Ice T Is The Original Gangsta: Reflecting On “Cop Killer,” Avoiding The Dry Snitch & More
By now, you think know what Ice T is about. But maybe not the full extent of it. There’s something to be said about an artist who continually challenges himself, let alone for decades. And yet Ice T still stands, the archetypical OG. Having broke bread with every legendary rapper, all while forging his own path as an influential emcee, actor, businessman, front-man and overall visionary, Ice T’s career is unrivaled in its scope. There’s seemingly nothing he hasn’t done, from being the face of a full-scale controversy to orchestrating the “Wall Of Death” at a metal festival overseas. He’s played a cop. He’s “killed” a cop on record. The man wears many hats.
With another new season of Law And Order Special Victims Unit in the production stages, Ice recently delivered the second chapter of his “Feds In My Rearview Trilogy.” Taking some time to speak with me during a break in filming, Ice opened up about his endeavors both past and future, laying down some of the OG principles he’s been abiding by since the start. Rest assured, there was plenty of wisdom to be found and laughter to be had throughout the half-hour conversation. As real as they come, check out our exclusive interview with the legendary Ice T.
Ice T: Aye Mitch, what’s up?
HNHH: Not too much! So, I just watched the video for “Too Old For Dumb Shit.” Very cool. When did you shoot that?
We shot a couple weeks ago.
Nice. How long did it take, out of curiosity?
About two days and then just a pick-up or two, but you know, we shoot them fast. And not two days hard, maybe a total of eight hours.
How did you approach bringing the song and the lyrics to the director? Do you guys work together at all to structure out a cohesive story?
Yeah, I’m kind of co-directing with Jay. So, me and him have been doing all the videos the last couple of years for Body Count, for all of the Ice T stuff, so we have a good understanding. And the whole concept of these records was to make a trilogy that was like “audio/film.” The videos on these songs are just as important as the song.
What inspired you to tell this particular story?
What happened is, I started to work with Mark on The Legends project. He’s a friend of mine, he’s actually the guy that’s running The Legends label. He’s actually my hype man. He was a rapper from a group called Raw Breed, he worked with me and Kool Keith on many different projects. He said he had a deal and he was going to do an album, so we pretty much said we’d donate a record to the album.
I had no real reason to make rap records. I was just chillin’, I wasn’t really motivated. Everybody was like, “Do another album, do another album.” I’m like, I don’t really want to do another album. I came up with an idea to do three songs that connected and that we would do visuals too. We put “Feds” out first, “Feds” is on the Legends recording album. We put that out first and that was actually the second song. So we put that out first, and after I saw the response to that I’m like, we’re gonna go through with this, we’re gonna finish this off. So we went and shot “Too Old for the Dumb Shit” and now we have one more video called “The Hanging.” That will be out in maybe a month or two.
I find, having watched your performance on SVU for so long and now seeing this, it’s crazy to see two different sides of you depicted in your acting. Do you find it hard to get into the character of a criminal after playing a cop for so long?
No. It’s hard to get into the character of a cop every day [Laughs] I fucking hate the cop. But, at least the cop I play on SVU is chasing rapists and pedophiles. I think that artists don’t have a problem with it. I think an artist can swing from serial killer, to teacher, to judge, to lawyer, with the snap of a finger. I think that’s what acting is. It’s make-believe, but viewers buy into it. They go, “Oh my god, Ice T, you’ve become a cop.” I’m like no, no, no no! And I play the cop in New Jack City so it’s nothing. But it’s refreshing. One of my friends watched [“Too Old For The Dumb Shit], she said “Ah man, your fans have been longing to see you back to your hardcore shit.” So this is going to be a refreshing moment for them.
I think because I hadn’t put out a lot of music as far as rap, it kind of let me fade off into this character more. People were like, “Why you just abandon rap?” Not to mention, I’ve been playing this character for 20 years. Usually, TV shows don’t go that long. They go four seasons or something and it’s over. I mean if you’re 20 years old you have no reference point to me as a rapper.
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No, probably not. Unless they’re really into hip-hop history.
Right, right. You’ve got kids out here that don’t know me any other way. Shit, if I met Telly Savalas I would swear to god he’s Kojak. Television is really powerful in that sense. But from the artist’s perspective, you’re going to do something that’s fun to you. I wanted to do some gangster shit. So we did this trilogy. It’s going to end very exciting too.
