Celebrating his 39th birthday today is
pioneering rapper Ice-T. Ice-T, along with Schooly D, essentially invented
gangsta rap in the mid-'80s, preferring to rap about the hustle and bustle
of the inner city over the feel-good dance rhythms and party-rap that had
dominated hip-hop previous to his arrival on the scene. More an innovator
due to the themes of his raps and less because of his flow, Ice-T kicked
the doors open to success for such acts as Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Ice
Cube, Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dog and countless others. Born Tracy Marrow in
Newark, N.J., he was raised in Los Angeles by his aunt after his parents
were killed in an automobile accident. Ice-T was already headed toward
his eventual fate as the father of West Coast gangsta rap by the age of 15,
writing poetry by day and hanging out with street gangs by night. In 1983
he adopted the moniker Ice-T in honor of writer Iceberg Slim and recorded "The
Coldest Rap," a traditional party-rap for which Ice-T earned $20. In 1984,
Ice-T began appearing regularly at the Radio in Los Angeles and also put in
an appearance playing himself, essentially, in the breakdance-sploitaion
flick "Breakin' " and its sequel, "Breakin' 2: Electric Bugaloo."
Between 1984 and the release of his full-length debut album, 1987's
Rhyme Pays, Ice-T discovered that his gang buddies responded better
when he rapped about what their lives were like and adapted his style
accordingly. Rhyme Pays, with such gangsta-rap classics as "6 'n
the Mornin'," "Squeeze the Trigger" and "Sex," was as much a revelation on
the hip-hop scene as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message"
was in 1982. After hearing his gritty reality-based raps, Dennis Hopper
got Ice-T to compose the title-track to his 1988 film, "Colors."
1988 also saw the release of Power, Ice-T's first chart-success.
Backed by the hits "High Rollers" and "I'm Your Pusher," the album hit #35
on the pop charts and #6 on the R&B charts. The album's raw contents
raised the ire of many a cultural critic, which led Ice-T to title his next
album The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech ... Just Watch What You Say.
Ice-T continued waging war against censors and in 1991 called it like it
was by releasing O.G. Original Gangster. Alternating between
truly horrifying and truly hilarious, many critics compared the overall
urgency of such tracks as "Midnight," "Lifestyles of the Rich and
Infamous," "New Jack Hustler" and "Straight Up Nigga" to Sly & the Family
Stone's classic There's a Riot Goin' On. O.G. Original
Gangster also contained the first appearance of Ice-T's hardcore side
band, Body Count. That group's self-titled debut came out in 1992 and
received a lot of heat for the song "Cop Killer," which eventually was
removed from the album. Home Invasion, Ice-T's long-awaited rap
follow-up to O.G. Original Gangster, was released in 1993 and
reflected a somewhat more subdued Ice-T, at least compared to his gangsta
rap contemporaries. Ice-T then began concentrating on his already
established film career, appearing in such films as "Tank Girl,"
"Surviving the Game" and "Johnny Mnemonic." In 1996, he released
VI: Return of the Real, but by that time the original version of
gangsta-rap seemed tame compared to the work of Tupac and Notorious B.I.G.
Last year, Ice-T landed a role on the NBC television show "Players." He is
currently working on a new album, tentatively titled 7th
Other birthdays: Vic Briggs (Animals), 53, and Roger Fisher (Heart), 48.