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Quick chat: Ice-T on the L.A. riots, LL Cool J and more

Ice-T
Ice-T’s directorial debut, “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap,” documents the genre’s history through interviews with such artists as Dr. Dre and Kanye West. But the rapper-turned-actor (he’s now a regular on NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”) made history himself two decades ago when he emerged out of South L.A. as one of gangsta rap’s pioneers. He spoke with Pop & Hiss last week on the eve of his film’s release.

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the riots. With a little distance, how do you reflect on the music of that period?

Hip-hop preempted the riots. In Body Count, we did “Cop Killer” a year before the riots. If you listen to pre-riot records, we were saying, “Yo, stuff is hot down here. The cops are out of pocket. It’s not just us.” But it was a real tumultuous time, and the music reflected that. When the riots happened, I was in a studio. Dre was in a studio. I made a record called “Race War,” which was me saying that we got to get it together before it screws us up worse. Rap was the narrator of that time.

In the film you make a quick reference to your verbal bouts with LL Cool J. Now that you’re older, does that all seem silly?

Rap is the closest music will ever come to a sport. It’s based on the idea that I’m better than you. Hip-hop is inherently competitive. The problem is when it spills out into real violence. No one minded me saying LL wasn’t all that, but when it gets to the point where we’re going to shoot and kill each other? With [Notorious B.I.G.] Big and [Tupac Shakur] Pac, the press didn’t know how volatile it could be. The fire was fanned until people ended up dead. That can never happen again. I say Pac and Big died for our sins.

Did your role on “Law & Order,” as well as your reality series (“Ice Loves Coco”), make it more important for you to reconnect with your rap roots?

Important. That’s a very great word. Even “Ice Loves Coco” I thought was important. I watch these [reality] shows and everyone is successful and mad. Be happy. Your life doesn’t suck. People who are losing their homes are having it bad. You’re a celebrity. It’s disrespectful to be an angry housewife in a mansion. My life is good. People believe success is terrible. No it’s not. You can screw it up, but it’s a great thing.

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-- Todd Martens

Photo credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

 
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