I’m looking forward to seeing the resolution of it. I was going to ask about your line “Every now and then, you gotta kill a friend.” Damn, that’s pretty cold. But I respect it.
Well, think about it like this. The person that’s gonna cross you usually won’t be a stranger. It’s going to be somebody who has befriended you. I mean that’s where the word betrayal comes from. Someone who has actually been your friend and now they’ve crossed you. I’ve had it happen to me. I didn’t kill the guy, but I wanted to. You know? You’re just like, Yo I’m really finna have to go get busy with somebody who I thought- I mean the worst drama is when it comes from somebody who is close to you. Now the whole “Feds In My Rear View Trilogy” is based on stress. Have you ever watched the show Power?
Haven’t dove in quite yet.
Well if you ever really watched a gangster movie, they’re never happy. The money is there, but they’re always under stress. Extreme stress. And I know from living in the life, carrying guns and being gangster out in the streets that it’s not what it’s cut out to be. It looks exciting, but you always have the metaphorical feds in your rearview. So, even if you listen to these two records and watch these two songs, because we’re going to link them together on Instagram. This guy is not having a great time! It’s like all the money and jewels to pay for the stress. Some nights I even sleep in my vest. So it’s like, do you want to trade your sanity for this life of crime? I don’t advise it.
Understandable. Although you did have a pretty cool swordfish decoration.
The swordfish is cool until the guys with the ski masks come in and murder my family, you see what I’m saying? [Laughs] All the trappings of the life, yeah that’s nice. But the real bottom of it is stress. That’s what the whole Feds trilogy is about. It’s not about the glamour of the game, it’s about the real dilemmas of the game.
I wanted to talk a little bit about your role in kick-starting gangster rap. That’s a huge thing. I was curious, when did you start to understand the impact of the OG role. How did you develop your principles as an OG as a younger artist, and now coming forward and delivering this?
What happened was, when I first started rap, I was listening to different groups in New York and I attempted to rap like that. And then I heard “PSK” by Schoolly D. He was repping Parkside Killas, and I’m like wait a minute, all these gangbanger rhymes I got in my head that I haven’t used…This is dope! So that’s when “6 In The Morning” was written. So, I always give Schoolly D the vote for actually triggering my brain. “6 In The Morning” was the first real gangster rap record after Schoolly’s “PSK.” Then came “Boyz N The Hood,” which is just basically “6 In The Morning.” Cube will tell you that.
As this apolitical music started to breed and you got people like the Geto Boys doing it, people all over the country, my only thing was: if you gonna tell the “A” side of the game, you gotta tell the “B” side of the game.” If you’re going to talk about the flamboyancy you also have to talk about the pain. Or you’re lying, or you never did it, or you never been there. So people like 2pac, Biggie, Jay-Z, people that basically came after us, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Nas, Wu-Tang…Every time you rap and you solve your problems with a gun, that’s gangsta rap.
True. When rappers are writing their bars and their lyrics, they’re obviously drawing a lot from their own experiences, but did you ever find it difficult to stay true and tell real stories without divulging too much? You know you got the feds watching, how do you keep it real?
You don’t wanna dry snitch on yourself. That’s when keeping it real goes wrong. What I write is called faction. It’s factual occurrences put into a fictional story. I’m not going to tell you exactly how things happened or the way it went, but I can use factual occurrences. Like on this song where I say, “No cellular, we bouncing off the satellite.” When we were in the game we had satellite phones that didn’t use cellular. They were pretty much impossible to bug or hack. If you watch any of the cartel movies, you’ll see them have the phones with the big fat antenna. So, in a way, I’m saying this is how we avoid the feds, and at the same time by now it’s common knowledge.
You gotta be careful. I wrote a book and the opening says, “People have to learn how to tell stories without implicating people who may not want that particular story told.” So yeah, you gotta tread lightly. You gotta know what to say and when to say it. But, the thing Ice-T, the person, me, the guy you’re talking to on the phone has lived out 90% of this shit and the rest of it happened to people very close to me. So I know the stuff I’m saying is factual, but it’s put into a song. So it’s not fact, it’s factual [Laughs].
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Fair enough! I’ve seen recently a couple of ongoing trials where hip hop artist’s music and videos are being used against them. Scary times for an artist I suppose.
Well, some of them are dumb. They’re like testifying on their records, they’re saying exactly what they did, you know? Like they went and shot somebody. They make a song play-for-play what they did, I’m like yo! Are you fucking kidding me? [Laughs]
You’re too old for the dumb shit.
