Ice-T, the forefather of Gangsta Rap, has led the way over decades. As unjust situations sprout up through the years in black communities across the U.S., he does not remain quiet; he does not sit still. Always, he is hardcore with his music expressions, making it clear that you cannot just stand idle, watching as the house of cards falls in on underprivileged communities.
His own first-hand experiences help set the tone for his reactions and put him in a position of actually being able to keep it real with all who have listened. Looking back at his long roster of society-changing, artistic contributions, we can only wonder how he will next shake up the world.
His contributions are many, and varied: movies like New Jack City, Ricochet, Breakin’; music like Colors, O.G. Original Gangster, The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech; and two books of respected memoir. It’s clear that Ice-T’s mission on earth is like a nonstop metro train, hitting all the stations, with no end in sight.
I had the privilege to connect with him and get the inside scoop on his newest endeavors: rekindling his infamous hardcore rock band “Body Count”, their smash new album “Manslaughter”, his real take on the music business today. He even shared some wisdom for those out there battling in the streets to survive and get ready for 2015.
I’m sure everyone can appreciate the wealth of information he shares here, hopefully getting inspired yourself to help knock down walls as well.
BAM: Hey Ice, thank you so much for giving me this chance to interview you. And I want to thank Leisa Balfour for making the connect, and George Vallee for coordinating this. I’ve been poking him via email, saying, “Yes, let’s do it!”
Ice-T: It’s been hectic. We’ve been on a tour bus rollin’, and you know it’s been crazy, ’cause we’re in mid-tour right now. So George does his best.
BAM: Oh yeah, he’s great, and I know you guys must be so busy. I’m just thankful you were able to grab this little time for us here at BAM. Hey, I would like to say, before we get started, that I had the privilege of opening up for you and Body Count in Hawaii years ago.
BAM: I don’t know if you remember, but we gave you all a party over at the Pink Cadillac beforehand.
Ice-T: What was your band, what band were you in?
Ice-T: OK [laughs].
BAM: It actually changed my way of thinking about entertainers. I was a lot younger then, and I had this Ice-T image, right, and the promoters were like, “OK, going to give a party for Ice-T,” and I was like, “OK, who’s this Ice Tea?” Then I came down, and I met you, and I have to say that you were so not what I thought. You were so cool. You were so down-to-earth, and it really changed me to understand the difference between reading something in a magazine or seeing television versus actually meeting the person.
Ice-T: Right, right.
BAM: So I always remember that. You opened my eyes to say hey, don’t believe everything you see on TV. You got to know.
Ice-T: You got to meet the person to know. I’ve had that experience myself before, like listening to somebody’s record and saying some negative shit, and then meeting the person, and the person goes, “You’re my idol,” and I’m like, “Oh shit.” [laughter] I’m like, what the fuck. So I’ve learned how to talk correct about people. I say, “Well, I may not like their music, but they might be the greatest person in the world.” I don’t know, and you really don’t know until you meet somebody under the correct situations.
BAM: That’s so true. It was the biggest lesson for me in the business. The people that I thought were so super cool, they actually weren’t so cool, and the people that had all these other images around them, they were totally cool. I was like, come on.
Ice-T: Oh yeah, You know, we were talking about a band the other day, and I’m like, you go on stage, you put this rough shit, but that’s just something you’re sending out on the stage, and that’s possibly part of you and stuff that you draw upon for your music. But then, offstage, I want to see the person. Like we’ve been hanging with Cannibal Corpse real tuff out here, and those guys are fucking funny. They’re funny as hell. Yeah, George and Alex, you watch them on stage, and you’ll swear to god they want to rape and kill people, you know, but they know it’s just a horror movie, and they’re just fucking with you, really.
BODY COUNT – Talk S**t, Get Shot (Official Music Video)
BAM: Uh huh, exact…Movie Magic, so to speak. Yeah, so with this interview, I did a little research and tried to find something out there from you. I found some stuff but I did not find the real real, so I want to ask you some questions that are more on the human side.
