LegenDARy Artists: Ice-T

By @SpeedontheBeat

Now, when you say gangsta rap, people will mention Dr. Dre, Snoop, N.W.A.--hell, you'll even get random groups and artists who don't really even fit the bill. I once heard someone call The Pharcyde gangsta rappers. I don't know what they were smoking, either. And if you say politically-charged reality rap, people'll run down a list of rappers, some more real than others.

But, the point is this: you'll get a LOT of artists mentioned within these genres, and most of them are accurate and have shaped the rap game to where it (read: the good parts) are today. However, one artist seems to never get his just due, even though without his contributions to the game, there, probably, wouldn't have been an N.W.A., meaning there may have not been a Pac, meaning that all the artists influenced by Pac wouldn't be out here. Additionally, this artist helped further the way for artists and groups like Public Enemy with his political lyrics. I'm talking about none other than...


Now, I'll admit bias because Ice-T is one of my all-time favorite rappers (and he's a dope-ass actor). But, check his resume. There's no denying his influence and the fact he's a (if not the) Godfather of Gangsta Rap. This piece will both introduce and reflect on his long career, from "6 in the Mornin'," to his work with Body Count and beyond. We will also touch on Rhyme Syndicate, Ice-T's East-meets-West collaborative effort, and the Analog Brothers project.

First up? Rhyme Pays

This is the album which gave us the quintessential gangsta rap track "6 in the Mornin,'" a pretty boss introduction to Ice-T which leads into the guitar-and-snare-laced title track (back when title tracks were both a thing and appeared as the intro versus some random middle-of-the-road song that really doesn't have shit to do with the album), "Squeeze The Trigger," and more. This album, as I've mentioned in some ways, focuses more on setting up stories and a mood versus just dropping multi-syllabic rhyme schemes.

Truth be told, it never needs to be some "lyrically miracle hero when it's critical, killing hoes with feelers, bring out the cylinders" lyricism (and neither do you. That shit is unnecessary 9.8 times out of ten, underground rappers, mainly because half of you fuckboys don't make sense when you're doing it...but I digress). You're given beats by Afrika Islam that capture the change in the scene and T gives us bars that give us anger at the political and police states of America and give us a raw look into both his life and life as a whole in late 1980s America. Drugs and gang life are running rampant as a result of Reaganomics and other political efforts used to stifle urban areas--and people are getting sick and tired of being sick and tired.

There's a revolutionary air within the first project that's shown throughout Ice-T's albums. But there's also a bit of comedic energy within the project. This is something that got lost with a lot of later gangsta rap albums; they became more about "oh, I'm a G. I killed a bunch of motherfuckers" versus actually showing the artists as actual people that had the capacity to do more than just be carbon copies of what they're "supposed" to be within the genre. This realistic mix of elements makes this project a must-listen.

In 1988, only a year after Rhyme Pays, we were given Power.

The album is angrier and furious than Rhyme Pays, showcasing a more mature lyrical style as well. Where Pays was the introduction to Ice-T, Power is that "I'm here. Now let's really wreck the system" album. Avoiding the sophomore slump like a random who's out here burning, the album takes everything presented within Rhyme Pays and gives us more of the repercussions of the narrator's life.. There's less of a "celebratory" element. Yes, we still see moments within the project where Ice-T borders on celebrating his gangsta and his success. That's only natural. For instance, songs like "High Rollers" and "Heartbeat."

However, even within an "I'm the shit" track such as "Heartbeat," the use of WAR's song of the same name gives us that element of hopelessness within even the "good" moments of life. And on "High Rollers," we're given an idea that many in the know have, well, known for years: it isn't just about the drug dealers; there's a lot more shit out here for people to worry about--especially when it comes to the cash flow. Essentially, things've got to change--and fast. But, there're less and less opportunities to change because of the repercussions of the elements presented within Rhyme Pays (especially since this album is presented, in some ways, as a direct continuation to Pays). The world's fucked up because of street life--but street life wouldn't even exist in the way it does if it weren't for crooked politicians, laws that destroy communities, and so on.

On top of this, we were given the Ice-T versus LL Cool J feud from this album. While more of a game of the dozens on Ice-T's side, it was a pretty monumental moment in rap since Ice-T and LL were at the top of their respective games. It wasn't just two nobodies beefing. What made it funnier is that one of the moments in question appeared on the unintentionally dual-purposed "I'm Your Pusher/Pusherman." A track that, if you're not really listening, celebrates hustling while still saying no to drugs (it's really just an anti-drug track that compares Ice-T's bars to drugs and, you know, take some IceT over the crack), with the Curtis Mayfield sample, it's out here clowning on LL Cool J.

