Ice T

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About Ice T

The first thing that Ice-T’s 1987 debut, Rhyme Pays, does is remind listeners that its star actually comes from the East Coast. But while Tracy Marrow was born in New Jersey in 1958, it was in Los Angeles that he developed a keen observational eye, especially of the gang culture that exploded around him during his teenage years. A cousin there introduced him to heavy metal and its unchecked aggression; he then fell in love with hip-hop during a stint in the Army, and returned to L.A. with turntables and a microphone. While Ice-T’s earliest raps were electro-tinged, Schoolly D’s “P.S.K. (What Does It Mean?)” inspired him to document L.A. gang life on wax. His first attempt, “6 ’N the Mornin’,” is one of gangsta rap’s foundational texts; he went on to further elucidate the genre on classics like Power (1988) and O.G. Original Gangster (1991). When rappers’ free expression came under fire in the ’90s, Ice-T became a flashpoint, specifically for “Cop Killer,” a song by Body Count, his side-hustle metal band. But his are not shallow provocations: Through his decades-long career, Ice-T has gnawed at the rot in American criminal justice and the hypocrisy of the way free speech is—or is not—protected.

Newark, NJ, United States
February 16, 1958

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