From South Central to Hollywood: Ice-T remembers

Ice TFirst aired on Q (04/27/11)

Ice-T has been called a lot of things. In his early days, he was called orphan, soldier, thief and pimp. But then he added internationally acclaimed rapper to that list.

In the hip hop world, Ice-T is known as the O.G. -- Original Gangster. He is the artist who first brought the oft-maligned genre of gangsta rap to mainstream airwaves. In the United States, he was also one of the first West Coast rappers to reach the heights of fame in what was an East Coast-dominated industry.

Since then, the musician best known for his controversial song Cop Killer has added even more accomplishments to the list. He started acting, and for the last 10 years has played a detective on television's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. He was also one of the first rappers to collect his thoughts into a book, when he published The Ice Opinion, a compilation of his reflections on politics and music, in 1994.

Now, Ice-T is taking a look back at all that in a new memoir, Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption -- From South Central to Hollywood.

It's a hefty title for someone who claims to have never actually been in a gang. Ice-T, born Tracy Morrow, moved to Los Angeles from New Jersey as a child. Both his parents had died, so he was shipped off to live with an aunt. His exposure to life on the mean streets was always from the perspective of a partial outsider. The neighbourhood he lived in was too affluent to be taken over by a gang, but the streets of South Central were where he really lived.

Not actually being in a gang didn't make life any easier, so Ice-T turned to rap, or as he calls it, street level journalism, to get by. He started rhyming about the things that he saw, the realities of life that went on around him. You might call that glorifying violence and misogyny. Ice-T calls it a realistic portrayal of street life.

"If I'm doing an interview, and you don't ask me about [gangsta rap], I won't bring it up. We could have the most positive interview about my book or whatever, and then you'll be like 'so what's it like to rob a bank?' And if I tell you, you'll say I glamorize it," Ice-T told Jian Ghomeshi in a recent interview. "It's not really glamorizing it. It's just being honest about it."

According to Ice-T, he's not reinforcing a lifestyle. He's just presenting the facts. It's not his fault that the facts might be uncomfortable or hard. And he's not leaving anything out.

"If you read my book now, you'll also read that everybody that I was involved with during what we thought were good times ended up dead or in prison," he said. "If you follow the story completely, you'll see that Ice was on this road, and then he made a decision to change. And that's the only reason I'm around still today. If they're really going to read this book, they're not going to say 'I want to live the first half of Ice's life.' They're going to say 'I wanna be Ice now.'"

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