Ice T recently released his seventh hardcore hiphop album, The 7th Deadly Sin (Atomic Pop). He's acted in a dozen tv shows and more than twice as many movies. He also fronts a death-metal band, Body Count, that's made three albums. His book, The Ice Opinion (St. Martin's), was published in 1994. Lately he's put a lot of work into his new label, Coroner Records, and its homepage (just add dot-com). Tracks from The 7th Deadly Sin can be previewed for free at atomicpop.com. We spoke on the phone.
Your new album is cool. How do you think it will sell?
When you get to groups that got seven or eight albums out?myself, I'm not somebody who can say, "Oh this record sold better than that," because: Prince. Muthafuckas that I look at?George Clinton, too?they got albums that were not the flavor of the month? I think this record is gonna do something interesting because the climate accepts this record more so than prior.
My records were always too far ahead! I was talking about Rolexes 12 years ago! Muthafuckas was like, "What is a Rolex? Is that my father's watch?" Y'know? I had a Rolex in the 10th grade, muthafucka.
The funniest thing I run into are people who are like, "Gangsta rap is over." I'm like, "Have you ever looked at Murder Dog magazine?" I'm like, "Name me five groups that ain't gangsta rap."
Look at the Billboard Hot 100.
You could go Fugees, Lauryn Hill, Will Smith?beyond that there's aggression and sinning.
So even Puffy?
Let's do it?you say, "What I want is to get more cars than any-fuckin'-body"?that's greed. "Why? So I can knock a bitch!"?that's lust. "And if you run up on my car I'ma blow your fuckin' head off"?anger. "Why would you run up?"?'cause you hate me. "And when I get paid I'ma kick back and never work again"?sloth. "'Cause I'm the flyest muthafucka that ever lived"?pride. It's music for sinners.
Let's talk about envy. On 7th Deadly Sin you have a couple of tracks about being betrayed by a friend. That's got to be the darkest gangsta theme, and you have that cold Mobb Deep sorta sound there to go with it.
That skit in there is real.
Where you get a phone call informing you that your man set you up? That's a real phone call?
Not a real phone call, but a real scenario. That shit happened. It was funny, though, because when the shit happened?we got set up, put in the cross by this kid?and after the shit happened, we called in the infantry, asked what's going on and nobody knew. We was like, okay, well cats is gotta talk. Three hours later, I make a phone call to this one kid, I tell him what happened and he's like, "Yeah, we know who did it." Just like that. I'm like, "What?" And he's like, "Yeah, it was your boy." I said, "How the fuck ya gonna tell me that shit, man?" He's like, "Yo, kid, he asked me some questions. He wanted me to be down. I didn't think the muthafucka had the guts, but the nigga put it down like that."
So we went right through it. And it was so much pain, because I had put this muthafucka in the game. When shit went wrong, I asked some of my people and they were like, "That's somebody you fed, kid."
When did this happen?
Y'know, we can't really elaborate?
But are you saying your life was in danger recently, or is this a story from back in the day?
Let me put it like this: It was a real scenario. It's so real that it ain't somethin' to be talked about. If you go out and say somethin' on paper, and then somethin' happens to someone, then: You done said somethin'!
Right, you're on record.
You feel me? But basically, we had a bad scenario with one of our friends, and we let the shit ride. But the truth of the matter is we found out who did it real quick, and that's what the record was about: "Ain't that a bitch?"
My thing with gangsta rap is that it's nothing if you just say it. If you just deal with it on the surface?"I'm tough, I'm bad, I'm rough." The trick is to get at the complexities of being rough. Like in "New Jack Hustler" when I said, "Well, since I don't know/And I ain't never learn/I gotta get paid." So when I ask you the question, "What would you do if somebody killed your best friend?" Okay, I know it's wrong, but what would you do? Let me put you in the position. What would you do if your best friend crossed you? Or if you say you're gonna shoot me, should I blast you first? These are the things that kids on the streets go through continuously. Those questions?not will the Fed raise interest rates. Who gives a fuck?I'm dealing with a kid who aimed a gun in my face at a club and said he's gonna kill me. What the fuck do I do?
Because you're a good, practiced writer, your gangsta stories come across sorta literary. That blurs the line in terms of how much autobiography we're dealing with here.
My thing is, with all these kids, all this rappin'?the shit is real. It doesn't matter if Master P is well known, he makes movies?you think muthafuckas won't go to his house and snatch him and his kid up and kill 'em? You think Ice Cube, just 'cause he makes records and movies, that the neighborhood won't murder him in his sleep? You think that just because you make records all that is just, you have a past? It's more like the ghetto holds you more accountable!
If I go out to a club?I'm in Miami tonight, and if I go out to a club tonight, that element is gonna push themselves right up against me. "Oh you a commentator, Ice T? What's up, Ice T?" They gonna wanna feel me. Tupac and Biggie are dead. Shit ain't real? The only thing that changes is you get money coming in from another angle. You might not be sellin' drugs or robbin' or stealin' no more, but you more than likely still carrying heat, watchin' your back. And the streets turn to you and make them phone calls?"Yo man we gonna need this money"?they'll try to extort from you.
