By: Kyle Eustice (Originally for RAPstation.com)
When Ice-T was growing up in New York, he was heavily influenced by his uncle, who was into heavy metal and hard rock. While hip-hop was a constant presence in his life, he drew from all types of musical styles to hone in on his signature sound. From the unapologetically brash nature of his work with Body Count to the narrative tales of a gangster on his solo albums, he did everything using a range of influences.
Although his gang life is long gone, he still has haunting visions of his past that often linger. In fact, he still has nightmares of being shot and killed every night. In a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone, he explained, “My brain is wired different. If that door opened and I ask you, ‘Who’s coming through that door?,’ somebody could say, ‘My mother’ or maybe ‘somebody from my past,’ but I’d say, ‘Some dudes in ski masks.’ I’ve been in heavy situations. When you lived it, you’re paranoid. I carried guns so much that I had a bruise on my leg for a year after I stopped. It’s that life that I wouldn’t wish on anybody. You think you want to do it until you get into it. Then you’re like, “Lord have mercy.” My music is warning you. It might seem like I’m promoting it, but I’m really warning you against it like, ‘You don’t wanna fuck with this.’”
These days, he’s focused on his acting role on Law and Order: SVU, the Art of Rap Festival tour and being a father again at the age of 58. Ice-T had a few moments to discuss meeting Chuck D for the first time, why a good rapper doesn’t need music and how ecstasy made him the techno god.
When did you meet Chuck D for the first time?
Ice-T: It had to be on the road. The first time I saw Chuck D, they were on stage and I wasn’t. They were out in LA doing a big tour with LL Cool J. LL had just come out with Radio, Run DMC were on tour, the S1Ws had the uzis back there. I was like, ‘These mother fuckers is bad ass.’ I know how I heard of Chuck, too. I had a friend named Glen Friedman, who shot all of our album covers. Glen had tapes and he was friends with Rick Rubin. He was like, ‘Yo, you gotta hear this dude, Chuckie D.’ It was before Public Enemy. He was like, ‘Public enemy number one.’ That was just one of his songs. I knew he said something like, ‘Here’s a tool for your mama/I heard she fixes old driers.’ I was like. ‘What is this dude talking about? This is ill.’ This shit was dope. Then when I seen them—they came out right before I came out. Public Enemy came out with their album and then I dropped Rhyme Pays. They were in the air. Eric B. and Rakim had dropped. There was a lot of really good music at that time.
It was the most incredible era to come out. I personally don’t vibe with a lot of the new stuff that’s out there. Is that me being too closed minded? What do you think about that?
Some of the stuff is really good. The production of the new music is impressive. A lot of stuff you hear in
the club is so fucking good that you’re just like, ‘God damn, who are these producers? Where do these mother fuckers come from?’ Sonically..the music became so sonically dope that rappers really stopped rapping. They just can just ride the track. If you listen to something like Desiinger like [singing] ’I got hos in Atlanta,’ you don’t know what he says after that, but the beat is just disgusting. It’s ridiculous and he’s riding the shit so hard he goes platinum. I think a lot rappers, and I’m not just picking on him, are getting a free ride off a super dope beat.
I feel like story telling has been lost.
“My opinion is a good rapper doesn’t need music. If you’re listening to a really good rapper theres no need for any music because they can rap. They can entertain you and keep you entranced in the story or the lyrical flow, or whatever it is.”
When you have the new artists out here and stuff, some of them are extremely overrated. I don’t know you like em, that’s cool. Me, I already learned my lesson. You say a name and it causes controversy and makes you look bad. Even in our era, I didn’t fuck with every rapper either. There were certain people that were good and others that we weren’t fucking with. Many people wasn’t fucking with me, ‘Ah fuck Ice T. Ice-T is whack. I don’t like his beats.’ That’s why there’s channels on the radio.
