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With a ghetto background that reportedly involved copious amounts of unlawful activity, a name derived from super-pimp, Iceberg Slim, and a mean line in caustic wit, ICE-T set himself up as the original gangsta rapper – the “O.G.”. The fact of the matter was that he wasn’t actually the first gangsta rapper, although he did invent the particularly potent West Coast strain. A near generation older than his namesake ICE CUBE, ICE-T entered the hardcore hip hop/rap game in its formative years, although he’s never quite managed the same level of screen success until he appeared as a police officer in NBC’s Law & Order series. Drumming to a different beat, the 90s started out with Ice’s foray into heavy metal/rap rock as leader of the BODY COUNT posse; clichés and convention aside, this unearthed one of his most controversial songs, `Cop Killer’.
Born Tracy Lauren Marrow, February 16, 1958, Newark, New Jersey, he relocated to Los Angeles when he was 12, where his Crenshaw High School classmates of South Central were in awe of his ability to quote rhyme extracts from works by the aforesaid Iceberg Slim. While lesser known backroom contributions were available, ICE T’s introduction to the movement were heard on 12-inch singles such as `Cold-Wind Madness’ (twinned with `The Coldest Rap’), `Killers’ (b/w `Body Rock’), `Ya Don’t Quit’ and `Doin’ The Wax (Ya Don’t Quit – Part II)’; all indeed inspired by the electro hip hop movement pioneered by GRANDMASTER FLASH.
Meanwhile, ICE-T got out on something approaching the celluloid good foot by making his acting/soundtrack debut with an MC cameo (on the track `Reckless’) for Hollywood B-Boy cash-in, “Breakin’” (1984); following it up in sequel, “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo” (also 1984), and making an appearance in early Mario Van Peebles vehicle, “Rappin’” (1985).
Hoping to emulate his idols, with backing from co-writer Afrika Islam (aka producer Charles Glenn), ICE-T’s debut album for Sire Records, RHYME PAYS (1987) {*7}, sold well enough to crack the Top 100 and set out his agenda of unashamed criminal glorification over tough, made-to-measure beats. One of the tracks, `Intro’ – `Rhyme Pays’ was a mash-up of MIKE OLDFIELD’s `Tubular Bells’ and BLACK SABBATH’s `War Pigs’, whilst `Make It Funky’ was in the mold of BEASTIE BOYS-meets-PUBLIC ENEMY.
POWER (1988) {*7} thankfully laid off the “I’m mental, me” sentiments to a certain extent, allowing room for more objectively intelligent lyrics, although that obviously couldn’t be applied to the sexist sleeve and `Girls L.G.B.N.A.F.’ (“Let’s Get Butt Naked And Fuck” dummy). Hardly the most offensive or potentially damaging lyrics in the ICE-T canon, the song nevertheless upset those nice people at the PMRC (an American institutionalized neighbourhood watch scheme for “bad” pop stars); not the first time he’d upset the powers that be (or would be).
This storm in a teacup informed much of 1989’s THE ICEBERG / FREEDOM OF SPEECH… JUST WATCH WHAT YOU SAY {*8}; a more rock-based, anti-censorship tirade that laid the groundwork for his subsequent BODY COUNT project. Love or loathe it, rap fans and metal-heads debated on the merits of opening track, `Shut Up, Be Happy’; that was basically the man’s apocalyptic bulletin over BLACK SABBATH’s classic eponymous piece of 1970.
With T’s pioneering major label music career beginning in earnest in the mid-late 80s, he also moved up the movie big league, writing title tracks for both Dennis Hopper’s acclaimed L.A. gang drama “Colors” (1988) and Warren Beatty’s “Dick Tracy” (1990). He also netted his first starring role in Mario Van Peebles’ seminal nu-blaxploitation feature “New Jack City” (1991), for which he also supplied the thematic `New Jack Hustler (Nino’s Theme)’. While the irony of him playing a police officer can’t have been lost on aficionados of the politicised hardcore rap scene he’d incubated, the balance was restored when authorities expressed outrage over his soon-to-be infamous `Cop Killer’ track.
