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PODCAST EPISODE 37 – Ice T

Tracy Lauren Marrow (born February 16, 1958), better known by his stage name Ice-T, is an American musician, rapper, songwriter, actor, record executive, record producer, and author. He began his career as an underground rapper in the 1980s and was signed to Sire Records in 1987, when he released his debut album Rhyme Pays; the second hip-hop album to carry an explicit content sticker after Slick Rick’s La Di Da Di. The following year, he founded the record label Rhyme Syndicate Records (named after his collective of fellow hip-hop artists called the “Rhyme Syndicate”) and released another album, called Power.

He co-founded the heavy metal band Body Count, which he introduced on his 1991 rap album O.G.: Original Gangster, on the track titled “Body Count.” The band released their self-titled debut album in 1992. Ice-T encountered controversy over his track “Cop Killer,” which glamorized killing police officers. Ice-T asked to be released from his contract with Warner Bros. Records, and his next solo album, Home Invasion, was released later in February 1993 through Priority Records. Body Count’s next album was released in 1994, and Ice-T released two more albums in the late-1990s. Since 2000, he has portrayed NYPD Detective/Sergeant Odafin Tutuola on the NBC police drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Early life

Tracy Lauren Marrow, son of Solomon and Alice Marrow, was born in Newark, New Jersey. Solomon was African-American, and Alice was Creole. For decades, Solomon worked as a conveyor belt mechanic at the Rapistan Conveyor Company. When Marrow was a child, his family moved to upscale Summit, New Jersey. The first time race played a major part in Marrow’s life was at the age of seven, when he became aware of the racism leveled by his white friends towards black children, and that he escaped similar treatment because they thought that Marrow was white due to his lighter skin. Relaying this incident to his mother, she told him, “Honey, people are stupid”; her advice and this incident taught Marrow to control the way the negativity of others affected him.

His mother died of a heart attack when he was in third grade. Solomon raised Marrow as a single father for four years, with help from a housekeeper.[5] Marrow’s first experience with illicit activity occurred after a bicycle that his father “bought” him for Christmas was stolen. After Marrow told his father, Solomon shrugged, “Well, then, you ain’t got no bike.” Marrow stole parts from bicycles and assembled “three or four weird-looking, brightly-painted bikes” from the parts; his father either did not notice or never acknowledged this. When Marrow was twelve years old, Solomon died of a heart attack. For many years, AllMusic.com has stated that his parents “died in an auto accident”, but Ice-T has stated that it was actually he who had been in a car accident, and that it was decades later.

Following his father’s death, the orphaned Marrow lived with a nearby aunt briefly, then was sent to live with his other aunt and her husband in View Park-Windsor Hills, an upper middle-class Black neighborhood in South Los Angeles. While his cousin Earl was preparing to leave for college, Marrow shared a bedroom with him. Earl was a fan of rock music and listened only to the local rock radio stations; sharing a room with him sparked Marrow’s interest in heavy metal music.

High school, early criminal activity, military service

Marrow moved to the Crenshaw District of Los Angeles when he was in the eighth grade. He attended Palms Junior High, which was predominantly made up of white students, and included black students who travelled by bus from South Central to attend. He then attended Crenshaw High School, which was almost entirely made up of black students.

Marrow stood out from most of his friends because he did not drink alcohol, smoke tobacco, or use drugs. During Marrow’s time in high school, gangs became more prevalent in the Los Angeles school system. Students who belonged to the Bloods and Crips gangs attended Crenshaw, and fought in the school’s hallways. Marrow, while never an actual gang member, was affiliated with the Crips. Marrow began reading the novels of Iceberg Slim, which he memorized and recited to his friends, who enjoyed hearing the excerpts and told him, “Yo, kick some more of that by Ice, T,” giving Marrow his famous nickname. Marrow and other Crips wrote and performed “Crip Rhymes”.

His music career started with the band of the singing group The Precious Few of Crenshaw High School. Marrow and his group opened the show, dancing to a live band. The singers were Thomas Barnes, Ronald Robinson and Lapekas Mayfield.