BAM: From your human experience, what do you see as the biggest problem on earth, and what can you suggest that we as a people do to make it right?
Ice-T: I always said I thought the biggest problem on earth was the racism, but that breaks down into more than just racism. I call it the “Team Theory,” where we teach our kids that this school is better than that school, this neighborhood is better than that neighborhood, which turns into this religion is better than that religion. And race is the easiest way to identify somebody, because we look different. But on earth, there’s this Team Theory. You watch the World Cup, which basically sides people against each other, and we fight. And in one sense, it’s very positive to be proud about where you’re from, but on the other side of it, it can turn into something evil. So you know, just looking at people, and judging people because of their race, or their religion, or whatever–that’s the essence of where all the trouble basically starts.
I think people are out for money and greed and all that. But I think on a basic level, just prejudging people–like what you did with me back then–prejudging people before you actually meet them and get to know them, I think that’s the biggest problem in the world. And how will I change it? I think we need to learn how not to prejudge. Like, don’t look at the guy because he’s an Arab or whatever and think you hate him. You don’t even know him. Have a conversation with him. Find out what he’s about. Like if you’re Christian and I’m Jewish, have a fucking conversation. Just don’t look at them and dislike ’em. There may be an interesting conversation between a Christian and Satanist. If they actually start talking, they probably like the same cereal. [laughter] So don’t just, snap, judge people and decide let’s go to war, let’s fight–and you don’t even know them.
BAM: Wow, cool man. 2015? Thuglife. What do you see, and what message can you give to all races, to women and men struggling in the ‘hood to survive in this day and age?
Ice-T: I just think that the first key to becoming productive is you just gotta get over your sob story. Everyone has one. I don’t care if you’re from the ‘hood. I don’t care if you’re from Upper Westside, you got a sob story. Something’s gone wrong in your life. Somebody’s cheated you, somebody’s parent left…something’s fucked up, and you have to realize, nobody cares about your sob story, ’cause they all have their own, and you have to just get around that and get to work. Just get down, and be willing to put in some real extreme efforts in anything you want. I always tell people, if you want to get muscles, you’ll never get ’em sitting on the couch. You have to be willing to work. And once you can get around yourself and your problem, you can come out and become very productive, and that’s for anybody that’s on the bottom. You have to get around that deficit you’re working with, you can’t use that as an excuse. It’s like, OK, you’ve got nothin’ and you’ve had the worst luck, life’s fucked up, your parents were drug addicts–OK, I got that. Now, what are you going to do with your life? You know, just because you had that, don’t expect somebody wants to take care of you. You know, motherfuckers will give enough food to eat, but that’s about it.
BAM: Let’s talk about family. Can you elaborate a little on your upbringing–more than what we find on Wiki–and how it shaped you into the man you are today, brought up on both sides of the track, black and white?
Ice-T: OK, to start off, Wikipedia doesn’t know shit. It’s written by people that think they know you [laughter], so you know it’s a bunch of lies and bullshit. It’s really a weird place to go to for facts. You know, I wrote books. One called The Ice Opinion. And one called Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption–From South Central to Hollywood, which is my words. So if they want to know about my life, I think I should tell them about it [laughter], instead of Wikipedia, with a bunch of people there that think they’re doing research. But naw, my life in a nutshell–I was born in Newark, New Jersey, raised in Summit, New Jersey. My mother and father were together. My mother passed when I was in the third grade from a heart attack, my father died when I was in seventh grade, and then I moved to Los Angeles to live with [my father’s] sister. I was transplanted to live with my aunt. That’s when I got into rock, because my cousin thought he was Jimi Hendrix, and he played rock music in the bedroom. And I couldn’t change his radio, and I learned all about the rock groups. I went to Crenshaw High School, that’s where I got involved with the gangs, the whole gang thing, because that was one of the toughest schools in the country. And from there, when I was in the 12th grade, I got my girlfriend pregnant. I decided I wanted to try to do something with my life. I went into the military for four years, came out. I was a Ranger. I came out, and got back involved with my buddies in crime and was running around, causing havoc in L.A. And hip-hop came out of nowhere, and it was something I wanted to do.
