Ice-T: on tour in Brighton


When the Rhyme Syndicate’s coach driver leaps out of his seat and lays into a fellow motorist for cutting him up, the passengers in the other car are out of the back, into the road and ready to pile in.
However, they quickly think better of it.
It’s not the coach driver – a bluff, middle-aged Brummie with a perm and a beer gut – who worries them. You can see the thought ‘Oh shit’ hit them with stunning horror, like a cartoon bubble, as they see one of the meanest posses in the Los Angeles rap scene – DJ Evil E, ‘Notorious’ Donald D, the enormous Charlie Jamm – racing off the coach, eager to enjoy an English-style free-for-all.
The decision to forget it, get back in the car and drive off as quickly as possible is a swift and a wise one.
DJ Everlast reports back to Ice-T with glee: “He housed the motherfucker, man.”
Ice-T smiles: “He’s driving for the Rhyme Syndicate now. He ain’t takin’ no shit, right ?”

Perhaps it’s no wonder the Rhyme Syndicate posse relished having an avenging Brummie psychopath as their driver. Ice-T’s role as spokesman/defence for hardcore American rap and its followers (LA’s young homeboys, gang bangers and criminals) is so well established that even The Oprah Winfrey Show recently invited him to debate censorship and rappers’ responsibilities with the Parents’ Music Resource Centre (PMRC)/Washington Wives’ leader Tipper Gore and Rabbi Abraham Cooper.
Ice’s unusually pragmatic perception of modern urban America, together with the wicked charisma necessary to articulate his opinions, made him a formidable opponent. The show’s highlight turned out to be Ice-T’s stunning wife Darlene nearly coming to blows with a female member of the audience who was slagging off her husband.
Ice has managed to outrage liberals and fundamentalists alike. After Gore described him as the man who turns kids into killers, Ice-T suggested that what the Washington Wives needed was “for their husbands to dick ’em down”.
“A lot of people on the Right have never liked rap. Now it’s getting really big, they’re trying to make it mandatory for rappers to have ‘positive’ messages. It’s like, they didn’t like what I was doing. Now they’re, telling me how to do it.”
After his mother died when he was in the third grade and his father died of a heart attack four years later, Ice found a surrogate family in a Los Angeles street gang. After four years in the military, he found his crew had become major players and moved into credit-card fraud and insurance stings.
When the producers of the rap film Breakin’ saw him rapping in a club and offered him a part, Ice-T refused, despite the fact he had been shot twice (once in the leg during a jewellery raid and once in the chest from a drive-by), and many of his friends were either dead or in jail.
“I said ‘Yo, fuck you man, I ain’t goin’ in no movie.’ But my boys said, ‘You’re crazy. White people like you’.”
In the end, the story goes, they resorted to threats to make him accept.
When Ice-T claims that without his rap career he too would either be dead or in jail, he’s one of the few rappers to say it with real authority.
“I seen a lot of violence, more than most. I didn’t do anything I regret. I wasn’t out killing anybody. I realize I was stupid, but I’m glad I did those things ‘cos I understand what’s going on.” Part of the legacy apparently is Ice’s habit of sitting facing the door.