In 1975, at the age of seventeen, Marrow began receiving Social Security benefits resulting from the death of his father and used the money to rent an apartment for $90 a month. He sold cannabis and stole car stereos to earn extra cash, but he was not making enough to support his pregnant girlfriend. Once his daughter was born, he joined the United States Army. Marrow served a four-year tour in the 25th Infantry Division and was associated with a group of soldiers charged with the theft of a rug. While awaiting trial, he received a $2,500 bonus check and went absent without leave, returning a month later, after the rug had been returned. Marrow received a non-judicial punishment as a consequence of his dereliction of duty.

During his spell in the Army, Marrow became interested in hip hop music. He heard The Sugar Hill Gang’s newly released single “Rapper’s Delight,” which inspired him to perform his own raps over the instrumentals of this and other early hip-hop records. The music, however, did not fit his lyrics or form of delivery.

When he was stationed in Hawaii (where prostitution was not a heavily prosecuted crime) as a squad leader at Schofield Barracks, Marrow met a pimp named Mac. Mac admired that Marrow could quote Iceberg Slim and he taught Marrow how to be a pimp himself. Marrow was also able to purchase stereo equipment cheaply in Hawaii, including two Technics turntables, a mixer, and large speakers. Once equipped, he then began to learn turntablism and rapping.

Towards the end of his tenure in the Army, Marrow learned from his commanding officer that he could receive an honorable discharge because he was a single father, so he left four months ahead of schedule.

During an episode of The Adam Carolla Podcast that aired on June 6, 2012, Marrow claimed that after being discharged from the Army, he began a career as a bank robber. Marrow claimed he and some associates began conducting take-over bank robberies “like [in the film] Heat.” Marrow then elaborated, explaining, “Only punks go for the drawer, we gotta go for the safe.” Although Marrow may have been lying about his bank robbing exploits, he also stated he was glad the United States justice system has statutes of limitations, which had likely expired when Marrow admitted to his involvement in multiple Class 1 Felonies in the early-to-mid 1980s.

Career

Music

Early career (1980–1981)

After leaving the Army, Marrow wanted to stay away from gang life and violence and instead make a name for himself as a disc jockey.[13] As a tribute to Iceberg Slim, Marrow adopted the stage name Ice-T. While performing as a DJ at parties, he received more attention for his rapping, which led Ice-T to pursue a career as a rapper. After breaking up with his girlfriend Caitlin Boyd, he returned to a life of crime and robbed jewelry stores with his high school friends. Ice-T’s raps later described how he and his friends pretended to be customers to gain access before smashing the display glass with baby sledgehammers.

Ice-T’s friends Al P. and Sean E. Sean went to prison. Al P. was caught in 1982 and sent to prison for robbing a high-end jewelry store in Laguna Niguel for $2.5 million in jewelry. Sean was arrested for possession of not only cannabis, which Sean sold, but also material stolen by Ice-T. Sean took the blame and served two years in prison. Ice-T stated that he owed a debt of gratitude to Sean because his prison time allowed him to pursue a career as a rapper. Concurrently, he wound up in a car accident and was hospitalized as a John Doe because he did not carry any form of identification due to his criminal activities. After being discharged from the hospital, he decided to abandon the criminal lifestyle and pursue a professional career rapping. Two weeks after being released from the hospital, he won an open mic competition judged by Kurtis Blow.

Professional career (1982–present)

In 1982, Ice-T met producer Willie Strong from Saturn Records. In 1983, Strong recorded Ice-T’s first single, “Cold Wind Madness”, also known as “The Coldest Rap”, an electro hip-hop record that became an underground success, becoming popular even though radio stations did not play it due to the song’s hardcore lyrics. That same year, Ice-T released “Body Rock,” another electro hip-hop single that found popularity in clubs. Ice-T then was a featured rapper on “Reckless”, a single by DJ Chris “The Glove” Taylor that appeared on the soundtrack for the 1984 movie Breakin’. He next recorded the songs “Ya Don’t Quit” and “Dog’n the Wax (Ya Don’t Quit-Part II)” with Unknown DJ, who provided a Run–D.M.C.-like sound for the songs.

Ice-T received further inspiration as an artist from Schoolly D’s gangsta rap single “P.S.K. What Does It Mean?”, which he heard in a club. Ice-T enjoyed the single’s sound and delivery, as well as its vague references to gang life, although the real life gang, Park Side Killers, was not named in the song.