Everybody was trying to find something to do with their lives, and I used the stories of my experiences in crime and growing up, to make this new music which they called Gangsta Rap. And being an artist, I just wanted more outlets, and I invented Body Count to play rock music because one of my best friends, EC, was an incredible guitarist. From then on, I just took advantage of every opportunity that came to me. Because I feel like I come from a background with no opportunities, so when you have opportunities, you got to take advantage of them. So the acting falls under that, writing books falls under that. You know, they just gave me an opportunity, and I just took it.
BAM: Awesome. Censorship, freedom of speech, stage diving, self-expression. Could you tell me how you see it, and how you felt when the President of the United States and other law makers tried to quiet you?
Ice-T: You know, I did an album where I said, “Freedom of Speech, just watch what you say.” You know, the theory of free speak is great, but you still will be held accountable for what you say. So just ’cause you have the freedom to say it, doesn’t mean you can’t get in trouble. It’s not illegal. but you can suffer the ramifications. If I come out and say an anti-gay slur, it’s not that it’s illegal, but the gay people are going to attack me, you know, and you have to know that. So if I come out and say something about the cops, it’s not illegal, but you can deal with their wrath, and you know they’re a pretty big gang, so you got to know that. So I tell guys, you can’t come home and tell your wife, “I fucked your sister.” Free speech. [laughter]
Yeah, so you know, you have the right to speak, we all do in this country, but be prepared for what you say and how people will react to it. And I learned that, you know, I learned it. You can say anything, but you can also deal with the problems that come along with it. And you know, I touched a lightning rod in the President, and them got pissed, and cops got pissed. I mean, I didn’t even look at it from the other side of the fence. If somebody made a record called Black Killer, I guess I would be hot, too. So I did not really look at it from their side. But you know, I learned a lesson from that, which was: freedom of speech, [but] just watch what you say.
BAM: Tru that. Making movies versus making music are two completely different worlds that you do very well. Do you have any challenges juggling them both, and is there one that you get more gratification from?
Ice-T: Um, that’s interesting. Music is instant gratification, especially touring. You say something, the crowd reacts, there’s nothing like it. I don’t think there’s anything quite like being a rock star or a rap star, standing in front of 10-15,000 people, and them hanging onto every word you say. There’s nothin’ really like that. Whereas acting, you kind of act into a box on a closed set, with no one seeing you, and then you get rewards later, like people will say, “Awww, I liked that show.” They’re two totally different things. I think the acting kinda like just lasts longer, because it’s your full visual of your person in people’s faces, and they’re seeing you, so it kinda locks into their brains more. Whereas the music is kind of–they remember the song, but it’s two different ways they affect people.
Being able to do them both is the best of both worlds, and as far as juggling it, each one kinda of cleans my palate for the next. So after I act for a while, I’m ready to go on tour. And then after I go on tour, I want to get off of that stinky tour bus, you know. [laughter] Being able to balance them back and fort’ is fun. It’s hard sometimes, ’cause like on Law & Order, where I’m working now, I’ve been on there 16 years. It makes it difficult to tour, because you’re locked in for a year. So right now, we’re touring over what we call the hiatus. But being able to be respected in both genres, that’s the ultimate–to be able to make a record, and then turn around and make a movie. That there, everyone would love to do that. Everyone who sings wants to be an actor, everyone who acts wants to be a singer–real life. [laughter]
BAM: This makes me think of a side question. With your acting, does it make it easy for you to incorporate your music into the different movies and television shows that you’re doing?
