Editor's Note: The following interview contains explicit language that some readers might find offensive.
By now we should all know Ice-T's story. In a nutshell, he went from armed robber and jewel thief to hugely successful rap star to actor on the big and small screens. The "Original Gangster" who was famous for his track "Cop Killer" has now been acting for 25 years, married for 10, and is set to release his latest project, this one with VH1. Ice-T is the narrator and executive producer of VH1's latest documentary, "Planet Rock: The Story Of Hip Hop & The Crack Generation."
The movie chronicles the love-hate relationship between crack-cocaine and hip hop in the 1980s and early 1990s, the so-called "crack era." It features interviews with a number of rap artists including Snoop Dogg, members of the Wu-Tang Clan, Cypress Hill's B-Real and former cocaine kingpins "Freeway" Rick Ross and Azie Faison. The movie highlights crack's decimation of inner-city communities, at once pumping cash through cash-starved neighborhoods while fueling wars, not the least of which being those waged by the police on dealers, users and the poor. At the heart of this story are the many lives lifted and destroyed during that era, and hip hop's crack-fueled coming of age.
Ice-T talked with HuffPost Black Voices this week about the documentary, the role of drugs in today's rap game, his personal evolution, marriage and how mad he is at "the muhfuckers that ripped off all the people in the subprime mortgage scam and all the muhfuckers that got away down there on Wall Street."
"Planet Rock: The Story of Hip Hop and the Crack Generation" premieres on VH1 on Sunday, September 18 at 10 p.m.
There are some notions that we are in this post-racial kind of place, a silly notion which has been more or less debunked. But are we in a post-crack situation in rap music? Does the drug game still have the same influence on the music that it did in the past?
I think now crack and coke are more like Gucci and Louis. It's like a fashionable thing to say, you follow me? It's not real; back in the '90s it was real. There was really crack houses; and right now, if you wanted to go into the drug game, the drug game is mostly weed, Ecstasy, maybe a little crystal meth. Coke is like dinosaur shit, because of the time they give out for it. It ain't like a crack house. You don’t see them no more.
The cats talking about weight and 'I did this and I did that.' I think it's a fashionable thing to say. When you were listening to people like Snoop and them and us, it was really happening then. The real crack era, it's over. Not saying drugs are off the streets, but that era -- remember, back in the crack era, there wasn't Ecstasy. Weed was cheap, so that was where the money was.
At the height of the crack epidemic, and while everything socially was feeding it, you had what seemed to be an adversary in the president against black people. You had high unemployment rates. It was wild in the streets. In some way it seems we are getting back to the place where people are more desperate. Do you see us edging closer to that, to the bad old days?
Absolutely. The record business is over, and the record business really funded a lot of thing in the 'hood. A lot of people made a lot of money. I made a lot of money when people were going into record stores ... So now when you have these kids in the streets thinking they want to follow me or Jay-Z , they are not going to sell records. That's gone. So the first level of street hustling is jacking, just taking. You're going to start seeing muhfuckers getting robbed-up again and shit, because muhfuckers got to eat.
Hip hop really kind of peaced out the streets for awhile. I think right now, the kids are kind of in a delusional state because the parents did so well. So my kids is wearing $250 sneakers because of me ... but there's going to be a point where they're going to find out there's nothing really out here for us to do, not like my day. It's going to get grimy. I'll give it another five years.
You got to think about it, if nobody sold records anymore. Hip hop fed the hood for a really long time.
You’re at a vantage point now where you can sit back as a grown man--
A grown-ass man, yes.
Looking back at it now, it seems easy to romanticize that point in hip hop, so on edge and bubbling. But are people really aware of how rough it was? The murder rates across the country were crazy!
No, but that's when the best music is made: The best art comes from pain. It's hard to make good music when everything is good. So when there was turmoil, that's when the music is really static and it's about some shit. It's kind of like, right now, what can these kids really rap about? Because they don't have the same life, the streets aren't as crazy. They go pop. Or they can fantasize about being the tough guys that don't really exist. I don't know. It's like, do you want a better life of better music?
I kind of have accepted it. I'm not mad at the kids. I'm like, "Do whatever you feel, but there are things happening right now that you could address." But I don't hear anyone who is addressing it right now. I would love to see an 18-year-old Public Enemy come out, like five little muhfuckers telling it and going hard.
Why don't we see that?
I don't know. See, the thing is, when I started to say political things, they wanted to know why other people weren't political, but that's not something you can make a kid do. It's either in you or it's not, it's either part of your character or not. But it's probably some little muhfuckers reading a lot of books, getting their knowledge together that's going to give these lil niggas a wake-up call and say, "Look man, fuck your jewelry and your bullshit. Armageddon is in effect."
As an artist, without those social stressors, you're at a different place now. How do you stay on your toes?
Because my friends are broke. I’m successful, but my boys are still dealing with it day in and day out. As much as I can feed them, if I had one friend, he could live at the same level as me. The problem is I got 40 friends. So even if I'm hitting him off with a little money here, give you a hundred thousand, that's not going to change you. To change your life it takes a lot of money. If I give him 80 grand, he buys a car. So he’s still broke, he just has a car. To really change someone's life they have to pick up a lifestyle and pick up an income and do other things to really to be where I'm at. It takes a lot. You might look at what I'm driving and say, "If I had that, you'd be me." No, you'd be a nigga in a car. You're still fucked really, probably worse because you can't get it fixed.