Additionally, we get "Girls L.G.B.N.A.F.," a track that's "I Need Love" if Blowfly and Too $hort wrote it instead of LL. But, for real? Who doesn't want a woman to get butt naked and fuck (safely, of course, because "you've gotta be careful with this '88 sex biz")? Seriously, man. This is something you can relate to. I mean, love is cool. I love love. Ultimately, we all want love. But...sometimes, you just want to spread some cheeks and fuck.

Finally, the samples Islam and Ice-T utilized on this project continue to set the mood in a way not too many albums had at the time. For example, on "Grand Larceny," a track that's a mix of reality and bragging, the audio clips present Ice-T as one bad-ass motherfucker who's probably one bad day away from just murdering everyone, stealing their shit, and reclaiming it as their own as some form of reparations. On "Soul On Ice," an homage to Iceberg Slim, a Les McCann sample ("The Harlem Buck Dance Strut") is used to give Ice T a pimped-out set-up to talk his shit.

And from Power, we're given a project that's just as Eazy-E as it is Public Enemy: 1989's The Iceberg/Freedom Of Speech...Just Watch What You Say.

Now, Iceberg deals with sex, it deals with violence, it deals with street life. However, a lot of its anger is put on censors and people who're out here denying artists their First Amendment rights versus just cops and Presidents. While there's, obviously, still messages of anti-drug, anti-violence and more--right along with the sometimes outlandish sex stories and the like (see "The Girl Tried to Kill Me")--we're also given tracks like "Lethal Weapon." 

That's a track that stands out to me. Why? In essence, the track says something along the lines of "the mind is a terrible thing to waste, mainly because it can overthrow systemic bullshit. But...it's also a dangerous thing because you can get Hitler's bullshit from it as well. So, as long as your mind's not on some crazy 'let's go kill everyone because racism' shit, use your brain and don't let these dumbass motherfuckers shut you up." It's "Fight the Power" meets the United Negro College Fund meets Ice-T just spitting that real.

On this album, you also get tracks like "Peel Their Caps Back." With "Peel Their Caps Back," we're given a song which details the process of a retaliatory drive-by. It's a pretty dark track, in that it goes into detail about the process. It's not just some sort of metaphor. The drive-by is real, the reasons are real, and the twist ending is real. It kind of reminds me of parts of gkmc in that there's no "oh, ok. This isn't really happening like this" moment. Shit's going down for real and this is yet another example of Ice-T's storytelling ability.

Additionally, we get a nice dose of the Rhyme Syndicate on this project. As mentioned, the Rhyme Syndicate was a collaborative effort brought on by Ice-T for an East-meets-West supergroup of sorts. Members of the group included Everlast, WC, DJ King Assassin, Lord Finesse, and others. On tracks "Black 'N' Decker," "What You Wanna Do?," and "My Word is Bond," Syndicate members set the mood and deliver some pretty legit posse cuts. These tracks help add additional fuel--and additional opinions--to Ice-T's messages. Plus, the proto-horrorcore elements of "Black 'N' Decker" and the party energy of "What You Wanna Do?" further diversify the album, while just making some tasty jams.

In 1991, Ice-T dropped O.G. Original Gangster

Many call this his best album (I always go back-and-forth between it and Power as being his best). And, to be honest, I can see why. It's a genre-bending project that continues the sociopolitical commentary we've come to expect Ice-T but, again, says "fuck expectations" and drops "Escape From the Killing Fields" and "Body Count" on the same album we get the smooth, New Jack-influenced title track.

From the intro, "Home Of The Bodybag," we know this is going to be some darker shit. Said intro reintroduces us to various Ice-T tracks over an air siren-littered beat. Add this into the "First Impression" interlude, and we've got an album set up to showcase both sides of the coin of who Ice-T is, kind of like Power. Where O.G. differs from Power is the instrumentation. The New Jack-meets-G Funk beats provided from DJ Aladdin, Afrika Islam, SLJ, and Bilal Bashir is funky, but still dark as hell. It's also frantic, but a bit less "fun" than what we got from Power.

For me, I tend to favor Power over O.G. mainly because Power is a bit more concise than O.G. While O.G. features some of Ice-T's best lyrics, it's a 24-track project. It needs to be that long, because it showcases so many aspects of Ice-T and showcases so many aspects of what makes this world of ours so complex. However, because of its length, the classic project can drag a bit. Energy picks up right when things get a bit slower, but the fact is that, for me, O.G. can drag just a little when compared to Power.