Ice-T decided to adopt Schoolly D’s style, and wrote the lyrics to his first gangsta rap song, “6 in the Mornin'”, in his Hollywood apartment, and created a minimal beat with a Roland TR-808. He compared the sound of the song, which was recorded as a B-Side on the single “Dog’n The Wax”, to that of the Beastie Boys. The single was released in 1986, and he learned that “6 in the Mornin'” was more popular in clubs than its A-side, leading Ice-T to rap about Los Angeles gang life, which he described more explicitly than any previous rapper. He intentionally did not represent any particular gang, and wore a mixture of red and blue clothing and shoes to avoid antagonizing gang-affiliated listeners, who debated his true affiliation.

Ice-T finally landed a deal with a major label Sire Records. When label founder and president Seymour Stein heard his demo, he said, “He sounds like Bob Dylan.”[19] Shortly after, he released his debut album Rhyme Pays in 1987 supported by DJ Evil E, DJ Aladdin and producer Afrika Islam, who helped create the mainly party-oriented sound. The record wound up being certified gold by the RIAA. That same year, he recorded the title theme song for Dennis Hopper’s Colors, a film about inner-city gang life in Los Angeles. His next album Power was released in 1988, under his own label Rhyme Syndicate, and it was a more assured and impressive record, earning him strong reviews and his second gold record. Released in 1989, The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech… Just Watch What You Say established his popularity by matching excellent abrasive music with narrative and commentative lyrics. In the same year, he appeared on Hugh Harris’s single Alice.

In 1991, he released his album O.G. Original Gangster, which is regarded as one of the albums that defined gangsta rap. On OG, he introduced his heavy metal band Body Count in a track of the same name. Ice-T toured with Body Count on the first annual Lollapalooza concert tour in 1991, gaining him appeal among middle-class teenagers and fans of alternative music genres. The album Body Count was released in March 1992.[1] For his appearance on the heavily collaborative track “Back on the Block”, a composition by jazz musician Quincy Jones that “attempt[ed] to bring together black musical styles from jazz to soul to funk to rap”, Ice-T won a Grammy Award for the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, an award shared by others who worked on the track including Jones and fellow jazz musician Ray Charles.

Controversy later surrounded Body Count over its song “Cop Killer”. The rock song was intended to speak from the viewpoint of a criminal getting revenge on racist, brutal cops. Ice-T’s rock song infuriated government officials, the National Rifle Association and various police advocacy groups.[1][22] Consequently, Time Warner Music refused to release Ice-T’s upcoming album Home Invasion because of the controversy surrounding “Cop Killer”. Ice-T suggested that the furor over the song was an overreaction, telling journalist Chuck Philips “…they’ve done movies about nurse killers and teacher killers and student killers. Arnold Schwarzenegger blew away dozens of cops as the Terminator. But I don’t hear anybody complaining about that.” In the same interview, Ice-T suggested to Philips that the misunderstanding of Cop Killer, the misclassification of it as a rap song (not a rock song), and the attempts to censor it had racial overtones: “The Supreme Court says it’s OK for a white man to burn a cross in public. But nobody wants a black man to write a record about a cop killer.” [22]

When Ice split amicably with Sire/Warner Bros. Records after a dispute over the artwork of the album Home Invasion, he reactivated Rhyme Syndicate and formed a deal with Priority Records for distribution. Priority released Home Invasion in the spring of 1993.[23] The album peaked at #9 on Billboard magazine’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and at #14 on the Billboard 200,[24] spawning several singles including “Gotta Lotta Love”, “I Ain’t New To This” and “99 Problems” – which would later inspire Jay-Z to record a version with new lyrics in 2003.

Ice-T had also collaborated with certain other heavy metal bands during this time period. For the film Judgment Night, he did a duet with Slayer on the track “Disorder”.[25] In 1995, Ice-T made a guest performance on Forbidden by Black Sabbath. Another album of his, VI – Return of the Real, was released in 1996, followed by The Seventh Deadly Sin in 1999.

His first rap album since 1999, Gangsta Rap, was released on October 31, 2006. The album’s cover, which “shows [Ice-T] lying on his back in bed with his ravishing wife’s ample posterior in full view and one of her legs coyly draped over his private parts,” was considered to be too suggestive for most retailers, many of which were reluctant to stock the album.[27] Some reviews of the album were unenthusiastic, as many had hoped for a return to the political raps of Ice-T’s most successful albums.

Ice-T appears in the film Gift. One of the last scenes includes Ice-T and Body Count playing with Jane’s Addiction in a version of the Sly and the Family Stone song “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey.”

