“We got a new dog He’s even crazier than the other one. So I live with my wife Coco and my dogs. But at the same time, I am still the same cat”
The godfather of gangsta rap tells Tara Brady why hip-hop matters, why it will never get the respect it deserves, and why he’s like Frank Sinatra
got opportunities and took advantage. But you have to be aware that you can be a guy working at your auto dealer fixing cars, and at the same time chopping up bodies for the mob. You just don’t know who people are. You really don’t know.”
He has, he admits, mellowed out. But aged 54, he suggests, he’d look “ridiculous” if he were still the angry young man he was during the late 1980s and early 1990s: “I’ve done what I’ve done over a 30-year period. I don’t think I could have come out and been a TV cop when I was 25. It would just have been too confusing. But the fans that come to the concerts are the people who watch Law & Order. They’re okay with me mellowing and going into another zone. The same audience that liked Ice-T have grown up. They like Law & Order and Ice Loves Coco now. They sit at home playing XBox. My fans followed my arc of maturity.”
If he could meet his younger tearaway self would he have any advice to impart?
“No. I wouldn’t change anything. I was who I needed to be. I can’t tell my kid to carry himself like me. He has to be more energetic at that age. Even as a woman, you know you have to be a little more aggressive at that stage. That’s what it is. As you get older, you can lay back. But when you are living in the
neighbourhood I lived in, you have to deal with the gangs. You see it every day. When you get older, you move. You have your condo. You just don’t have to deal with that. My thing has always been to keep my music and my life honest to my growth and never be somebody I am not. Now when I perform, I can relate to that moment, but its not really who I am. The old Ice-T was ‘I want to kill everybody’. The new Ice-T is ‘You know I’ll kill you. Right?’”
Gangsta MC Ice-T was born Tracy Marrow on February 16th, 1958, in Newark, New Jersey. His Creole mother died when he was seven; his father passed when Tracy was in the seventh grade. The youngster relocated to South Central Los Angeles to live with an aunt where he stood out as a kid who never used alcohol or tobacco, let alone drugs.
In his 20s, he signed up with the US military as a means of supporting his girlfriend and daughter. He served for four years in the 25th Infantry Division. He has maintained a military schedule ever since, as a sometime rapper, actor and record company executive.
The hours and professionalism have translated into unrivalled success. Schooly D has a claim with P.S.K. What does it Mean? But Ice-T would perfect the sound of gangsta rap and move it along until G-Funk took over.
His controversial chatter would make him a crossover hit with the Lolapolooza set, but it would also attract the ire of Tipper Gore, Warner Bros records, the LAPD, Charlton Heston and the National Rifle Association. Did he enjoy ribbing these folks?
“Absolutely,” he says. “The same was true with Eminem. I am the kind of person who likes bothering others. If you are getting pissed about something I don’t think is worth getting pissed about, then I am just going to fuck with you more. I mean I am going to stick my finger in it and really agitate.
“Eminem says there is an art in knowing how to say the worst possible thing at the worst time. I would do interviews and say ‘oh this is bad – homelessness, Aids – we have to stop this, but now I have to leave because I have to get to a pitbull fight’.”
A guardian and innovator, he expresses concern for rap’s lasting reputation. Hip-hop may be the best-selling music on the planet, but it’s never been accorded the canonical status of blues or jazz.
“How can you expect to get the respect when by definition you are in a counterculture?” he says. “It’s the same with hardcore rock. Cannibal Corpse are never going to be respected. That’s just what it is. That’s the nature of the beast. When you step into that zone you are not going to allow yourself to be respected. Now with new rappers, you can put them on stage with Katy Perry. The mainstream will accept them.”
Should fans be troubled by these Perry collaborations? Are there any worthy MCs coming up behind the people who insert raps between choruses?
“The problem is the internet,” sighs Ice-T. “It’s the same problem with journalism. Now everybody who has a blog thinks they are a newspaper. With music, the only way you can be respected and can get out there as a rapper is to be on the radio. We went against the radio. You would have to go to the record store to get the music. Radio sucks you into a vortex of sameness.
“So, it’s a paradox. It’s a problem. The internet has allowed anyone to be an artist. And the more stuff there is the more everything sounds the same. It’s bullshit. It’s not the fault of the artists. They want to make money. They want to have a career. But it’s getting harder and harder for new, innovative sounds to break through.”
Are there still exciting young rappers out there? “Oh sure. The real rappers are still out there. Lupe Fiasco is a quality rapper. There are amazing guys in the UK. But will they make it? That remains to be seen. There’s no Indians out there. It’s all chiefs. It’s crazy.” He still spits but no longer has to compose. “I have a cool life. At the weekend, I still go out to gigs. I still do Ice-T performances. The only thing I can’t do is tour. That takes time. But I can go to London and do one show. I have that facility. I have a nice back catalogue. I don’t really need to make new records. I am like Frank Sinatra that way.”