Ice-T: Naw, not really. Like if you do a small movie, they may want your music in the show. It’s kinda like two separate things. You know, that’s why I want to do features, so that I can incorporate my music into my films. When they hire you to be an actor, they really want you to just be an actor. But I’ve done movies like Ricochet, with Denzel Washington and John Lithgow, where I did the movie, and they let me do the title song. New Jack City, I did the title song in New Jack City. Colors, I wasn’t in the movie, but I did the title song.
BAM: Oh yeah, some of those life-changing songs. I remember we were all jumping around over those hits. The return of Body Count. Why now? Do you feel the world is better prepared to digest the message of your group and will not give you all so much slack this time around?
Ice-T: No particular why now. It just so happened that the band was ready to go. They wanted me to do a record. I was in New York doing my day job. I told them I wasn’t going to do a mix tape, we wanted to do an album. I needed a record label that knew what they were doin’. ‘Cause people say,”Indie this, indie that,” but there’s no way you can monitor 400 Internet sites slinging your record if you’re not a record label. You need somebody that knows what they’re doin’. You’re getting ripped off enough, so you can’t sell a record from your house. So we got with Sumerian.
Sumerian has been excellent with us. They gave us what we needed. They hooked us up with a great producer, Will Putney, who made the album sound incredible. Got us out here on this tour, and you know, we’re really happy with what we did. We haven’t really met anybody that did not like the record yet. So that’s probably good, that’s rare.
BAM: That’s way awesome. They say that musicians are lucky if they like 70 percent of their own album after it’s done. Somebody told me this, and I was like, “Are you kidding me? As much ass as I’m putting into my album, I’m only going to like 70 percent of it by the end?” So how do you feel about that?
Ice-T: You know what, I don’t think that’s wrong. I think that making an album is difficult. You have to make 15 songs, 14 songs. It’s very rare that you’ll make a record that you can perform every song. This album right here, Manslaughter, I can perform every song. We’ve been switching the songs out on the tour dates, we’ve almost went through every song on the album, but I can look at some of my records where I’m like, OK, these are better than that. I mean, it’s weird, it’s weird. I think 70, maybe 80 percent of your records, they’ll be some you won’t be too fond of after the album is done, but this album, I like the whole album, really. I can put any song on. If someone wants to hear it, I can consciously just throw any song on and say, “Check this out,” and they’ll get the vibe of the record. So this is a rare record.
BAM: That’s really cool to have this personal satisfaction and be happy with your work in the end. That’s a big plus I believe.
Ice-T: Yeah, it’s weird. I think you have to translate everything to live performance. Like I make records that I would want to do in a show, too. And when you start to think about what you’re gonna do on the stage, how you’re going to introduce the song and all those things–yeah, it’s a rare thing when they all come out good. And we performed pretty much every song off the record so far. About four we haven’t done yet, but we will, we’ll get around to it.
BAM: Nice. OK, here’s another one. I see a lot of young people today with big money dreams of being the next big hitter in the music game. Is it really that easy?
Ice-T: Hell no! Yeah, young people today have a mind fucked anyway, because we’re in a generation where everyone wants all the flash and all the bling, and all that. But they don’t really have a concept or a road map on how to get it. They just want it. Like I have a son, 23 years old, and he wants all the fly shit. But I’m like, “So what’s your plan to get it?” [laughter] He’s like, “I just want it, you know?” [laughter] They don’t really understand how hard it is to sell records now. What I was able to do before, you can’t do the same thing [now], you know. We would come out, and in like four weeks, we sold a half a million records. Now you’re lucky if you sell 15 thousand, it’s rough. It’s really, really hard to move records, ’cause we live in a free society. We live in a society where everyone wants to look, but everybody wants to get it free. I always even refer to porno. People will go on a porn site, and they’ll look and look and look, but as soon as it says “pay,” they back out, and they go to the next porn site.