After the rather basic Rhyme Pays, the notorious second album, Power featured a semi-naked Darlene brandishing a pump action shotgun, while the cold stares of Ice and Evil E concealed Uzis behind their backs.
Together with his brooding theme time for Dennis Hopper’s gang movie Colors, and a brilliant third album (The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech), where the chilling lyrical content was matched by the music, Ice-T’s uncompromising evocation of the gangs’ criminal lifestyle and street slang won him a hardcore following as well as widespread (mis)interpretations that he was glamorizing violence and condoning or endorsing crime.
“Some rap fans just want the profanity. But to me, ‘Don’t do drugs’ or Don’t do no motherfucking drugs,’ the second has more weight, knowwadahmsayin ?”
Ice describes his tense, cinematic tales of armed robbery drama (‘Squeeze the Trigger’), police raids (‘6 in the Mornin”) and drive-by killings (‘Peel the Caps Back’) as “Ice-T Adventure Stories.”
Only those paying particular attention might realize that after capturing the excitement of the crime, the moral of the tale is generally a downbeat one: lots of kids are dying; nobody’s winning.
“I try to say, it’s fun in the beginning but pain at the end. They’ll end up dead or in jail. I never knew what my father did but he was out on the street and, instead of just telling me not to do drugs, he’d tell me stories about the characters he was hangin’ with. Like, ‘Johnny B was a hustler.’ Yeah ? ‘Yeah. He had women, cars, guns. One night he was supposed to pick up one million dollars.’ ‘Yeah ?’ “Yeah. But that night he OD’d on cocaine.'”
One of his most potent themes comes in ‘Lethal Weapon’: “You think I’m violent/Well listen and you will find/My lethal weapon’s my mind.”
His most potent point is “I’m goin’ down to the library, get some more ammo”.
“Education is our only chance. Stop lying to kids. When you grow up, your mother puts you in a little room, with flowers and clowns and bunny rabbits. We should let them see what life is really going to be like.”
A few Uzis, some crack pipes…
‘Teach kids about drugs, about safe sex, black history. I was taught that Cleopatra and the Egyptians were white. Think about it. Fuck school.”
“Fuck school” is exactly why there are kids in LA selling coke who are so young that their BMW’s have to be chauffeur-driven. Recent statistics show there are more black kids in American prisons than in college. There’s a better chance of reaching the age of 50 in Beirut than in Washington.
Ice-T remains determinedly positive.
“Kids would go to school if there was something worth learning. Crime is glamorous. They have nothing to lose, that’s why I say ‘My living quarters ain’t no better than a jail cell.’ It’s illegal to break into a store, but if you can’t feed your baby, to me that’s a legal burglary. The problem is capitalism, not guns. All those immigrants trying to ‘make it’, like the Colombians, why the fuck should they care about the United States ?”

With the coach waiting, Brixton’s hyped-up Hijack arrive in the Holiday Inn lobby donning de rigueur shades and baseball caps ready to face another grey London day. Boys playing at being men.
Ice-T, particularly his stage image, is very much the opposite, keeping a paternal eye over the rest of them. DJ Everlast complains that when he plugged his beat box into his hotel wall plug “the motherfucking wall blew up.” A twelve-battery beat box the size of a large coffin pumps out ‘Welcome to the Terrordome’, and the walls wobble. When the nervous concierge asks him to turn it down, he moans, “It’s not even on half !” but when Ice gives an imposing nod, he meekly acquiesces.
From the school opposite, two nine-year-olds come to check out Ice-T.
“Yo, man. Are you Ice-T ? Wow !”
The first thing they do is check Ice-T’s trainers:
“Wow ! Are those blue Air Jordans ?”
It’s true then. God wears blue Air Jordans.
Ice gives them a signed ‘Power’ poster and asks one, “How ya livin’, my friend ?”
“I’m livin’ large, Ice.”
The Syndicate crack up.
“I’m outta here, Ice. Peace !” and he’s gone.
Who knows what the effect of that poster of Darlene might be on that child.