Also, when people know you have a voice, people come to you and give you their experience. They say, "Yo Ice, when you're on TV, make sure you speak about this." So you become a spokesperson: "Don't forget to say this, say this." People come to me because they know I will speak on it.
I don't really have to do projects like this, but this is my heart. I’ll do this. Somebody might get in a position like me and say, "You don't want to fuck with this, you trying to get over here," but this is the kind of shit I'm really about, forever. I'm always going to be about this.
There's no template when it comes to this cycle of hip hop, being young in the game, doing your thing and growing older. A few of you have transitioned--
You’ve got to transition.
But why so few? There's a handful of rappers from back in the day who are in a good position, but why so few?
You've got to be willing to switch games. Like my daddy told me, "If they ain't buying cookies, sell them cake; if they ain't buying cake, you sell them ice cream."
You got to understand, I'm on my fifth hustle. My first hustle was to be a street hustler. Rap came along, I said, "Fuck it, I'm going to try to rap." Then I did a rock band. Then I said, "I'll be in movies." Now I'm on television. I'm on my fifth gig. This is not idea number one to make it, I'm on number five.
A lot of rappers don't transition. Like, "Now that I'm a rapper, that’s it." Nah, as opportunity comes to you, you have to apply yourself to the opportunity. Maybe you should write a book. But they’ll write a book after they hear my book sells two or three hundred thousand copies. Then they'll see the money and they'll write a book. But they’re not writing it from here (pointing to chest), they're writing it to get the money. But that's not how art works. Art, you have to do the art, and if art is great, you'll get paid. Me, I'm the kind of cat, I got a lot of shit that I want to do. Me, I would love to be a Formula 1 racecar driver.
I just don't think people are limited to one thing. I'm not really a rapper: I'm a jewel thief, I'm an armed robber, but I said, "Fuck it, this is an opportunity, I can learn to do this." I think people just have to really understand that you can do anything. Like, nobody is a basketball player. You start off as a fan and you teach yourself how to play basketball. No one is a pianist, you teach yourself. No one is an actor, you teach yourself. But nobody is born anything. So people limit themselves in what they can do, but nobody is born anything. They got to understand that: You can be anything.
I've been acting now 25 years, so I figure I kind of know what I'm doing. I don't think people get it. Like, I'm in the hood and this is all that I can do. Standing on the corner, nigga, is all that you can do? Really? If you can sell dope, nigga, you can sell anything.
As a man, how are you different than the "Rhyme Pays" Ice-T, as you reflect on your personal development?
The old Ice-T is, like, mad at everybody.
Yeah, just like, "I'm young, I don't know what I'm mad at." I'm just like, fuck it. I'm an orphan, I felt like I got dealt a bad hand.
The old Ice-T is like, "Yeah, nigga, I kill niggas!" The new Ice-T is like, (calmly) "You know I'll kill you, right?"
Is there a point where you--?
Yeah, there's a point where it's no longer you throwing it out there, you fucking mean it. So now, as a man, it's kind of like all that extra shit ain't there. It's like it's turned so far off, you think it might not exist. You become more focused. What it is, it's not about being mad at everything, it's about being really mad at the right shit. That's the trick.
What are you mad about?
What am I mad about right now? I'm mad at the war. I'm mad at the people that are dying over there in the war right now. I wish they could squash that shit. I really don't feel there's going to be a solution in the Middle East, and I think we opened up a can of worms over there. I think we're going to be under a terrorist threat for our kids' and our grandkids' and our great-grandkids' lives. We created some serious beef.
I'm mad at the muhfuckers that ripped off all the people in the subprime mortgage scam and all the muhfuckers that got away down there on Wall Street and no one went to jail. I think I'm really mad at that. I don't get that. But my homie is in jail for some bullshit. I think injustice, that's what I'm mad at most. Injustice.
One last question, two-parts: What's the take-away from this documentary and how has marriage changed you? It's been 10 years. How are you post-marriage?
It saved me from the "Basketball Wives" (laughing). Marriage just keeps a nigga indoors, you know what I'm saying? At some point in a man's life, you don't need to be in the street every night chasing bitches.
And bitches changed the game; they've turned it into a doublecross game. So I'm glad to leave the playing field now. It's unsafe. They done turned bitches like Katt Stacks into their role models and shit. I'm like, "Fuck this, I'm cool. Y'all niggas go out there and play single."
I'm happily married. I go home, I play Xbox. I'm happy, I'm cool. I've lived my life as a single man. So (marriage) allows me to focus on more important things.
What's the other question?
The takeaway from the documentary?
It's the truth, a better look at that time, that era, what was really going on. Because I think it's been mixed and twisted and told so many bullshit ways. This will show you. Hopefully it will open someone's eyes. Hopefully you'll be watching and go, "I didn't know that. What, are you serious? Wow." And you'll get a better understanding of the time when this happened. And maybe help you understand what's going on now.