Ice T Interview: Original Gangster!

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by RiotSound contributing writer Todd Davis

Recording artist, thespian and author are just a few of the many hats worn by Tracy Lauren Marrow, more famously known to his fans around the world as Ice T, the motherfuckin’ godfather of West Coast gangsta rap, in case you didn’t know!

Born in Newark, New Jersey, the now legendary Hip-Hop icon relocated to his aunt’s home in South Central Los Angeles’ Crenshaw district shortly after losing both his parents to heart disease while still a child. Ice later attended Crenshaw High where he would literally become obsessed with rap. However, after leaving high school the aspiring MC went on to join the U.S. Army. Rapping, at least for the time being, would have to wait. It would be following his release from the armed forces that Ice would eventually realign himself with his original passion and begin his now storied ascent into music.

His 1983 single “The Coldest Rap” is widely considered to be the first notable West Coast Hip-Hop record, but it was the classic ”6 ‘N The Mornin’” that eventually helped Ice T land a deal with Sire Records. Shortly thereafter, his 1987 gold certified solo debut Rhyme Pays dropped; and as the saying goes, the rest is history. From then on, Ice, along with his musical brethren DJ Evil E, DJ Aladdin and producer Afrika Islam, took the industry by storm.

1991 saw the release of OG: Original Gangster, a pivotal project in Ice T’s career, which is still regarded as one of the most definitive Hip-Hop albums of all time. It was on this particular effort that Ice first introduced his heavy metal band, Body Count. The highly controversial group would later become embroiled in a national media frenzy over the now infamous track “Cop Killer”, an episode in the recent history of music censorship perhaps rivaled only by the firestorm that engulfed Miami rap group 2 Live Crew several years earlier. For Ice T, 1991 also brought success in Hollywood, as the rapper was cast opposite Wesley Snipes in the widely successful urban shoot ‘em up drama New Jack City. Delivering a stellar performance, Ice has since been tapped to appear and star in dozens of films.

In more recent years Ice T has gone on to release seven additional albums, continues to act, and can currently be seen playing the role of Detective Fin Tutuola on the long running police drama series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In 2004 Ice married swimsuit model Nicole Austin, aka CoCo. The pair, a media favorite and one of Hip-Hop’s most loved celebrity couples, is often featured in tabloids and can regularly be seen on a variety of celebrity gossip shows.

Click here to read our review of a lecture delivered by Ice T at Rutgers University.

RIOTSOUND.COM: In 2006 you dropped your eighth studio set, Gangsta Rap, which although a solid effort, was largely a commercial failure. Were you disappointed with the outcome of that release?

ICE T: [I was] never disappointed because it was a dope album. I’ve never rated music by sales, because we all know that some of the WACKEST shit sells the most records. Fortunately for me, I don’t live off of money made from music anymore. Now it’s just fun for me. I actually posted my whole album on my site for free!

RIOTSOUND.COM: You also have a new project coming out called The Hood Manual. What can you divulge about this forthcoming album and also, where did the idea for the title come from?

ICE T: Like I said, right now I just do music for fun. I’m always in the studio with somebody. I just blazed a track with M.O.P. and its fire! I [also] got tracks with Kool Moe Dee. Right now I’m sitting on about 20 unheard songs. I’ll put ‘em out soon, probably for free too. Fuck it! I also just finished a project with Black Silver from Analog Brothers, it’s called Black Ice. We’ve got Too Short and Tash from Tha Alkaholiks [on there], its dope! I named my new project The Hood Manual because my homie told me that that’s what all my albums are, hood manuals, instructions to the game!

RIOTSOUND.COM: How would you say The Hood Manual measures up to your vast catalog of music?

ICE T: I never change. You should be able to sit down with a glass of wine and ANY Iceberg CD and improve your hustle. My records are not for dancing. They are for close analysis by players.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You now have your very own imprint, Final Level. What are your immediate goals and plans for this venture?

ICE T: Final Level is the new shit! It’s where The Syndicate [Records] and Coroner [Records] ended up. The Final Level! We’re doing movies, TV production, music, everything.

“My music has NEVER been in any rotation on radio anywhere on earth. That’s how I make it intentionally, West Coast gangsta shit!”

RIOTSOUND.COM: For a while now many people have been concurring that “Hip-Hop is Dead”, what are your thoughts on the subject?

ICE T: As far as the current state of Hip-Hop, I’m very happy that it’s still alive and kicking! I do miss the heavy lyrics like [Ice] Cube, KRS One, and PE. Right now music is about ringtones, not albums.

RIOTSOUND.COM: When you were coming up in the early ‘80’s, what was Hip-Hop like on the West Coast? What was the vibe like back then; what were people listening to and doing?