Besides fronting his own band and rap projects, Ice-T has also collaborated with other hard rock and metal bands, such as Icepick, Motörhead, Slayer, Pro-Pain, and Six Feet Under. He has also covered songs by hardcore punk bands such as The Exploited, Jello Biafra, and Black Flag. Ice-T made an appearance at Insane Clown Posse’s Gathering of the Juggalos (2008 edition).[28] Ice-T was also a judge for the 7th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists.[29] His 2012 film Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap features a who’s who of underground and mainstream rappers.

In November 2011, Ice-T announced via Twitter that he was in the process of collecting beats for his next LP which was expected sometime during 2012, but as of October 2014, the album has not been released. A new Body Count album, Bloodlust, was released in 2017. After the release of the album, responding to an interview question asking if he’s “done with rap”, he answered “I don’t know” and noted that he’s “really leaning more toward EDM right now”.

Acting

Television and film

Ice-T’s first film appearances were in the motion pictures, Breakin’ (1984), and its sequel, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (1985). These films were released before Ice-T released his first LP, although he appears on the soundtrack to Breakin’. He has since stated he considers the films and his own performance in them to be “wack”.

In 1991, he embarked on a serious acting career, portraying police detective Scotty Appleton in Mario Van Peebles’ action thriller New Jack City, gang leader Odessa (alongside Denzel Washington and John Lithgow) in Ricochet (1991), gang leader King James in Trespass (1992), followed by a notable lead role performance in Surviving the Game (1994), in addition to many supporting roles, such as J-Bone in Johnny Mnemonic (1995), and the marsupial mutant T-Saint in Tank Girl (1995). He was also interviewed in the Brent Owens documentary Pimps Up, Ho’s Down,[34] in which he claims to have had an extensive pimping background before getting into rap. He is quoted as saying “once you max something out, it ain’t no fun no more. I couldn’t really get no farther.” He goes on to explain his pimping experience gave him the ability to get into new businesses. “I can’t act, I really can’t act, I ain’t no rapper, it’s all game. I’m just working these niggas.” Later he raps at the Players Ball.

In 1993, Ice-T along with other rappers and the three Yo! MTV Raps hosts Ed Lover, Doctor Dré and Fab 5 Freddy starred in the comedy Who’s the Man?, directed by Ted Demme. In the movie, he is a drug dealer who gets really frustrated when someone calls him by his real name, “Chauncey,” rather than his street name, “Nighttrain.”

In 1995, Ice-T had a recurring role as vengeful drug dealer Danny Cort on the television series New York Undercover, co-created by Dick Wolf. His work on the series earned him the 1996 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. In 1997, he co-created the short-lived series Players, produced by Wolf. This was followed by a role as pimp Seymour “Kingston” Stockton in Exiled: A Law & Order Movie (1998). These collaborations led Wolf to add Ice-T to the cast of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Since 2000 he has portrayed Odafin “Fin” Tutuola, a former undercover narcotics officer transferred to the Special Victims Unit. In 2002, the NAACP awarded Ice-T with a second Image Award, again for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, for his work on Law & Order: SVU.

Around 1995, Ice-T co-presented a UK-produced magazine television series on black culture, Baadasss TV. In 1997, Ice-T had a pay-per-view special titled Ice-T’s Extreme Babes which appeared on Action PPV, formerly owned by BET networks.

In 1999, Ice-T starred in the HBO movie Stealth Fighter as a United States Naval Aviator who fakes his own death, steals a F-117 stealth fighter, and threatens to destroy United States military bases. He also acted in the movie Sonic Impact, released the same year.

Ice-T made an appearance on the comedy television series Chappelle’s Show as himself presenting the award for “Player Hater of the Year” at the “Player-Haters Ball”, a parody of his own appearance at the Players Ball. He was dubbed the “Original Player Hater.”

Beyond Tough, a 2002 documentary series, aired on Discovery Channel about the world’s most dangerous and intense professions, such as alligator wrestlers and Indy 500 pit crews, was hosted by Ice-T.

In 2007, Ice-T appeared as a celebrity guest star on the MTV sketch comedy show Short Circuitz. Also in late 2007, he appeared in the short-music film Hands of Hatred, which can be found online.

Ice-T was interviewed for the Cannibal Corpse retrospective documentary Centuries of Torment, as well as appearing in Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary Good Hair, in which he reminisced about going to school in hair curlers.

