Ice-T Biography

Tracy Marrow, 16 February 1958, Newark, New Jersey, USA. One of the most outspoken rappers to emerge from the 80s west coast hip-hop scene, and one of the founding fathers of gangsta rap, Ice-T boasts (sometimes literally) a violent past in which he was shot twice - once while involved in an armed robbery. His name, fittingly, is taken from black exploitation author Iceberg Slim, and his backing on record provided by Afrika Islam and DJ Aladdin’s hardcore hip-hop. His first record was actually ‘The Coldest Rapper’ in 1983, which was improvised over a Jimmy Jam And Terry Lewis rhythm, and made him the first Los Angeles hip-hop artist. Unfortunately he was subsequently held under contract by mogul Willie Strong for several years. Disillusioned, he made his money from petty and not so petty crime, and appeared in the breakdance movie Breakin’, which included his ‘Reckless’ cut on the soundtrack. He followed it with the faddish ‘Killers’ single. The breakthrough, however, came with ‘Ya Don’t Know’, which was widely credited with being the first west coast hip-hop artefact (although the honour was undoubtedly Ice-T’s, the real beneficiary should have been the obscure ‘The Coldest Rapper’ cut).

Four LPs in just three years created something of a stir in the USA, based as they were largely on Ice-T’s experiences as a gang member in Los Angeles. In 1989, he reached the lower end of the UK charts with ‘High Rollers’, but did better the following year teaming up with Curtis Mayfield on a remake of ‘Superfly’. He married Darlene, the model who normally appeared semi-clad on his record sleeves, and admitted to owning a pit bull terrier affectionately titled Felony. For a time, too, he delighted in inviting journalists to his luxury Beverly Hills home to show them his personal armoury of semi-automatic weapons. Success also enabled him to start his own record company, Rhyme Syndicate.

Ice-T’s vision of the black man as sophisticated and articulate (being hard as nails is, of course, de rigueur) ranks him among the most potent forces in contemporary black culture. His refusal to engage in a white liberal agenda (he was the first rap artist to have warning stickers placed on his album sleeves) irritated many, but helped to establish him as an authentic spokesperson for dispossessed black youth. His 1987 debut, Rhyme Pays, featured an Uzi emblazoned on the cover, an image that served as a particularly effective mission statement: hardcore raps on street violence and survival being the order of the day. By the time of its follow-up, there was demonstrably greater imagination displayed in terms of backing music. Like many of his west coast brethren, Ice-T had rediscovered funk. Notable tracks included ‘Girls L.G.B.N.A.F., which the PMRC later discovered stood for ‘Let’s Get Butt Naked And Fuck’. Their reaction to this (possibly among the least offensive statements on Ice-T’s records) was so overheated that the debate heavily informed his follow-up set. However, his crowning glory came with 1991’s OG (an acronym for Original Gangster that has since passed into rap’s lexicon), which ranks alongside the best work of Ice Cube, Public Enemy or N.W.A. in terms of sustained intensity, yet managed to maintain a little more finesse than his previous work.

In 1991, with appealing irony, Ice-T starred as a cop in the movie New Jack City. He had earlier contributed the title track to the LA gangster movie Colors. He also appeared with former N.W.A. and solo artist Ice Cube in the Walter Hill movie Looters (renamed Trespassers owing to its release at the same time as the LA riots), as well as Surviving The Game and cult comic hero movie Tank Girl. His other soundtrack credits include Dick Tracy.

Ice-T’s hobbies during the early 90s included his own thrash metal outfit, Body Count, who released an album in 1992 and stirred up immeasurable controversy via one of its cuts, ‘Cop Killer’. The furore led to the termination of his major-label recording contract, and it was little wonder that Ice-T was targeted on right-wing assassination lists discovered by the police in 1993. His album from that year, Home Invasion, saw him take on the mantle of agent provocateur in the young white male’s home, a theme reinforced in its cover and title - Ice-T was a threat in your neighbourhood, with another manifesto of spiteful intent (‘I’m takin’ your kids’ brains, You ain’t getting them back, I’m gonna fill ‘em with hard drugs, big guns, bitches, hoes and death’). Then he went and spoiled all the good work by writing a book, the Ice-T Opinion, which was so full of dumb ideas that it largely discredited such achievements. On 22 March 1994, he introduced UK television station Channel 4’s Without Walls, a documentary on the rise of the blaxploitation movies. Ice-T’s own recording career in the late 90s was sidetracked by his movie commitments, although he managed to find the time to record 1999’s poorly received 7th Deadly Sin. The following year he began appearing as Detective Odafin ‘Fin’ Tutuola in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a role for which he is now more widely known than his pioneering musical exploits over the previous 15 years. His own life would make an excellent documentary subject, although, as he notes in Home Invasion’s ‘Ice Muthafuckin’ T’, ‘Every fucking thing I write, Is going to be analysed by somebody white’.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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