The record that really took solo ICE-T’s dubious message to the masses was the landmark O.G. ORIGINAL GANGSTER (1991) {*8}, a Top 20 album that saw the man powering his way through a hardcore rap set of unrelenting intensity. As ever, the lyrics were sharp, witty and artfully articulate, but ultimately offensive. While ICE-T argued that he “tells it like it is”, his lame attempts to justify his continual objectification of women were rarely satisfactory. It’s one of hip hop’s great tragedies that a rapper as charismatic, intelligent and creative as ICE-T continued to reinforce prejudice and stereotyping; for every inch that CHUCK D advanced the black cause, ICE-T dragged it back two; but he was in character. Opening salvo `Home Of The Bodybag’ and a whole host of samples and guests (`New Jack Hustler (Nino’s Theme)’ again and `Straight Up Nigga’ featuring DJ Aladdin), scathing reviews by Select magazine contrasted that of the trendy NME.
After a role next to Denzel Washington in actioner, “Ricochet” (1991), the logical step for the T was a foray into the world of heavy metal, another genre not exactly noted for its tolerance. Recruiting co-scribe Ernie-C (guitar), D-Roc (guitar), Mooseman (bass), Beatmaster V (drums), Sean E Sean and Sean E Mac, the T man debuted his hardcore/speed metal BODY COUNT combo on the Lollapalooza tour. Their eponymous BODY COUNT (1992) {*7} stoked the fires and fears within the moral majority (as they say in the “free” world), and it proved that the punk rapper could actually sing. While the record addressed racism on the likes of `Momma’s Gotta Die Tonight’, Ice’s trademark misogyny was ever present, notably on `KKK Bitch’. However, the track that really hit the fan squarely with the shit was `Cop Killer’ (masked under a re-titled titled track), a nasty little ditty about “taking out” some lawmen. While the LAPD were hardly in a position to come over all moral, they perhaps understandably took offence to such sentiments. As did President George H.W. Bush and good ol’ Ollie North; ICE-T subsequently being given the honour of the biggest threat to American security since McCarthy flushed out “those damn commies” in the 50s. The final straw for Warner Bros was when record company personnel started receiving death threats; the label finally giving in and removing the offending song from subsequent pressings after hero-to-zero Charlton Heston read out to an audience the lyrics to the aforesaid `KKK Bitch’.
As debate raged over music censorship, T defended his right to write in character and got on with his acting/soundtrack career, starring opposite ICE CUBE in Walter Hill’s “Trespass” (1992), with whom he also composed the title theme (as well as contributing the track `Depths Of Hell’). In addition to a link-up with SLAYER on the “Judgment Day” soundtrack, and a cameo in PERRY FARRELL’s directorial video debut, “Gift”, 1993 brought a bit of light relief in rap satire, “CB4”, and alongside DR. DRE in the Ted Demme-directed hip hop comedy, `Who’s The Man?”.
The rapper’s solo career continued, meanwhile, with transatlantic Top 20 set HOME INVASION (1993) {*6}, upon which, gasp!, the rapper actually admitted to feelings for his fellow man via `Gotta Lotta Love’, whilst remaining as unrepentant about his lifestyle as ever a la `That’s How I’m Livin’’ and `I Ain’t New Ta This’.
It was to be another few years before his next solo album. In the interim ICE-T used his not inconsiderable talent to host a Channel 4 documentary on Blaxploitation movies as well as presenting “Baadaasss TV”, a semi-successful attempt at catering for black culture. He also published a book of his forthright opinions which only served to furnish his opponents with yet more ammunition.
While it was arguably the function of art to question the norm, to go about it in such a cack-handed manner, ultimately benefitted no one. The rapper was as defiant as ever, though, moving to Virgin Records for BODY COUNT’s sophomore set, BORN DEAD (1994) {*5}, another accomplished metal-rap collection that wasn’t quite so inflammatory; respective best and worst examples: `Masters Or Revenge’ and a cover of `Hey Joe’.
Come the mid-90s, T was being hunted by Rutger Hauer in “Surviving The Game” (1994), locking horns with MOTORHEAD’s Lemmy and UGLY KID JOE’s Whitfield Crane for the “Airheads” minor hit soundtrack song (`Born To Raise Hell’), and starring in crusty comic book adaptation, “Tank Girl” (1995), to which he contributed `Big Gun’; the rap icon even branched into sci-fi, starring in William Gibson adaptation, “Johnny Mnemonic” (1995).
