in Los Angeles: gang violence and police brutality. The latter topic became the subject of a notorious song from the first Body Count album: “Cop Killer” hit a nerve in the country at a time when more people were becoming aware of police brutality.
“The ‘Cop Killer’ record got hot. [President George H.W.] Bush was on my a– and so was Dan Quayle, the Vice President, and they was after me. They wanted my head. Oliver North wanted to try me for sedition which is punishable by death. They was on my bumper for this song ‘Cop Killer.’ This was a major situation so we pulled the record off of Warner and all the rap n—–s had something to say about it. Now, Chuck D stood his ground and said ‘If y’all ain’t in the war, you shouldn’t comment on the battles. You don’t know what’s going on. This s— is real.’ Secret Service pulled my daughter out of school and asked her if I was connected to paramilitary organizations. They wanted to see if I was really a threat. See, this is the problem. When the president says your name, the deepest background check of your life happens instantly. They know everything from your shoe size to your mother’s blood type. Why? Because this next question could be ‘What do we know about him?’”
Ice-T saw some of his friends go through a similar situation when he toured with N.W.A.who took a lot of flak for “F— the Police.”
“I was with them at the time and it was a movement,” he said. “I always knew I needed N.W.A. I was by myself and to have four more cats rolling, they would always hit harder than me because I was one rapper versus a gang of motherf—–s rapping. It sounds better when people are spitting on top of each other. They wrote some incredible records and they had Dr. Dre… We used to fight together, we used to get out there and get it going because we were West Coast. Cube and me are like brothers, I love Cube. We were close. When they came out with “F— The Police,” we was out there rapping and they hit them in the head with that. I was just like ‘Oh, s—. Y’all n—–s about to go there?’”
Ice said that the controversy around the music wasn’t really about the realities they were rapping about, but that the songs were becoming popular in the white suburbs. “It’s not hip-hop that they were afraid of, they were afraid of the fact that white kids were getting this information,” he explained. “It’s like, as long as you sing to the hood, nobody really cares because they already say we’re one big n—-. But once we express it and they see their little daughters walking around singing “F— the Police” and “Cop Killer,” now you’re infecting the rest of the world and that’s when you become a threat. When they saw me have thousands of white kids yell ‘F— the police,’ they were like we got to deal with this cat because he’s infecting.”
To hear the full interview with Ice-T, check out the latest episode of Drink Champs on CBS Radio’s Play.it podcast network.