Yeah! You gotta wake up at some point! I mean, we saw what happened with Tekashi. He went out here, he wanted to challenge the streets, and now you’re looking at life sentences and you’re ratting and all kinds of bullshit. You gotta deal very delicately with the streets. I respect the streets. I always want to put out music where people say “That’s real, that’s official, but Ice didn’t say too much and he kept it 100.”
You were obviously working a lot with Body Count, coming from a background where you got really into heavy metal music, correct?
Yeah, the new Body Count album is wrapping up right now. It’s called Carnivores. We’re supposed to turn it in by the end of this month but we won’t do it, but it’ll be out probably late this year.
I believe in you. Did you ever find it difficult balancing the rap influences and the metal influences? These are two very different worlds. How did you manage to go from one headspace to another?
Rap is kinda cooler. Rap is cool. You kind of vibe to rap and metal is very aggressive. So like, some songs that I’ll think of, I’m like that’s a Body Count song, and that’s more hip hop, you follow me? If it’s more cool and hip and vibey, it’s more to rap. But something that’s really aggressive, like I got a song called “No Remorse” on the new Body Count album. And even though it’s the hardest record, we’re trying to get Cube on it. I just think lyricists are lyricists and when you start to bend the genres, that’s when it becomes interesting to me.
Most definitely. Metal is full of genres. It’s got a comedic amount of genres. I’ve even heard of pig metal.
Right. Pig metal, black metal, experimental metal, some kind of mathematical metal someone told me about?
Maybe like nerd-core or some shit [Laughs]
Right. So the thing we tried to do with Body Count is to go from punk to heavy metal to other stuff. On the last album, I said Body Count is a cross between Suicidal, Black Sabbath, and Slayer.
And then you add me. The content that I’m going to write which will always have an urban edge to it. And then you got Body Count.
How’s your mosh pit game?
Me? I don’t go into moshpits, I’m too old for the dumb shit. I can’t go out there, I’ll break a hip or some shit! I now stand on stage and instruct people to go to the wall of death. I instruct people, I command that they go out there and try to kill themselves but I stand safely on the stage. [Laughs]
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I respect that. So as you were coming up, you had a song called “Cop Killer.” You were obviously at the center of many controversies about that song. I know you held your ground, but did you ever find it difficult to stand up for yourself with all the public scrutiny? And this is even before social media, this is before “cancel culture,” this was during a very interesting time.
The biggest lesson I learned was when you step in some shit, you’re pretty much in it alone. Everybody will back away from you. Now if you’re a bitch-ass motherfucker you’re gonna pull other groups in there with you. “Well what about them? Well what about them?” But I didn’t do that. I said nah this is my shit. We gonna ride this out. Now, at the same time they attacked us, they attacked Cannibal Corpse. Cannibal Corpse never said Body Count, we never said Cannibal Corpse. But we knew we were both under siege.
You learn that you can’t expect people to back you. Like people were backing me on free speech. “Well, he has the right to say this.” But nobody was willing to say: “The cops ain’t shit! The cops are killing kids!” Like right now, people are going out and they’re really attacking the cops and saying, “Hey, we need you guys to stand behind what the fuck you’re doing and take accountability for this bullshit.” When I did it, no one would stand on those grounds. They would just stand with me on free speech.
Nobody was saying, “He has the right to say this because the cops– blah, blah, blah.” They were like: “Well he has the right to say what he wants to say.” It not the balls I needed. So I said ok, I see where this is. And I learned a lesson from that. These people want to act like revolutionaries and act hardcore but when it comes down to it they not really gonna ride. So, you live and you learn. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. I still say what I fucking want to say but I just now know not to expect anybody to have my back. I think that’s a message to everyone. Don’t think that people are going to jump behind you just because you took a position. That’s your position.
Maaaaan, I’m sure you have so many stories! I’ve seen more and more artists speaking out about how impactful you were. Recently I even saw footage of you and Eminem, how you were one of the first rappers he ever heard. How does that make you feel?
That’s cool. I met Em when he was on Warped Tour and the white kids were booing him. The white kids were throwing shit at him. That’s when they used to use the term “wigger.” They didn’t like him because it was a punk rock tour. Now I was out there rapping, they didn’t have a problem with me, or with Black Eyed Peas before Franny. But when he got up there they felt it was ok to be disrespectful. And I watched him weather that storm.
