Ice-T Points Out Gang Members In His L.A. 'Hood In The Early '90s, In The Loder Files

Before he was a well-known movie and TV star, the rapper was a lightning rod for controversy.

One day back in the early '90s I was walking around South Central L.A. with Ice-T. We were talking and taping, the usual deal. T was already a rap heavyweight at that point, one of the pioneers of the West Coast gangsta style. (He'd actually been born in New Jersey, but then sent out west to be raised by an aunt after his parents died when he was just a kid.) He was the perfect guide to the Crenshaw ghetto. At one juncture he pointed out some Crips in the distance, which I have to say was a skin-tingling white-boy thrill. At another, though, while we were just standing there on the street, a lady came rushing up crying "Tracy! Tracy!" That being T's given name: Tracy Marrow. I believe the woman may have even reached up a hand and patted his head. It was cute. But you could see a tremor of gangsta anxiety ripple across T's face — how uncool is this? He quickly recovered, though, and was soon back in monologue mode, tossing off smart, funny sound bites right and left as we ambled down the boulevard.

Toward the end of the afternoon we were joined by Darlene Ortiz, T's awesome girlfriend. (Check out the cover of the 1987 Rhyme Pays, his first album.) We wandered around some more, then T pleaded rap-star commitments and he and Darlene got in his car and drove off. He had the only low-rider BMW I've ever seen.

Few rappers have made their way through as many showbiz scenes as Ice-T has. After recording one of the first really hard-core rap tracks ("6 'N the Mornin'," in 1986), he dropped the brilliant "Colors" into Dennis Hopper's 1988 movie of that name, then made the move into feature films himself as an actor in the 1991 drug-biz picture "New Jack City." T had always been a metal fan (the title track of Rhyme Pays sampled Black Sabbath); but it was still a surprise when he started his own thrash band, called Body Count, which made its debut on O.G.: Original Gangster, the 1991 album that still stands as his masterwork. Body Count's most famous track, "Cop Killer," released the following year, landed T on a cultural hit list informally maintained by such censorious figures as Tipper Gore, wife of Al, the then-vice president. It also cost him his label deal with Sire Records.

He's soldiered on, though, continuing to make both albums and movies. And since 2000, he's been a TV star, too. On "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," T plays a character named Fin Tutuola, who's not only a detective, but also a Republican. Talk about your karma chameleons.

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