A 2016 advertisement for GEICO features Ice-T behind a lemonade stand run by children. When people ask if it’s Ice-T, the actor yells back, “No, it’s lemonade!”

Voice acting

Ice-T voiced Madd Dogg in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, as well as Agent Cain in Sanity: Aiken’s Artifact. He also appears as himself in Def Jam: Fight for NY and UFC: Tapout fighting video games.

He also voiced the character Aaron Griffin in the video game Gears of War 3.

He was the voice of Jackie A in Tommy and the Cool Mule.

He voiced over the “LawBreakers” announcement trailer.

Other ventures

Podcasting

On December 27, 2013, Ice-T announced that he was entering podcasting in a deal with the Paragon Collective. Ice-T co-hosts the Ice-T: Final Level podcast[45] with his longtime friend, Mick Benzo (known as Zulu Beatz on Sirius XM). They discuss relevant issues, movies, video games, and do a behind the scenes of Law Order: SVU segment with featured guests from the entertainment world. The show will release new episodes bi-weekly. Guests have included Jim Norton.[46] Ice-T released his first episode on January 7 to many accolades.

Reality television

On October 20, 2006, Ice-T’s Rap School aired and was a reality television show on VH1. It was a spin-off of the British reality show Gene Simmons’ Rock School, which also aired on VH1. In Rap School, rapper/actor Ice-T teaches eight teens from York Preparatory School in New York called the “York Prep Crew” (“Y.P. Crew” for short). Each week, Ice-T gives them assignments and they compete for an imitation gold chain with a microphone on it. On the season finale on November 17, 2006, the group performed as an opening act for Public Enemy.

On June 12, 2011, E! reality show Ice Loves Coco debuted. The show is mostly about his relationship with his wife of ten years, Nicole “Coco” Austin.

Personal life

In 1976, Marrow’s girlfriend Adrienne gave birth to their daughter LeTesha (born March 20, 1976) and they attended high school while raising her.[12] While filming Breakin’ in 1984, he met his second girlfriend Darlene Ortiz, who had been at the club in which the film was being shot. They began a relationship and Ortiz was featured on the covers of Rhyme Pays and Power.[18] Ice-T and Ortiz had son Ice Tracy Marrow in 1992.[18]

Ice-T married swimsuit model Nicole “Coco Marie” Austin in January 2002. In celebration of their impending 9th wedding anniversary, the couple renewed their wedding vows on June 4, 2011. As of 2006 they owned a penthouse apartment in North Bergen, New Jersey. In 2012 they were building a five-bedroom house in Edgewater, New Jersey, that was expected to be completed by the end of the year. On November 28, 2015, the couple announced their child Chanel Nicole Marrow had been born, without specifying the exact date.

Personal disputes

LL Cool J

Ice-T had a feud with LL Cool J in the late 1980s, and early 1990s. Apparently, this was instigated by LL’s claim to be “the baddest rapper in the history of rap itself”. Ice-T recorded disses against LL on his 1988 album Power. On the album was the track, “I’m Your Pusher”, in which a rap music addict declines to buy an LL Cool J record. The album also contains the posse rap track, “The Syndicate”, which took aim at LL’s lyrical ability, claiming that rapping about oneself so frequently was a “first grade topic”.[59] The song also mocked the song’s hook “I’m Bad”, which identified it as an LL diss specifically. In the book Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies, Ice-T said that the song “Girls L.G.B.N.A.F.” was also intended as a diss to LL Cool J, by making a crude song to contrast with the love songs that LL was making at the time.[60]

On LL’s response, To da Break of Dawn in 1990, he dissed Kool Moe Dee (whose feud with LL was far more publicized) as well as MC Hammer. He then devoted the third verse of the song to dissing Ice-T, mocking his rap ability (“take your rhymes around the corner to rap rehab”), his background (“before you rapped, you was a downtown car thief”), and his style (“a brother with a perm deserves to get burned”). He also suggested that the success of Power was due to the appearance of Ice-T’s girlfriend Darlene on the album cover. Ice-T appeared to have ignored the insults and he had also defended LL Cool J after his arrest in the song “Freedom of Speech”.

In August 2012, Ice-T said that the rivalry was “never serious” and that he needed a nemesis to create “an exciting dispute”.

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