The last two tracks on this album, they keep this one as classic for me, regardless of length. "The Tower," a track detailing the prison system, a condemnation of homophobia, prison gangs and more, and "Ya Shoulda Killed Me Last Year." The outro, it's a short spoken word piece where Ice-T discusses the prison industrial complex, the military industrial complex, and the world in general. The sequencing on this project is a bit better than Power as well. So I can see why people favor this project as Ice-T's all-time best album. For me, it's always going to be a back-and-forth between Power and O.G.

After O.G., listeners weren't immediately given another Ice-T solo project. Instead, we got the self-titled debut from Ice-T's heavy metal group Body Count in 1992.

For someone who never heard Body Count, I'd like to explain them as what'd happen if Rage Against the Machine was angrier than usual mixed in with a bit of jam band elements, some groove metal vibes and a teeny bit of Jimi Hendrix in terms of delivery at points. However, please note that if you're expecting something that's straight-up rap metal, nu metal or rap-rock, you're looking in the wrong place. There are rap segments and elements, but Body Count isn't Linkin Park. The debut of Body Count is controversial because of, of course, "Cop Killer."

While the song itself was removed from the album, it definitely got the attention of many and introduced Body Count to the masses in a pretty forcible way. However, the controversy surrounding the track became bigger than the message (as controversial tracks tend to do) and Ice-T was, pretty much, just like "fuck it. I don't want to have my group pigeonholed as 'the guys who made 'Cop Killer.'" But, the "damage" to the system was done. Body Count was pretty well-received and mentioned on several top album lists and, personally, it's a dope-ass album.

1993 saw Home Invasion, a return to solo work from Ice-T. 

This is, for some, a pretty polarizing album. Reviews have said "oh, it was recorded during 'Cop Killer,' so it's all over the place" and "oh, he's trying to reclaim his old vibe." For whatever reason, there's no Spotify stream of the album. And I'm not going to go out here and post someone's YouTube stream of it.

So...you're going to have to take what I say as being true off the strength of the fact I've never really lied to you before.

The project is a bit uneven and does find itself steeped in Ice-T's legacy more than it finds itself steeped in taking that legacy and providing knowledge in 1993 based on said legacy. But, when it hits, it still hits hard as hell, as if he said "hey, let's take elements of O.G. and Power and turn them up to eleven because why not?" For instance, the tracks "Race War," "99 Problems," the title track and "Addicted to Danger" are examples of Ice being Ice, but still being bold and progressive. It's not my favorite Ice-T project, but there are worse albums you can peep. Plus, the cover art is worth the price of admission.

1994's Body Count album Born Dead was released next. 

It's a bit more abstract lyrically than its predecessor, focusing more on the metal aspects of the instrumentation and utilization of samples on some tracks to showcase the sheer "WTF" of our society. It's an album that, if you're sleep, will catch you offguard when the lyrics do kick in. For instance, check out the tracks "Neccesary Evil" and "Last Breath." 

But what really gets me on this album is Body Count's cover of "Hey Joe." It, oddly, makes so much sense to have this track on the album, considering the anti-system, anti-bullshit mantra Body Count has lived by (and the story within "Hey Joe"). Plus, there's a few moments of sweet solo work. It's a project definitely worth checking out, if only to see the progression of Body Count and/or if you've rocked with the first project. 

In 1996, we got Ice-T IV: Return of the Real

It's an album that takes a similar approach as Home Invasion. It revisits what makes Ice-T a legendary artist in an effort to further his reach in the pre-Shiny Suit era of gangsta rap and hip-hop as a whole. It, like Home Invasion, continues the use of more melodic approaches to songs, deliveries, and so on. And, like Home Invasion, there are a bevy of producers handling the beats. However, it's a project that, aside from a few tracks, falls short from being another classic in Ice-T's discography. Where the project shines is its interludes.

Now, Ice-T's interludes have always been pretty legit. However, the tongue-in-cheek nature of, for instance, the "Rap is Fake" interlude--or, inversely, the "I keep it real" nature of the "A Lotta Niggas" interlude--keep things running smoothly if and when the actual tracks go a bit left because of experimentation and/or rehashing of older themes and subjects. They feel less like "oh, we're just gonna put shit together to try and make things conceptual" and more like "I'm just here with my niggas, and we're talking on some real shit." Again, from a musical standpoint, it's not his strongest effort. But, his interludes allow for the album to further display the "real" which the title refers to. 

Body Count, after the death of drummer Beatmaster V due to leukemia, dedicated their next project, 1997's Violent Demise: The Last Days, to their fallen friend. 