I asked him back then, I said, “what do you want out of this?” He said, “Well I wanna be around like you and Dre.” Way back then he was concerned with longevity. And he was always a supernatural rapper, he was incredible, but was he going to be able to weather the storm? Now, the white kids love him! But he had to pay his dues. It was funny though, not funny, but he was getting more tension from the white audience than the black audience.
That was when, like 99’? 98’?
Yeah! That’s right when he came out, when he was new. And hey, everybody is inspired by somebody else. Some people are like “Oh, I watch Ice on SVU,” and then people are like I can do that, I had a guy tell me that the other day. He’s a standup comedian. He was like “Man I was in prison dude, watching you on TV, and I’m saying I can do that. Ice could just as easily be sitting in the cell with me. You know, Ice is that kind of motherfucker. But he’s on television man, let me get my ass out of here and get my shit together.”
And now, dude is a stand-up comedian, taking acting classes. You inspire people. Whenever someone sees someone who came from where they did or even lower, and they see them get their life together and do something, it’s inspiring.
What inspires you today?
My daughter. I got a new daughter. You know, at 61 I got a three-year-old. So I’m looking at her like god damn I gotta live, I gotta be healthy, I gotta stay the fuck around here. I gotta puy 20 more years in. I gotta walk her down the aisle. I gotta do all that kind of shit. So, I’m motivated to live, that’s the first inspiration you need. And then really, honestly, fan response is motivation.
When we first dropped the Body Count album Manslaughter, we hadn’t been out in 10 years. We didn’t know if the audience was waiting on us, but they were. I was like, oh shit, let’s go again! So when I dropped “Feds,” I didn’t know how the response was going to be. But it was overwhelming. It was like Ice, my n***a you back! So now, when we drop this one, we’re gonna drop this video for [Dumb Shit]. My whole thing with this is if I can put three videos together and keep a person’s attention for twelve minutes, that’s unheard of nowadays.
That’s unheard of. People don’t watch long-form, they don’t do that shit. So I like to make challenges, so I guess what motivates me is challenges. Like, let’s do some shit that really hasn’t been done. Somebody told me R. Kelly did it I was like, don’t say R Kelly and Ice T at the same time! Stop it! [Laughs]
You might be doing an episode based on him in the near future.
Oh, I’m sure we will. We did one on Jussie Smollett. We got him already. But I think I’m motivated about trying to continue to do new things. Like, if it’s been done I don’t really want to do it. I had a podcast for a while, then Nore came out with “Drink Champs” and I was like Nore got this, I’m cool. I like to be first. I’ve never been on anyone’s top 10 list or nothin, but I’ve always been first. You can’t take away first. You can take away a lot of shit, but you can’t take away the first.
How do you balance all these different creative endeavors? Do you have a schedule or something?
Yeah, it’s crazy. But do you know what it is, Mitch? I really break it down. I’m only doing shit I really like. Every year, because I’m still doing Law And Order, I try to set two or three projects up a year. So this year, 2019, it was Law And Order, the rap trilogy, and the Body Count album. I have an R&B act I’m producing, a kid named Za’im. Did you hear the music that broke down in that little segue of the [Dumb Shit] video?
That’s a kid that I produce. So, I got that. That’s what I’m trying to get done this year. Then 2020, I’ll pick two or three other things. So it seems like a lot, but it’s not really twenty other things. It’s like do two or three things this year, do them well, you don’t want to be a Jack of all trades, master of none. You want to master something [Laughs]
Most definitely! I wanted to also mention– this is a little bit of a film nerd thing– I saw a picture of you on Twitter, you and Ian McShane on SVU?
Yeah, he’s in the first episode. I was fucking geeked out when I saw him! I was like you’re fucking American Gods, you’re fucking Deadwood, how the fuck! I was geeked out! I had fun with him, he’s dope.
I gotta check out that episode. There’s really been so many good actors on that show.
That’s what makes this show fun man. Being on it all this time. If I had to act with all the same people, but there’s been twenty-six series regulars on this show, so it transfers back and forth.
Thank you for everything, it’s been a pleasure. I look forward to seeing what you’ve got coming out.
I think the main thing I want to promote is that this is a project. It’s not like a normal “Ice is dropping singles.” This is all by design to come out as three parts. I call it “audio film.” So it’s kind of like, the track might bang to you, but you need to see the video. That video might bang to you, but you need to play that track in the car. And they all should come together. So thanks for your time!
Have a great day, peace!
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