Generally the background of a reviewer is not germane to a review. In this case, however, a little background might be helpful, particularly for those of you expecting a critical overview based on a deep and full knowledge of rap culture. To quote Ice-T, “Shit ain’t like that.” I’m a very white 38-year-old Southern male. I did not come from a similar culture as Ice-T—but neither does the majority of the rap record buying public, which is young white males driving daddy’s car and spending daddy’s money. My interest in rap music is limited to what I can’t escape stuck in traffic next to some subwoofer laden jackass, or a select few performers.
Ice-T is one of those performers. I first saw him with his groundbreaking metal band “Body Count” at the first “Lollapalooza” festival, and it was an eye-opening experience. The entire “Cop Killer” debacle hadn’t really begun to boil yet, so the majority white crowd—there most likely to see Nine Inch Nails or Jane’s Addiction—probably wondered what the hell was going on when Ice led his menacing looking band of hotshots onstage and began to shout above a furious torrent of rock guitar and slamming drums. By the time he ended the set with a sing-along of “Fuck the Police”, he had converted the 17,000 or so suburb rats into momentary militants—myself included. Arms raised, voice horse from screaming the chant, I followed his direction and looked at the police and security personnel around me, understanding for a moment his words—“These people with guns are not your friends / They will kill you for minimum wage. Fuck ‘em!” 30 years of well-mannered living down the tubes in one hot Georgia afternoon. I was ready to take action, solely because of the words of one longhaired black man on a stage.
It is this sort of reaction that is both Ice-T’s strength and his greatest liability. He communicates. He expresses his rage and frustration in such a logical, well thought out manner that you can’t help but be swept along. No matter if you don’t want to be a pimp, or that you have never done time, or seen a friend shot down. Ice knows, and makes you understand, that we all are hustlers—and the sooner we understand that basic fact, live with it, and stop trying to lie to ourselves that somebody is going to give us a leg up, the sooner we will be in power. The 16 cuts on his greatest hits are all built around the same theme: do unto others, and run. Don’t be slowed down by the meddling of superficial stupidity, and foremost, get out of your own damn way. Although the people and environments he describes are brutal and lawless, he cuts no slack for those people within earshot who would squander their life with drugs and faulty thinking. But of course, by speaking the truth in such a manner he becomes a whipping boy for those who fear outspokenness and honesty—in short, people in power. One only has to remember how “Cop Killer” caused havoc around the nation, and how the rats fled from Warner Brothers sinking ship, leaving Ice to twist in the wind, a free-speech pioneer suddenly muzzled by morons. Nobody feels that shooting cops in cold blood is right or moral, even Ice-T, but a greater menace is the vehemence with which his critics tried to silence him.
From early works such as “6 ‘N The Mornin’” to his contributions to the “Colors” and “New Jack City” soundtracks, this collection gives a well-balanced look at a man who has both stood as a convict in a L.A. county jail cell and on the stages of major universities as a lecturer. The only complaint with the disc is that no “Body Count” material is included. While it’s easy to understand leaving “Cop Killer” off, the band did produce some other cuts that would have fit. In fact, none of the press material or website pages list the records at all. His choice, I suppose, and who am I, a very white 38-year-old, to tell Ice-T anything? Shit fool, I ain’t gonna diss the Original Gangster. Hell no.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.