Ice-T's brief history of rap

Legendary US rapper is back on top of his game

Interview, Time In

Many would argue that former-rapper-turned-actor Ice-T is a contradiction. His sugar-pop name is more suited to a poodle than a hard-spitting lyricist, while the sweet nothings his loved-up persona whispers to his wife on reality series Ice and Coco are hardly in the same vein as his 1987 debut album Rhyme Pays (the first record to ever be issued a warning sticker for explicit content).

Contradictions aside, perhaps the one constant we’ve come to love about Ice-T is that you can never predict his next move. This year, the 54-year-old has chartered new territory, directing music documentary The Art of Rap, out now on DVD. Featuring interviews with a who’s who of rap’s finest, including Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mos Def and Eminem, the film explores how what was a niche backyard genre became a worldwide phenomenon. Here, the man himself, aka Tracy Marrow, lets fly about his career and his new project.

Did you always have ambitions to get into film?
Absolutely not. When I first started out in music I was so negative. I was knee-deep in the streets. Then my friends started going to jail. They said, ‘Boy, you better start taking this seriously – you got a chance to do something with your life.’ That’s when I realised I had to focus. The music led to the acting. But movies aren’t something you can just will yourself into. Someone has to choose you, and you have to be quite fortunate to be chosen.

Do you think every rapper has an actor inside them?
I think singing and acting go hand in hand. Take an R&B singer: one song says, “I love you”, the next is, “Baby, don’t leave me’, the next is, “If you leave me I don’t care”. You have to drop in and out of different perspectives. If I do a song where I’m angry, when it’s time to perform it live I’m not mad, I’m happy. I’m at a concert. But I have to somehow drum up that rage. That’s acting.

How did you go about getting that super-saturated look to the film?
We said to ourselves, no stock footage; it can’t be like anything anyone’s ever seen. We shot New York to look dirty, but then we shot it to look like a jewellery box. We wanted to make the film original.

When you were casting your interviewees, did you scour your address book for guys you knew?
Those are the only people I used! I didn’t reach out to anybody I didn’t have a relationship with, because the movie’s not about having everyone’s favourite rapper. I tell people, ‘You may not see your favourite rapper, but you’ll see your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper.’

Lots of hip hop artists revert to their birth names when they get serious. Did you think of making this a Tracy Marrow joint?
No, I’ll stay as Ice-T. This is what got me here – I’m always going to stay true to that. If it weren’t for hip hop, I wouldn’t be doing all these other things.
From Dhs60. Available online at www.amazon.com from Tuesday September 18.

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