Just remember this—culture is always its most true near its root. If you go to reggae, if you go to rap, if you go to rock, right near the root where it’s startin’, that’s where it’s going to be the most real. Once money and corporate America comes in, once radio becomes a controlling factor, you’re going to get cookie cutter music that fits the format. That era you’re talking about was counter-format. It wouldn’t get on the radio. Like Q-Tip said, ‘Rap is not pop/if you call it that, then stop.’ It’s counter. Luke Skywalker was counter. It was everything that couldn’t be on the radio. That’s what we were doing. Now you go in the studio and they’re telling you to make something you can get airplay on. It is what it is. I mean, take somebody like Drake. I like Drake’s singing. I can play [singing] “I’m coming home,” that’s shit’s banging. He’s singing like a mother fucker. Drake can really, really rap, too, but I listen to some of Drake’s songs and it sounds like he’s dumbing it down, like he’s doing something under his capability. I think you could put on a Gang Starr beat and Drake could destroy it. I think he also knows what he’s doing. I’ve heard some songs and I’m like, ‘What the fuck is that?’ Trip off this, the biggest earner is J Cole and J Cole writes rhymes and Kendrick writes rhymes. It’s like you can get that quick money doing those catchy, hooky songs, but I don’t know if they’ll be around like me in 40 years.
No, probably not [laughs].
No. You need a catalog of music. Right now, I’m at a point, like I say ‘the Frank Sinatra point,’ where I don’t really need to make records. I have a catalog. I have hundreds of song and people are happy just hearing them.
Yeah, your history runs deep.
God bless the new artists and this may be a fad, too—shallow rap. It might come back to lyrics and stuff, and real beats. They’re still are beasts walking the earth—like Eminem and Tech N9ne. Don’t think you can’t get caught up in one of their rap blitzes. You still have Busta Rhymes who can rap circles around mother fuckers.
There will always be, I call it, the club music. One girl was telling me that trap music is really for trap houses where people are high. They’re so high they’re just listening to the music and the words repeating themselves. It’s meant to be listened to under the influence of drugs [laughs]. It’s dope house music. First you gotta go drink some promethazine, get high and then listen to it.
Listen, I didn’t understand techno until I was on ecstasy.
I read back when you were younger, you were one of the few who didn’t mess around with drugs or alcohol.
I know. I don’t smoke weed. I don’t drink. I don’t do nothing. I didn’t do any drugs. I was like, ‘I won’t do
any drugs unless you can tell me a benefit to it.” Someone convinced me E would help me have the best sex of my life. I took it and that night I understood techno. I was the techno god. I saw that shit, I heard that shit, I understood it totally, and had the best sex of my life. Nobody lied to me. I think you cannot comment on trap music until you go into that trap zone and sit in the dope house.
I think I’ll stay away from the dope house.
With all respect to the trap artists out there, I think that’s part of it. I think you’re right. About drugs and alcohol thing—what do you think of artists that do put that out there, especially to young kids? That’s their business.
The artists have no social responsibility?
No, not really. I mean, of course drug abuse is bad, but it’s a choice you make. My wife drinks. I have friends who smoke weed. Hard drugs will kill you dead—don’t get it fucked up, but you’re an adult and it’s your choice. No, Ice is not that guy. I just make my own decisions. I choose not to. That’s not a deal breaker as a friend. My deal is I don’t fuck with people who do hard drugs. If I know you’re on hard drugs, I can’t fuck with you at all. You’ll rob me and apologize while you’re robbing me. My friends on weed and youngins doing their thing, I don’t really get into it. I’m just like, ‘Hey if you want to be like me, you might want to live like me.’
Did you hear about Prince?
What about Prince?
It was confirmed he died of an opioid overdose.
I can dig that. I had knee surgery and I was on Percocet and I was taking that shit, after two weeks, I understood what withdrawal was like. When you stop it, it starts making to feel like you have the flu and you feel sick. And your brain tells you all you have to do is take another pill, now you’re taking the pill to remain normal. I got off that shit real quick. For whatever reason, him and millions of other people are dealing with that shit. You felt like you were a heroin addict. Now you know what drug addicts go through.