Of course even lce-T hasn’t escaped rap’s vain rhetoric (dissing Cool J), dumb homophobia and wholehearted advocations of ‘I’ve got mine’ capitalism (gold chains, flashy cars, etc). Despite his rationalization of the gangs’ existence and their activities, and his unequivocal disdain for drug users like the Mayor of Washington, Ice-T’s views on women lapse largely into complacent chauvinism. His stance on guns is ambivalent to say the least. All his records contain “Stop killing your brothers” appeals but he told Melody Maker’s Ben and Dom Stud, “I’m normal, man. I can sit here and chill with you, or party with you, or I could take you out into an alleyway and kill you.” He admits that although he regards Martin Luther King as “a spiritualist, there’s a lot of Malcolm X in me too”.
Ice-T is nothing if not a realist. Apparently, the guns on the sleeve of ‘Power’ are his own.
“Bush had said our military strength equals power, which equals peace’. A very deadly equation. That sleeve features kill power, firepower, the power of deception and the power of sex. For my fans, an Uzi is something they’re into. They don’t want me to appear with a peace sign.”
The Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’ sleeve and numerous satanic metal bands have done the same. Ice-T’s motives seem to be more than merely mercenary.
“It’s bait. Darlene in a bathing suit and an Uzi is bait. The kids I want to talk to are the violent kids, the ones that might shoot somebody in the face. I care about what I say but I don’t say I have all the answers. I’m not a politician.”
In the city where a lot of people don’t need a reason to kill you, Ice – a famous black rap star – is a modern Billy the Kid, a scalp for any crazy.
“The only crazies I get are skinheads from Northern Ireland, wanting to cut my ears off. I don’t think ‘I’m Ice-T, no one can touch me.’ We model ourselves on being smart. I’m not gonna wear my watch in certain neighbourhoods. I don’t walk down dark alleys.”
That there are places in LA that Ice-T won’t go to is a pretty scary notion.
“Hell yeah. If something happened to me, people would say lce-T had no business being there’, and they’d be right. Down South ? We’re considered the first generation of talking niggers. I get threats but not too many ‘executors’, just the shit-talkers. We go out together or not at all… But if some motherfucker comes into my room, he’d better know what he’s doing there. I’ll give him smoke right there. I’m gonna shoot the motherfucker before he shoots me. I wanna die in a flurry of gunfire, returning fire.”
Ice carries a piece but he’s still a pussycat at heart.
“I carry a gun in LA, yeah, because if someone attacks Darlene while she’s walking the dog, I would never want to be in the situation where I was defending her with a knife against someone with a gun.”
Altogether now, aaaahhh.

The previous night, Afrika Islam, President of Bambaataa’s Zulu Nation, had been approached by an adoring Yugoslavian, eager “to drop some knowledge about the changes in Eastern motherfucking Europe”. Their discussion had been hindered by the presence of a distinctly randy Charlie Jamm, whose political knowledge, according to lce-T, is so deep he thought hockey player Wayne Gretski was an Eastern European leader
Ice: “You shouldn’t let Charlie in your room after 11, man. You shouldn’t let him in your room full stop !”
Like a homeboys’ Feydeau farce, Charlie Jamm “wanted to bone the Yugoslavian”, the Yugoslavian wanted to sleep with her king Afrika Islam, while Islam was so interested in “the knowledge she was dropping – about Communism, Alexander the Great and shit” – that he didn’t want to sleep with anyone.
“She’s talking to me about the Eastern Bloc,” Islam tells the others. “Charlie Jamm is butting in, saying, ‘Come over here, bitch, sit on my Eastern Bloc .”‘
Charlie Jamm maintains he was confused by Afrika Islam’s intricate lexicon of LA hand signs.
Islam explains: “This [he gives a twist of his left hand’s little finger and thumb] means ‘Go straight ahead’. But this [he give an identical twist of the right hand’s little finger and thumb] means get the fuck out of my fucking room”
Afrika Islam has thousands of followers.
“One girl said to me. You’re Afrika Islam, you are the Son of God and I am a theologian. I am an anthropologist and a freemason…”
Ice corrects him: “She said ‘and I’m freebasing…'”
“She worshipped me, man.”
“Yeah, people worship all kinds of things,” Ice drawls. “I’ve known grown men worship Air Jordan.”

