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No thaw for rapper Ice T

Ice T

October 27, 1999
Web posted at: 2:58 p.m. EDT (1858 GMT)

By Donna Freydkin
Reporting for CNN Interactive

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Ice T is tired. And who could blame him?

The hard-core rapper and father of two is middle-aged, but has spent his summer anchoring the Vans Warped Tour, one of the season's most popular caravans of punk and rap.

He now has to finish an interview before heading out to the concert venue for the latest segment of the festival. And as if that weren't enough, he has spent the previous night carousing with a few of his fellow musicians, hitting some hot Atlanta nightspots of the adult entertainment variety.

Welcome to the world of Tracy Morrow, a rapper who came out of the Los Angeles projects and, as Ice T (not to be confused with the equally hard-core Ice Cube), has transformed himself into one of rap's leading and most controversial characters.

Years after being branded an incorrigible rapper, he still takes issue with the title.

"They keep calling me a gangsta rapper," he says. "But social situations create gangs. Come on. You don't drop out of Harvard to join a gang."

Ice T, 40, who took his name from the pimp and author Iceberg Slim, is articulate, well-read and witty. He makes no apologies for his violent, often sexist music. Some of his best-known songs include "O.G. Original Gangster" and "New Jack Hustler." And he keeps his rap alive on his latest release, "Seventh Deadly Sin," released online September 14 and in record stores nearly a month later.

Mostly, Ice T says he still prides himself on his reputation as something of a musical loose cannon -- he insists he does what he wants, no holds barred.

"If you don't like my s--t, just don't buy it," he says. "Just walk away. I don't knock on people's doors and make them listen to my records. I'm into free choice. That's my thing."

Ice T on stage during a concert

'Cop Killer'

According to his record label, Ice T has six gold records to his name. He has even penned a bestselling book, 1994's "The Ice Opinion," and now is in demand on the lecture circuit.

But despite a prolific rapping and acting career (1991's "New Jack City," 1995's "Johnny Mnemonic," 1999's "The Heist"), Ice T remains best known for his band Body Count's infamous 1992 tune "Cop Killer" from the album of the same name. Told from the perspective of a police murderer, "Cop Killer" angered police support groups, cost Ice T his record deal with Warner Bros. and was removed from subsequent pressings of the album.

"At the time, that was an important record," he says.

"It was written the year before you guys saw Rodney King. It was a true, real record. But after that, they came and said I started the riots. We performed the song a year before the s--t hit. It was an old record to us. But as a whole, it didn't change anything."

Perhaps on a larger scale, it didn't make an impact. But "Cop Killer" conferred on Ice T a lifelong notoriety. And today, despite lagging album sales, the rapper remains an enormous, easily recognizable draw.

Case in point -- during this interview, two waiters, two hotel guests, a grandmother and her grade-school charge walk up to ask for autographs. And that's while Ice T is trying to sit incognito in a secluded room at a plush Atlanta hotel.

Ice T in the studio

Wide open spaces

These days, Ice T has a new outlet for his sexually charged rap. Like fellow rapper Chuck D and his outfit Public Enemy, Ice is embracing the Internet. He recently announced a record deal with Atomic Pop and vowed to make his family-unfriendly music available online. "Seventh Deadly Sin" -- which features songs such as "Always Wanted Ta Be a Ho" and "Don't Hate the Playa," and includes collaborations with Jay Z and Too Short -- was available online a month before hitting brick-and-mortar stores.

Little wonder that Ice T calls the Web his new frontier.

"On the Internet, music is uncensored," says the rapper. "My videos can get played. If I count on MTV, my music and most hard-core music wouldn't get played. And no matter how hard my music sounds, some people want it harder. In a so-called free society, people should be able to indulge in their weird perversions."

Censorship appears to be Ice T's favorite topic, followed closely by free speech -- or what he says he perceives as a lack of it.

"I don't believe there's such a thing as free speech," he says. "I think it's a nice concept but as long you have to use somebody else's vehicle, you're going to be censored. You can't even say anything you want in your house. You have the right to say it, but you have to be ready to deal with the ramifications."

Rap 'n' roll

Ice T's "ramifications" may have been prompted by "Cop Killer." But that widely derided song aside, Ice T's band Body Count also paved the way for the metal-rap fusion commercialized today by Korn and Limp Bizkit. Before these popular groups blended the two genres into a product ready for mainstream teen consumption, Ice T moshed with rock bands.

He played at the first Lollapalooza festival with bands including Jane's Addiction and Nine Inch Nails, and opened for Metallica and Guns N' Roses.

"Body Count started it," he says. "Everyone knows that. Rage Against the Machine was our opening act. Korn was playing at a clothing convention when I saw them. A member of Limp Bizkit used to be in another group I was associated with, House of Pain. So if you track the movement, you can see that it's all connected."

Ice T views himself as one of rap's pioneers. But he doesn't bemoan the fact that rap and R&B have gone corporate, with proven commodities such as Method Man/Redman, Mobb Deep and Snoop Dogg dominating the Billboard R&B charts.

"I see rap as a format of music that'll be done forever," he says. "When I started, it was a fad. It was trendy, but it wasn't something you'd be able to do forever. But 20 years later, hip-hop is all about big corporations, Puffy and Will Smith, Tommy Hilfiger and Nike.

"If you're black and radical and hard, you're never going to make it past a certain point. If you're black and pop like Will Smith, you can make it. You can get a Coke commercial and all that stuff."

And the rapper is also quick to point out that he remains on the fringes of the lucrative, big-money rap industry. He insists it's by choice -- unlike Puff Daddy's releases, Ice T's videos aren't palatable to MTV program executives. But might that be because his music is so profanity-ridden that it would make the most devoted music fan blush?

So what, says Ice T. At least he's still around.

"I may never break to the so-called mainstream," he says, "but I'm well-known and respected. I like that. I like it. I like not biting my tongue. I've learned that you don't do s--t for shock value."

Child's play

So now, of course, to the $10,000 question. Ice T may talk the talk about free speech and censorship, but would he let his 7-year-old son, whom he calls Little Ice, listen to any of his CDs? The rapper says yes.

"My kid, whatever he likes, that's what he likes," he says. "My kid's ill! He goes from wanting to see 'A Perfect Murder' to 'The Lion King.' Just like a kid. I try to get him as much information as I can. He watches horror movies, but he knows they're just movies. He knows it's fake.

"I told him when you get a car, I'm not in control of what you say or do. I have a daughter who's 19, who used to listen to 2 Live Crew. I asked her why she listened to them, and she said, 'Aw, daddy, they're just talking nasty.' That's all it was to her. So what? Is listening to that going to make her go out and get pregnant?"

Years of controversy later, Ice T still hasn't had a meltdown. So, perhaps it's fitting that he says he's naming his next album "The Eighth Wonder: The Ice Age."

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Official Ice T site
Atomic Pop: Ice T's 'Seventh Deadly Sin'
Coroner Records (Ice T's label)
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