You Say It's Your Birthday: Ice-T

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

Deadly Sin.

Other birthdays: Vic Briggs (Animals), 53, and Roger Fisher (Heart), 48.