The only way it changes is if you heard Ice T moved to fuckin' Vermont or something. But I'll tell you a funny story about that. I went to Maui for a vacation. I was sittin' on the beach, lookin' at fuckin' whales, and George Benson walked up. And he was like, "Hey, Ice T, I have the only studio on the island. You should come and record." I'm lookin' at him and I'm like?y'know, that would be so fly, but I gotta go back to Vietnam if I'ma commentate on it. I gotta stay near it.
So where's your studio?
We live in Hollywood, on Sunset Plaza. I got a house and studios inside the crib. It's cool. But lemme tell you. Everybody in L.A. is very happy for me. And I keep my friends real close, and try to inspire them to wanna do things, but, as far as that reality shit, check this out. I tell reporters, just hang out with me. Kick it with me for 24 hours and do what I do. You won't want to hang out every place I'm gonna go! You'd be like, Oh shit. But what more muthafuckas are concerned with than how real it is now is how real you claimed it was. A lot of cats didn't get that energy until they started making records. So now they the man, now they can afford the jewelry and now they can wear it and look like the somethin'?
But they might not be the kind of people who'd have had the courage it takes to come up?
?wearin' all that back in the day. As far as what the streets are concerned with, it's more like, "What's your standing, for real, out here? You claim you was a street soldier?what was your standing?" By now, believe me, after 14 years of me doing it, you ain't never heard one person say Ice T ain't real.
No I haven't.
By now somebody would've checked me?"C'mon Ice!" If I have to act it out, if I have to be aggressive, at this point in my life, I just can't make records no more. 'Cause I'm not going to jail. I'm not gonna act crazy or stupid. You ain't never heard about me gettin' busted with no gun, or no drugs, or goin' to court. Like Threat said, "Real gangstas don't say what they do/They just do what they got to."
The Ice Opinion contains a very clear, concise analysis of the political implications of gangsta rap.
The main thing that goes on, like Jello Biafra taught me, is all about communication. It's not so much fear of the words, it's fear of the white kid liking the black kid, or romancing that life. Lookin' at it, seeing 3-6 Mafia on tv and being like, "Mom, I like that." "What? You like that? Them's niggas!" "But I wanna tear the club up!" They like that! Even scarier is the little white girl hangin' a picture of me in shackles over her princess bedroom set. That's fear. That connects to Chuck D's theory of Fear of a Black Planet. But I truly don't believe, considering that I've been in rock?I've been out on tour with Cannibal Corpse, Crowbar, Napalm Death?that white parents are afraid of "toxic" material, considering how many kids are listening to Marilyn Manson and shit. It's not that. It's more the fear of them embracing the ghetto and the way we see things. When you hear like, "Oh some kids in Omaha might join the Crips!" Well they're just stupid little dumb fucks. Black kids are tryin' to get outta the gangs!
I don't really feel any pressure, as a supporter of hardcore, from white conservatives. I'm much more conscious of the objections of educated black people, people who went through the Civil Rights struggle.
Yeah, they're full of shit too. It's like, the black people who went through the Civil Rights struggle, they're just?a lot of them are for real, but with black people there's always different versions of the way we see things. There are black people who look at Rudy Ray Moore as black exploitation, and black people who love Rudy Ray Moore.
I know. I don't think of the millions of black people in America as a single demographic, the way Hollywood seems to. I just find that particular complaint, from the black middle class about safe white kids worshipping ghetto thugs, much harder to answer than white advocates of censorship who don't know anything. I talked to one newspaper editor recently?a black man who was a gangster and after that a Marine?and he was like, "Yeah, I've heard plenty of tough talk and don't see it as anything to be impressed with."
Whatever, that's his prerogative.
I'm not saying I have to win an argument with this guy?just that that's the kind of pressure I feel against gangsta rap and my experience of who's concerned about its effects.
Music is something anybody can turn off and turn on. It's not for everyone. A lot of people don't like scary movies, but some people love 'em. I was blessed in that people give a fuck about what I write. That's what I write well and those are the stories I tell.
But the question is: Is it really decadent and harmful? Do you really think what you do is sinful?
Yeah, it is decadent.
And if you were healthy, you'd stop making it?
Do you think you need to stop making gangsta rap, in order to get to heaven?
Heaven?! Who the fuck wants to go to heaven? I don't know nobody there. No, I'm not into religion. I'm not into all that fuckin' bullshit.
Human beings are 90 percent sin, 10 percent confusion. Decadence?get the fuck outta here! Everybody wants to fuck everybody else's girl, muthafuckas is greedy, humans are in a constant mental battle with denial of what they really are! How the fuck is some Marine muthafucka, a paid killer, gonna tell me about decadence?