The intro is a thing of beauty, featuring Ice T shooting a naysayer. "My Way," featuring Raw Breed, continues that "fuck you" energy. And then we get "Stripper." It's like "Girl L.G.B.N.A.F." grew up and got mad at the world. I love the interlude within the track, mainly because of the chilled-out instrumentation that gives way, again, to the actual song. And, I mean, who hasn't wanted to have sex with a stripper? It's an angry-as-fuck song that has a very questionable-ass "don't make me rape you" lyric tossed in (still not sure if it was supposed to be a very "WTF" tongue-in-cheek moment or not, but...yeah...). But...aside from that? It's, like I said, "Girl L.G.B.N.A.F." grew up and got pissed off because it had blue balls.

"Truth or Death" tells us that everyone is a liar. The guitar on this track keeps up with the "fuck the world" energy given in the lyrics. Its placement right after "Stripper" is kind of funny to me (but makes sense, since strippers sell fantasy and the idea of "oh, maybe I could talk my way into her G-String" when that's typically not the case). The title track is a thing of beauty. That's all I can really say about it. It's loud, brash, and tells us about the dangers of the world--and how we're all headed to a grisly death, one way or another.

We get another sexually-charged song, "Bring You to Pain." It's another Ice-T track that discusses being dominated, mentally and physically, while having a sexual liaison. However, instead of looking at it in a comedic way, Ice-T and Body Count embrace and celebrate their kinks. It's a pretty sweet track; the moans throughout kind of throw it off, but it's still a nice track. "Music Business" and "I Used to Love Her" seem to give us a darker version of Common's ode to rap...if you're just listening to the sequence of things. 

However, it's also, when you remove the "Music Business" interlude (and not be all hipster-y with your analysis), an obvious discussion about O.J. (I mean, the bridge details the damn case). Ice-T puts himself in O.J.'s shoes and gives us "reasons" why O.J. did it (because he's a jealous asshole who feels neglected by his lover).

Putting this one before "Root of All Evil" is interesting, as we're given a song about O.J., then a song about money driving every fucked up thing in the world. Is Ice-T trying to tell us something further about the case? Maybe not, but women and money make men do some dumb-ass things. Meanwhile, the rest of the album touches on Dr. Jack Kevorkian, why people hate BC (but really shouldn't), race relations and the end of the world brought on by said race relations.

Overall, this is my favorite BC album. It takes what we got with the debut and refines it to the point it's borderline perfect. The guitar solos on this one are sick, the lyrics are sharper, and so on. Don't get me wrong. Body Count is an album that changed the game and is a great album. Some people favor their 2014 release to this one (I'll get to that in a bit). But, like the conversation of O.G. versus Power, I've got to, by a nose, go with Violent Demise over Body Count or any other BC release.

1999's The Seventh Deadly Sin returned Ice-T to the solo field.

It's a project that, for me, trumped Return of the Real for one reason, and one reason alone. While both records had an "I don't give a fuck who likes me. I'm going to continue to do what I do" philosophy attached to them, Sin took it a step further. It's an album that features Ice-T spitting bars over instrumentals that feel like 1999 beats. However, T's approach to his bars reminds me a bit of his older work, revamped, of course, for 1999. He still goes in, but keeps its O.G. And, it works--and works pretty well. For instance, check out the last two tracks "God Forgive Me" and "Ice's Exodus."

Ice-T features on "God Forgive Me" with spoken word parts that, like the "Rap is Fake" interlude from Return, is a slightly sarcastic repentance for helping to create gangsta rap. The dark, trippy instrumental from DJ Ace lends itself well dark lyrics from Poppa LQ and SLEJ. It's an homage to the genre, while still somewhat condemning what it's come to represent...while still celebrating. Now, on "Ice's Exodus," Ice and Top Gunz just straight snap, giving us philosophical moments within the gangsta spit. The "End of Days"-like beat from SLEJ is just a thing of beauty, as it combines boombap with a cinematic choir to create a damn good outro.

Next up? Pimp to Eat, the Analog Brothers project.

Odd Future before Odd Future was a thing meets Ultramagnetic MCs meets Ice-T meets lush, pimped-out futuristic production, lyricism, and imagery meets Big K.R.I.T. and UGK with a teeny bit of OutKast meets...some otherwordly shit that I'm still trying to comprehend years after I first heard the album. And that still doesn't do this group justice. This formerly out-of-print project is getting new life through a re-release by Mello Music Group later this year, so if my introduction intrigued you, go check it out. Also, booty, since Analog Brothers embrace the pimp in us all. It's an album you need to hear at least once, just to experience it all.