“When people come to interview me, they check Darlene for bruises.”
Ice looks quite happy.
Evil E is snoring. Darlene is sleeping beauty. Ice, not for the first time, is defending himself against accusations of rampant sexism. Holding court and holding his dick.
A lot of lce-Ts sexism is harmlessly humorous – (successfully) designed to wind up Tipper Gore’s PMRC. The sensational metal pop of The Girl Tried to Kill Me, on Freedom of Speech, is a glorious stream of gratuitous comic-book sex and violence fantasy as lce-T is raped “by a sex nut.”
“Now whips ain’t all that she had/All kinds of crazy shit was at this bitch’s pad/I’m talkin ’bout latex suits/Spiked-heeled boots/Oversized vibrators so that she could get loose.”
lce-Ts first and only love song (apart from ‘The Girl Tried to Kill Me’) was ‘Let’s Get Butt Naked and Fuck.’ Others like ‘The Iceberg’ (“Evil E was out coolin’ with a freak one night/Fucked the bitch with a flashlight… Rolled her over to change the connection/Bitch’s ugly face cold spoiled his erection”) have caused outrage.
In interview, Ice’s proclamations are somewhat schizophrenic: “Of course, sexism is as bad as racism. I believe women are superior to men. It’s a dick thing. Men are controlled by their dicks… I’ll tell you this. A man spends his life going to school, going to work for sex – to spend his time with his girlfriend or boyfriend. No one on earth does all that in order to be alone. Men are animals. When you can control your dick, James, call me up, man.”
Feminists, he says, “should calm the fuck down. Any woman who says she does not like me looking at her, and me being attracted to her, has a personal problem” (something only a man could say.) His contention that “what most ladies want is a big stiff dick up the pussy” might hold less weight if Darlene wasn’t there agreeing with him.
Rather than offer “education’ — like The Jungle Brothers’ ‘Black Woman’, which he admires — Ice-T seems content to conform to rap’s chauvinistic conventions.
“I couldn’t do it in a contrived way. I’m a locker-room, street-comer rapper. I have a male following. ‘The Iceberg’ is a poolhall song, black guys standing around talking shit, saying what big dicks they’ve got. Besides which,” he adds with a typically devious flourish, “women are worse than we are. A true lce-T fan knows when I’m being serious. I could write a love song to Darlene but people don’t want that from me.”
Darlene confirms this. In fact, she points out, as an lce-T fan, even she doesn’t want this.
Ice, with a crafty, even evil, glint in his eye, interrupts.
“You gotta realize, a lot of these feminists want to look like Darlene.”
Ice even has his own sexism test.
“I think 50 percent of men would prefer to see Darlene on the cover in a bathing costume. Of the other 50 percent, 48 percent of men would lie, attempting to be fashionable and sympathize with the feminist movement. The other 2 percent would rather see me in a bathing costume.”

After Ice’s impersonations of Sam Kinnison, LL Cool J’s mother and a Mexican voodoo philosopher on angel dust, talk on the coach turns to the ladies. Ice is chiding Charlie Jamm, “She’s a hooker, you crazy nigger” (popular variation “you crazv motherfucking nigger”) when DJ Evil E recalls a stripper by the name of ‘Me-Toy’. Ice beams. ‘Me-Toy ? Oh, subtle. Real subtle.”
The sleepy head of Donald D somehow lifts itself from its prone position on the front seat. In a dark LA drawl that manages to sound both mean and sleepy at the same time, he asks almost innocently, “Me-Toy ? Is that the one with the wooden
kneecap ?” It is.

Together now six years after meeting in a club, Ice and Darlene have moved out of South Central’s shooting gallery area into Hollywood.
“After LA. I like England. I like being dull and quiet, knowwhadahmsayin ?”
Planning to start a family soon. Ice reiterates he brought up his daughter (from a previous relationship) alone for three years. Darlene drives the car. He sews, washes the clothes. “I wouldn’t mind being a woman, when I think about the way I treat Darlene.”
Does he do the washing-up ?
“No. I don’t. Darlene likes to wash the dishes… You want a job ? Being a man, not a mother – that’s a motherfucking job.”
Darlene – a bright, loyal Mexican family girl – tells me she has never regretted posing for Tower’, even though it was clearly not in character.
“I might have if I wasn’t with Ice, if I was single, trying to meet people.”
Ice has the last word: “Six years, we’ve never had an argument. She’s mellowed me out. Man, I was wild. That’s the key to our relationship – both of us want it so much. We’ve got such a good relationship, the only problem is, sometimes we take the whole relationship for granted. We sit there and say, ‘Who do we know that’s happier than us ? No one’. If me and Darlene love each other, there’s nothing more important than that.”

It’s a happy ending.