ICE-T resumed his recording career in typically bigoted fashion with VI: RETURN OF THE REAL (1996) {*5}, a clichéd gangster affair that added anti-Semitic sentiment to his litany of hate. This record fared better in the UK where it reached Top 30 status, but in America the man was struggling to raise the bar within the Top 100, despite the posturing `Pimp Anthem’ and so on.
Significant personnel changes to his BODY COUNT tally came about when Beatmaster V (aka Victor Ray Wilson) was diagnosed with leukemia and tragically died on April 30, 1996. Although he appeared on the third BODY COUNT effort, VIOLENT DEMISE: THE LAST DAYS (1997) {*5}, a fill-in drummer Jonathon James was there on hand. Mooseman (aka Lloyd Roberts III), too, was absent (he was to die in 2001). He was replaced by Griz. Sadly, the album didn’t live up to par with the day’s metal standards; only `My Way’, `Dead Man Walking’ and the anti-O.J. Simpson dig, `I Used To Love Her’ came up trumps.
ICE-T’s film work continued with “Below Utopia” and “Mean Guns” (both 1997), on which he began an association with cult B-director Albert Pyun on the latter. Between comedy flick, “The Deli”, and kids’ stuff, “Jacob Two Two Meets The Hooded Fang” (1999), the flyest man in rap starred in Pyun’s “Crazy Six” (1998). In what was a busy end of the millennium for the actor, he also appeared in various other low budget efforts including “Sonic Impact”, “The Heist” and “Frezno Smooth”, as well as straight-to-video Mario Van Peebles meteor drama, “Judgment Day”. There was narration work in the SNOOP DOGG-starring “Urban Menace” (1999), as well as both producing and starring in “Corrupt” (1999) and “The Wrecking Crew’ (1999).
ICE-T was out on his own once more courtesy of the David Fincher “Seven”-inspired SEVENTH DEADLY SIN (1999) {*5}. Featuring the 2PAC and BIGGIE tribute track, `Valuable Game’, the album failed to generate much media or chart interest. Had ICE-T finally lost out to his younger rivals? Recorded at The Crackhouse, it at least gave a window for the talents to feature guests King Tee (`Check Your Game’), Marc Live (`The 7th’) and Bazaro/Grip (`Hardcore’).
While the year 2000 brought perhaps the most surreal hip hop feature of all time, “Leprechaun In The Hood”, and roles in the by-now mandatory slew of sci-fi/action straight-to-video material. The year also saw him putting on that police badge once again on “The Alternate”, and alongside COOLIO in futuristic thriller, “Gangland”; and he at least got a credit along with Dennis Hopper and Michael Madsen in Luca Bercovici’s “Luck Of The Draw”.
If ICE CUBE had his WESTSIDE CONNECTION, then ICE-T (as keyboardist Ice Oscillator) had another feather to his boa (notwithstanding BODY COUNT), when he joined forces with like-minded hardcore hip hoppers, ANALOG BROTHERS. Also featuring Keith Korg (aka Kool Keith) on bass, strings, vocals, Mark Moog (Marc Live) on drums, violyns, vocals, Silver Synth (Black Silver) on synths, lazar bell, vocals, and Rex Roland (Pimp Rex) on keyboards, vocals, production, PIMP TO EAT (2000) {*6} maintained their cosmic misogynist ethos like some bad-boy GIL SCOTT-HERON in a meet with 2 LIVE CREW.
In 2001, Tracy teamed up with SNOOP DOGG and JA RULE in Donald Goines’ adaptation, “Crime Partners 2000”. He also landed a role in the Kurt Russell/Kevin Costner head-to-head, “3000 Miles To Graceland” and in erotic low budget job, “Kept”; returning to cinemas and the wrong side of the tracks with a rare, typically gritty feature (“‘R Xmas”) from a (relatively) big name director in Abel Ferrara. “Out Kold” saw yet another hip hop pairing, this time with old skool legend KOOL MOE DEE, while he continued working with Pyun – notably via a cameo in terrorism drama. In effect, “Point Doom”, “Ticker”, “Ablaze”, “Guardian” and “Air Rage” and “Stranded” (2002) saturated the video market for a man probably too obsessed by the dollar bill. But thankfully the man let up a little after the Fred Williamson-directed “On The Edge” (2002) that had him mixing it with original Blaxploitation icon Ron O’Neal.