There's a blood lust out there, and people have to find some way to serve it. Some people listen to ill records, some people watch horror movies and Too Real for TV, or Jerry Springer, some people go to the fights, some people look at car accidents?they don't wanna see a race until somebody wrecks. Like I said, mine is sinner music. You see the title is 7th Deadly Sin. You don't like that, don't listen to the shit! It's like when I used to pimp. I'm standing in the club, in a muthafuckin' canary-yellow suit, curls in my hair, a big-ass diamond medallion on. Okay, bitch, if you see me, you know I'm a pimp, you have two options: either say, "That's a pimp, I don't wanna fuck with him," or you choose! You ain't got no business in a pimp's face unless you choosin'! And when you see a record with niggas with guns on the cover?that's a fuckin' gangsta record! Don't listen to it! But if it's your thing, you should have the right to indulge.
That analogy brings us to your song "Always Wanted Ta Be a Ho." That's you at your best right there.
Muthafuckas love that record.
It's a really catchy little tune she's singing.
We came up with that from listenin' to "It's a Hard Knock Life." Jay-Z had the idea of sampling little girls singing, and I was like, "What if that kid was singing the worst possible shit?" The worst! [sings] "It's a hard knock life," that's cool, but it's from Annie. It was clever. But my mind clicked right in and said, What if she was singin' the most wrong possible thing? And we took it from there. My boys was always tellin' me, "You should make a record breaking a bitch down." Then, I was writing the record, and Darlene was like, "No, you should make it that she's eager to do it." Because that's how hos really are?they're eager.
Is that true? You've actually heard a young girl say, "I always wanted to be a ho"?
Hos wanna ho, man! They just lookin' for the right pimp.
Yeah, but that's not the same as "I always wanted to."
I think they all do. I think I found out that all women, deep down inside, wanna know if they can stand the test of that track. I think every girl looks at a prostitute and turns her nose up, but deep down inside wonders how much money she could make. And they're jealous of male promiscuity? they wanna test that shit.
I'm a decadent cat. I only like it decadent. But then, though?I don't. That's wrong, because I'm into Sade, I'm in Vegas bangin' with The New Radicals. [sings] "Don't give up/You got the music in you." I think music is for particular vibes and energies. If you feel like driving down the freeway at 100 miles an hour you may wanna listen to Motörhead. If you in that vibe, muthafuckas is gettin' high and you kickin' back maybe Mobb Deep will set the mode. But if you go get a girl, you trying to lay her, you don't put on Public Enemy! Put on Sade!
I say on the new record, "One-two/I make beats to load guns to," and "Beats for hoodlums/Somebody's gotta do 'em." That's real, somebody's got to. As long as I got a bunch of friends who are still hoodlums, I'll be makin' them records. They coax me: "Ice, nigga, say that shit! Go in the club and let muthafuckas know we in here!"
As far as it being harmful, I've yet to see any evidence. If I really thought the shit was harmful I wouldn't do it.
I try to go further than that and say there's value in it.
I think it's just entertainment. It's background music for a life. If kids wanna kill somebody, you could throw on Whitney Houston and blow a muthafucka's head off. It's not like, "We gotta kill that kid?go get the Eazy-E tape!"
Well, what about all the safe, privileged kids getting amped up on hardcore for a Saturday night in the suburbs?
Whatever. If they blast somebody, they're going to jail. But I'm like you?I've listened to Ozzy Osbourne and I ain't bit the head off no bat.
This hardcore shit feeds the animal instinct inside of males. It's very male music. If Will Smith goes into a studio and starts rapping about getting jiggy, we all cool. If U-God says, "I'll blow your mic hand off," it clicks on a switch in a male that says, "Oooh." That's that energy.
Now tell me, because I don't know what it is: What is going on in the pit? I've been in many pits, Slayer pits. Tell me?what, in the fuck, is going on? It's some ill, animal shit that certain people release, certain people don't know how to. Someone once asked me, "Ice, what's the difference between you 15 years ago and you now?" I said, "Focus." The early Ice T was, "I'll kill everybody!" The new Ice T is like, "Oh, by the way, you know I'll kill you, right?" It's another zone, and that second one is more scary than the first.
Because you can unleash the animal at will.
Yeah?like when Prodigy [of Mobb Deep] says, "I'm only 19 but my mind is old/When the thing gets for real my warm heart turns cold."
You don't think there's value in that, really? When someone can express themselves so vividly? I think that's deeper than entertainment.
It's cool for the heads that wanna get in, but sometimes it's over muthafuckas' heads. We say, "So why them niggas ain't dead?/Probably 'cause my aim is over niggas' heads."
So you're saying you think it's more, but it's easier for you to say hardcore is just entertainment and leave it at that.
There's value for those who find value in it. I think, from the artists' perspective, that that's something you should say. I don't paint a picture and tell you it's valuable. I'm glad people think there's value?but you don't wanna get on your own dick.