No one wants to pay, and your free audience will kill you. Your free audience, they love you because you’re givin’ them something free. Soon as you ask for some money, they get offended. It’s very strange right now to actually be successful and do the big numbers, unless you go extremely pop–and that’s sacrilegious to a lot of musicians, you know. It’s hard, and pop will turn on you. Pop will turn on you like a motherfucker. I was just reading about Robin Thicke, and watching how he went from Boom to Boom. You can say one wrong thing in pop, and they’ll just like, “fuck you,” and you’re done. [But] a hardcore audience will stick with you, they’ll ride it out.
BAM: I never thought about that. What do you think about the streaming stuff, Spotify and Rhapsody? I look at reports coming through, and I’m like, “What is this 1 cent off of X amount of songs played”?
Ice-T: It’s crazy. It’s crazy now, you know, because record companies are doin’ 360 deals because they got to sell your merchandise. Like, the record sells for $9, the T-shirts sell for $10 and $12, and the guy that buys the record. he’ll buy three T-shirts and a tour jacket. They gotta figure out ways to make the money, and we’re out here on tour right now, and it’s rough. You gotta get yourself in a position where your band personally can pack an arena by yourself. You start with the two thousand seaters, till you can get to the five thousand seaters, till you can get to the arenas. When you get to the arena level, then you’re gonna be making some money. But I don’t know. If folks just think they’re gonna be an overnight sensation, rock star with the private jet, you got another think comin’. Good luck, you better go on American Idol, if that’s what you fuckin’ want. [laughter]
BAM: Exact, that’s so true. [laughter] Someone asked me, “Do you ever think about quitting the music?” and I told him, “Yes. I think about it every day, but I can’t.”
BAM: You know it’s your music, so you’re almost sort of locked into this world that we know. The end results are very difficult if we think about monetary rewards.
Ice-T: Yeah, with me, I sold a lot of records, but I get on Law & Order, that’s paying the bills, let’s keep it real. That’s allowing me the lifestyle where I can have all the fly shit I want, so I’m not quitting my day job. With television, they say they want you for 23 episodes, and they pay you for them, guaranteed. With records, you spend a year of your life hoping that this thing you make sells, and then you have to push it, and then there’s a whole bunch of new games being played. The beauty of making a movie is, they say “Hey Ice, we want you to do a movie for a million dollars,” and the check clears. Now that movie can suck, but the check clears. With a record, you’re busting your ass trying to sell those records. And radio can stiff you, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong. So that’s why I’m not quitting my day job [laughter]. I just gotta do that, and rock on the side.
BAM: That’s real! What is your take on being a black rocker? And how do you feel, looking back on the history of rock music?
Ice-T: You know, black people invented rock & roll. When you go back to Chuck Berry and Little Richard, Fats [Domino], and all those cats, that’s where it came from, black people. Rolling out of here, there’s a lot of preconceptions like, oh, the fans won’t receive you. And I’m sure there’s a few rock racists out there that got a problem with us, but I haven’t really ever met it face-to-face. The people receive us well. We do the shows, and as long as you can play your guitars and you can sing and scream, they’ll love you. The only time you find haters [are] on the Internet, and most of those are people that want to be in a band and think they should be in Sumerian more then you. And at the end of the day, like I say, it’s some old bullshit. We don’t pay attention to them. We got accepted early in the game by all the big bands, and every day, I stand in front of thousands of fans–most of them white–and they love it. So I’m just proud to be out there, breaking down walls.
BAM; Nice, very nice. I know you have to go, so could you answer one last question?
BAM: What is it that you would like the world to remember most about you after you’re gone?
Ice-T: I just want them to remember me. Maybe that I was somebody that did go out. And broke down walls, and tried to prove that people can’t do just one thing. There’s lots of things that you can do. And to just live your fucking life. Do you, just do you. Ice was a person that did him. Whatever he wanted to do, he had the balls to do it.
BAM: That’s real. Ice-T, you ROCK!
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