ICE T: West Coast Hip-Hop comes from a small tree; NWA and who they became, and The Syndicate and who they became. [Originally] West Coast Hip-Hop [music] was based on the L.A. streets, gangs, girls and cars; [it was] very hardcore. I never thought or wanted to be mainstream. My music has NEVER been in any rotation on radio anywhere on earth. That’s how I make it intentionally, West Coast gangsta shit!

RIOTSOUND.COM: How did the heavy metal band Body Count originally come together? For you, was there a different mindset involved in recording heavy metal tracks as opposed to doing Hip-Hop?

ICE T: I’ve always loved hardcore rock music. My boys that I grew up with happened to play instruments. One day I said, “Let’s make a live band for fun and play some local clubs and just wild out!” It had to be raw and hardcore. I wrote the words and hummed out the riffs. We played two shows and then went on tour with DRI [Dirty Rotten Imbeciles]. Same mind frame, louder guitars.

RIOTSOUND.COM: How do you feel about possibly doing another Body Count album and even touring again with bands like Rage Against The Machine, for example? A lot of fans would love to see that.

ICE T: That would be the SHIT! If someone could make that happen, I’d be there in a second!

“I finally got focused when I realized that breaking the law was not the ultimate hustle. The hustle was making the law work in your behalf. There are far too many ways to get paid legally”

RIOTSOUND.COM: Aside from doing music and acting you regularly speak on college campuses and one of the more compelling things that you say to students is that they should learn to think for themselves and make a concerted effort to analyze things beyond just reading books and taking things at face value. Can you elaborate on that?

ICE T: Life is the ultimate game. You play against the world and your biggest opponent, yourself! Philosophy is how you equate life through your own personal experiences, not books or things you believe but don’t know why, like religions. Hey this could go on forever. The trick is to determine who is doing the thinking, you or your ego?

RIOTSOUND.COM: As far as yourself personally, when in life did you realize how you wanted to live and who you really wanted to be? You served in the Army; you were also caught up in street life for some time, when did the picture become clear with regard to the path you would ultimately choose to follow?

ICE T: I finally got focused when I realized that breaking the law was not the ultimate hustle. The hustle was making the law work in your behalf. There are far too many ways to get paid legally. And, for me, to limit myself to the illegal games was actually me playing the bottom of the deck. Street hustles pay well and extremely fast but there is no gangsta retirement. Even the biggest gangsta must [eventually pay the price]. I think it hit me when I had about six of my boys doing life in prison.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You’ve occasionally spoken about your conversations with the late Tupac Shakur and your attempts to steer Pac away from street life despite his apparent fascination with L.A. gangs. What was the general tone of the conversations the two of you had and why do you think Pac ultimately failed to see the dangers involved in the choices he was making?

ICE T: Pac was not from L.A. and was getting involved with the L.A. gangs. I knew these niggas. I tried to tell Pac to stay clear of that scene. He was entranced by the lifestyle and wouldn’t listen. These cats will hug you with one hand and cut your throat with the other. No matter what he thought he was not from the set and could never be. You get put on when you’re 15 and from that hood, not when you’re in your 20’s and a rapper. I spoke to him about the East / West beef, I wasn’t with it. He was kinda upset with me because I wasn’t down with his movements. I loved Pac. He was young, amped and made some bad moves that ended up costing him his life, R.I.P!

RIOTSOUND.COM: As an actor, you’ve played a police officer on the hit show Law & Order for the last nine years. What’s the atmosphere like on the set? Do you have fun and joke around during filming even through it’s generally a serious show and everyone plays very serious characters?

ICE T: Law & Order was a blessing. Who would have ever thought that I would be playing a cop on TV for the last nine years? Once I started acting, I realized they like to cast street smart people as cops. Me playing a gangster is kinda cliché. The show and people are great. Everyone loves the show so it’s kind of like a dream job. It pays great and I still have time to hit the studio.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Having sustained such a lengthy career in entertainment, what would you say is the secret to your continued success?

ICE T: Don’t put all of your apples in one basket! I’ve just tried so many things. If you’re tired of me rappin’, I’m rockin.’ If you’re sick of me rockin’, I’m acting. You hate me acting, I’m producing. You hate that? I’m developing hotels. Oh yeah, don’t forget [my wife] CoCo, she’s making bank!

RIOTSOUND.COM: Do you have any final thoughts?

ICE T: Thanks to everyone who’s supported me throughout the last 25 years. I’m aware that when you’re down with me you’ve had to fight in my behalf. That’s the only reason I’m still in the game. Love and respect, Iceberg!

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