Courtesy of Red Bull Media Service
West coast hip-hop legend on how and why music was his route to the top.
Growing up as an orphan in south central Los Angeles, Ice-T saw rap and his lyrical gifts as a ‘vehicle for getting out of trouble’.
The rapper turned actor has become the longest running black actor in television history with his ongoing role in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, but it was through hip-hop that he first made a name for himself.
In a wide-ranging lecture at the Red Bull Music Academy Festival in LA, he admitted: “Rap was just a stepping stone man. I just wanted out. I wanted the big house, I wanted the fly s***. Rap was just a way out.
“It was like low-hanging fruit. One day I got this epiphany. I’m like, ‘Iceberg Slim isn’t just a pimp and a player, he’s a writer.’ There’s so many hustlers and players in the world, but who knows their name.
“I was like, if I’m going to be known, if I want to go down in the books, I can’t just live the game, I have to document the game.
“And that’s how I’m going to be known about the average cat on the street. When you listen to my music, don’t listen to it like a rap record. Listen to it like me telling you stories over music.”
The 59-year-old has been something of a groundbreaker in his career, going from the rap game to the silver screen after New Jack City actor and director Mario van Peebles overheard him talking in the bathroom, of a night club, and offered him a big acting break.
Ice-T’s reaction was, “I can’t act, I’m like are you kidding me?’ He said ‘I want you to be in a movie’ and I thought that was Hollywood bulls***. So he said, ‘Call Warner Brothers tomorrow’, so I called Warner Brothers and they asked me to come.”
He landed the part earning then a fairly meagre $23,000 for a film that took $87 million at the box office, but from there, his career took off, with films alongside the likes of Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves following quickly afterwards.
Of his rap career, he acknowledges in the early days that, “I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just trying to get out of trouble.”
Ice-T has recorded eight studio albums, 51 singles and 80 music videos, selling over 10 million albums in the US alone.
Among his firsts was having a parental advisory sticker on his Rhyme Pays LP.
Of that particular achievement, he says: “I didn’t mind the sticker. It was the first record ever stickered, so another first. But my album covers had guns and imagery of street s•••. So, the album cover anyway says don’t enter if this is not what you want.”
Watch a documentary on pioneering west coast party crew Uncle Jamm’s Army featuring Ice-T HERE.