It was no coincidence that when he married glamour model Coco Austin in January 2002, his time moved on into other interests. ICE-T’s feature appearances became even more marginal as the decade wore on, comprising another Fred Williamson film, “Lexie” (2004), and prison drama, “Tracks” (2005). More interesting were his many TV/documentary appearances, where his well-earned reputation as an intelligent, provocative and humorous commentator on subjects dear to his heart (hip hop, pimps, guns, politics, etc.) was yet to fail him. Like his namesake and old sparring partner ICE CUBE, the “O.G.” man even moved into reality TV with “Ice-T’s Rap School”, working a similar premise of white culture encountering black.
Rap and rock music was of course ICE-T’s first love, and inevitably his 7-year-itch was scratched (and sampled) on two counts in quick succession. In August 2006, BODY COUNT released MURDER 4 HIRE {*5} – paying homage to lost “ghetto guitarist” homeboy D-Roc the Executioner (aka Dennis Miles) who passed away of lymphoma on August 17, 2004 – Ice-T and Ernie C had now been joined by Bendrix (rhythm guitar), Vincent Price (bass) and O.T. (drums); there was a guest spot too for Trigga Tha Gambler, who featured on the `Invincible Gangsta’ track. Hot on its heels, the month of October saw the ICE-T man cometh again with the multi-OTT-production values of GANGSTA RAP (2006) {*5}.
Over the course of the next several years; having left his solo career behind (for now), Tracy continued to concentrate on his screen CV via TV’s long-running series “Law & Order”, whilst taking up offers to appear in movies from 2007’s “Apartment 309” to 2013’s Santorini Blue” and “Once Upon A Time In Brooklyn”.
For the seven years after that, ICE-T featured frequently in the equally long-running “Chicago P.D.”, whilst movie work came by way of “Crossed The Line” (2014), “The Ghetto” (2015), “Bloodrunners” (2017) and voice of Peggy, the one-eyed flying unicorn, in the “UglyDolls” animation.
On the extreme polar opposite of the rapper’s thespian attributes, BODY COUNT – i.e. Ice-T, Ernie C, rhythm guitarist Juan of the Dead, bassist Vincent Price, drummer Ill Will and the returning Sean E Sean – triggered another rapid round of peppered bulletins a la MANSLAUGHTER (2014) {*7}. With no fresh solo material available for some time, the raucous thrash-metal record nearly hit the Top 100; bolstered by the ear-bending `Talk Shit, Get Shot’, `99 Problems BC’ and a re-vamp of SUICIDAL TENDENCIES’ `Institutionalized 2014’.
Switching from Sumerian Records to Century Media for 2017’s BLOODLUST {*7}, BODY COUNT strengthened their rap-rock resolution when roping in guests Dave Mustaine, Max Cavalera and LAMB OF GOD’s Randy Blythe to extol the respective virtues of `Civil War’, `All Love Is Lost’ and `Walk With Me…’, whilst stripping away the barriers incurred by a corrupt system by covering SLAYER’s `Raining In Blood / Postmortem’.
Adding up to seven in all, BODY COUNT’s CARNIVORE (2020) {*7} was another killer thrash-metal/punk stab from ICE-T, Ernie C, Sean E Sean and Co’s righteous razor-sharp blade(s) of truth and justice. Over the past several years or so the socially-conscious rapper had stuck to his guns and fired out BC sets in his mission to best get his message across. Augmented here by guests Amy Lee (of EVANESCENCE), Jamey Jasta (of HATEBREED) and Riley Gale (of Power Trip) on respective tracks, `When I’m Gone’, `Another Level’ and `Point The Finger’, there was indeed a sense of urgency for the now unfortunately-monikered BODY COUNT to strike while the irony gets extremely hotter. And following on from single fodder (`Bum-Rush’ and the title track), the band finally paid homage to Lemmy (and MOTORHEAD) via an almost note-for-note re-tread of `Ace Of Spades’.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS/BG // rev-up MCS Sep2019-Mar2020

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