After Pimp, Ice chilled musically for a bit, at least in terms of albums. He did some voiceover work in video games, became known to a new generation as Detective Odafin Tutuola in Law and Order: SVU, and married Coco. It wasn't like he was just sitting on his ass. Sometimes, you've got to do more than what you're known for to diversity. I mean, that's how Body Count came about. There were a few projects, such as the SMG collaboration Repossession. But, things weren't bubbling up on the regular...until, like magic, they began to do so.

With regards to Body Count, they began working on a new project. However, things were difficult. First, Mooseman (bassist) was killed in a random shooting in 2001. This was followed by the death of guitarist D-Roc the Executioner from lymphoma. The death of D-Roc put a pause on work. After a new rhythm guitarist, Bendrix, was brought in, work restarted and, in August 2006, we got Murder 4 Hire.

Now, I liked Murder, but it was a weaker effort than what I was used to from BC. It could've been because Ice-T himself wasn't as involved as he would've liked to have been. Plus, you know, someone dying from cancer within the team always has a negative impact on how things are going. But, overall? It's not a "bad" album, especially with tracks like "The End Game," the D-Roc solo tribute "D Rocs - RIP," the frantic "Murder 4 Hire," and "Dirty Bombs." I just expected something a bit harder from the group, especially with the time away between Violent Demise and this project.

In 2006, we also got Gangsta Rap.

Now, I know. Some people want to make more out of this album's cover (naked Ice and Coco on a big-ass bed). But, fuck all that. We're here to talk music. Nakedness is natural. So, what do I think about Gangsta Rap? It's Ice-T's Raw Footage. It's an album that announced "hey y'all. You thought I was done? Fuck that noise. I'm here forever." From the title track, we're given a history of the genre. And from there, we're given some pretty lush instrumentals for Ice-T to, well, get gangsta on. Ice-T plays elder statesman of the game on this project, advising the next generation of gangstas and pimps how to not get caught up and lose.

Now, the track "My Baby," it is the closest we'll probably ever get to Ice-T doing a "Loverman rap." The chipmunk sample (I'm still unsure what track was sampled; Ice-T, if you check this out, can you advise?) combined with lines like "fuck your homies/she's the one sucking your dick" is some real shit. I mean, personally, my boys are my boys. Y'all niggas is my niggas. Should anyone nigga y'all niggas, I'ma nigga them niggas. But...sometimes, your girl wins because, well, she is the sucking your dick. Your niggas can't compare to epic head. And it's that real talk that keeps Ice-T as one of my favorite artists, today, tomorrow, always.

In 2008, Ice-T and Black Silver formed Black Ice. And from this collaboration, we got Urban Legends.

Simply put, it's late-2000s West Coast gangsta rap that still hits the mark in terms of keeping things realistic and teaching moment-ready. While the mixes were a bit awkward, they didn't keep me from enjoying the project. Additionally, it features legends such as Too $hort and Aceyalone. So that's worth the price of admission in some ways for me.

Finally, for now, we get to Body Count's 2014 release, Manslaughter.

First off, the fact that Ice-T and Body Count did two remixes/remakes of "99 Problems," in an effort to reclaim the song from Jay Z? That's actually pretty dope. To hear the Jay version's beat mixed in with Ice-T's lyrics is a full-circle moment for the song. But, let's talk the rest of the project. 

The album begins with the boisterous "Talk Shit, Get Shot." It's a warning to anyone who's trying to try Ice and Body Count. We follow that up with "Pray For Death," a more metal track that features Ice-T offering up some pretty menacing ways to die. It's a track that you're going to play when you're pissed the fuck off at someone to the levels of "I need to murderize something." 

Meanwhile, we're given a song about relapses--and not dying from substance abuse--with "Back to Rehab" and later on, "I Will Always Love You," a song that's not a cover of the song Dolly Parton and Whitney Houston made famous. Instead, it's a harrowing track about some of the realities of army life (you know, how you could come back completely fucked up). The album itself is a nice mix of topics that'll catch you and say "hey, maybe I need to change shit up. Ice-T just yelled at me about something I'm doing that's kind of not all that cool." Plus, it's an album that brings Body Count back to where they were prior to Murder 4 Hire.

In closing, over the past 30-plus years (as Ice-T has been making tracks since the mid-80s) since he burst onto the scene, Ice-T has made his mark. Through solo and collaborative albums, there's no denying his impact on the game. From a fan to the artist, I'd like to thank you for putting your life on wax. You are, indeed, legenDARy.


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