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The Rolling Stone Interview: Ice-T

Ice-T raps about the LA Riots, the 'Cop Killer' controversy, and getting political

August 20, 1992
ice-t rolling stone
Ice-T on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Mark Seliger

George Bush calls his work "sick." Dan Quayle says it's "obscene." Sixty congressmen signed a letter pronouncing it "vile" and "despicable." "Ugly, destructive and disgusting" says New York governor Mario Cuomo. Oliver North, of all people, wants the organization behind this man who stirs up "hatred and ... violence" brought up on charges of sedition.

Who is this villain, this enemy of the state? Saddam Hussein? Muammar el-Qaddafi? Is he an international terrorist, a spy, a drug smuggler?

No, this menace to society is rapper occasional actor Ice-T, and the cause of the uproar is a song recorded by his speed-metal band Body Count, called "Cop Killer." In June, several months after the song's release, a Texas law-enforcement association noticed such lyrics as "I got my 12-gauge sawed-off And I got my headlights turned off/I'm 'bout to bust some shots off/I'm 'bout to dust some cops off" and threatened Time Warner Inc., distributor of the record, with a boycott. The media conglomerate has firmly upheld Ice-T's right to speak, and at press time, a group of police officers and their families were planning to protest at the annual Time Warner stockholders' meeting. Three national record-store chains, a combined total of more than a thousand stores, have pulled the album Body Count from their shelves. In this election year, as the battle for control of "family values" has taken center stage, it didn't take long for the political attacks to start flying.

So what is Ice-T doing in the midst of all this outrage? Well, this particular steamy Los Angeles day, he wants to shop for glass doors for his new house in Beverly Hills. One of the motors on his new boat is running a little hot, so he needs to find someone to take a look at it. He checks in at the Porsche repair shop he owns and puts in some time on the Macintosh at his home office, changing the format of his fan-club mailing list. The hubcap on his Rolls-Royce is rattling a bit, so he swings by the shop. To quote a title from his album O.G. Original Gangster, it's a day straight out of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous."

As he steps out of the Rolls to grab some Chinese food for lunch, a fan yells, "Yo, Ice don't let this 'Cop Killer' shit get you!" Ice-T waves, a smile crossing his face, and drawls, "Do I look like I give a fuck?" Though Ice says he never wanted this hype and fears giving the appearance of "grandstanding the issue," the controversy has sent Body Count back up the charts. As Ice's Rolls dealer tells him: "My friends were asking what was going to happen to you because of all this. But I told them, 'All it means is that soon he'll be in here looking at that new Corniche.' "

There are moments, though, when it's clear that the man who invented L.A.-style gangsta rap, who three years ago wrote a rhyme called "Freedom of Speech . . . Just Watch What You Say," would relish a rest from the notoriety. He stands on the balcony of his new house, a sleek, three-story beauty at the crest of the hills with a breathtaking view of the ocean, and shakes his head. "Man, I'm going to build a swimming pool up here," he says. "Put a studio in the basement and make my records right here. Then I can tell everyone to kiss my ass."

Ice-T (born Tracy Marrow thirty-some years ago) has kept up an inhuman work schedule for the past eighteen months. Last spring he released O.G. Original Gangster, his blistering fourth gold album. He contributed highly acclaimed performances to the movies New Jack City and Ricochet. He spent last summer on the triumphant Lollapalooza tour, on which he introduced Body Count and, without much notice, "Cop Killer" to a national audience.

Soon after, the longtime metalhead lived out a rock & roll fantasy and brought Body Count into the studio to record its debut album. During the winter, he shot a new film, his first starring role, with costar Ice Cube. The working title was Looters, but in the wake of the L.A. riots the name has been changed to Trespass; release is currendy scheduled for Christmastime.

Aside from keeping his various businesses running, these hectic days, Ice is focusing his energies on completing his new album, Home Invasion, which should come out in October. Despite recent events, the new songs are less overtly political than those on O.G., more squarely aimed at his traditional hard-core audience. The first night mixing the album at L.A.'s Sound Castle studios where, Ice proudly points out, Prince and Metallica have recorded starts off somberly. Producer D.J. Aladdin shows up late after helping make burial arrangements for a friend's brother who was killed on the streets after getting out of prison. For an L.A. rapper, even a star living in a mansion on the hill, such stories are never far away.

The mood lightens, though, and soon Ice and his studio team are trading anecdotes about some of rap's more outlandish characters the bugged-out slasher fantasies and Texas accents of the Geto Boys (who have faced plenty of controversy themselves) and the booming voice of Tim Dog, whose hit "Fuck Compton" neatly encapsulates his worldview.

Ice's imitations get big laughs. He pauses before stepping up to the mike to cut a new vocal for a track called characteristically "Ice Muthafuckin' T." "Rap is really funny, man," says our latest Public Enemy No. 1 before getting back to work. "But if you don't see that it's funny, it will scare the shit out of you."

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