Although considered as one of Westcoast rap's leading figures, Rapper Ice T was actually born Tracy Marrow on February 16, 1958 in Newark, New Jersey, USA. Ice T has said that his father gave him a girl's name in order to "teach a brother to fight." When he was in the third grade at school his mother died of a heart attack, then only four years later he then lost his fahter to a heart attack. After his father died, he went to live with his aunt in South Los Angeles' (more often referred to as South Central) Crenshaw district. South Central was were he became infatuated with the ways of "ghetto street life", eventually joining with one of the many sets of the infamous street gang, the Crips, as an affiliate of the "West Side Rollin 30s Original Harlem Crips".
Ice T attended Crenshaw High School, and it was during his time there that he became obsessed with rap music, often reciting his rhymes for classmates. After leaving high school, he joined the U.S. Army. He has stated that he did not enjoy the experience, saying, "I didn't like total submission to a leader other than myself." After leaving the army in 1983, Ice had intentions of starting a career in rap, but he once again became involved in the street life, first as a jewel thief then later as a pimp. A car crash in 1985 was the turning point in Ice-T's life, he decided to abandon the street life and became more focused on rapping.
Ice-T began his extremely long career within rap by recording raps for various studios on 12", tracks which were later compiled on "The Classic Collection" and also featured on disc 2 of "Legends of Hip-Hop". His first rap was in 1982, entitled "The Coldest Rap"; this was also the first hip hop record to use the words "nigga" and "ho," although few recognize this early record as a record of "gangsta rap". His first official "gangsta rap" record was in the form of "6 in the Morning", one of the first gangsta rap records recorded. Ice said he was influenced by the Schooly D record "P.S.K.", which is considered by many to be the first ever gangsta rap record (as it lionized the Philadelphia gang, Park Side Killers).
His stage name, Ice-T, was originally his street moniker, styled after the famous ex-pimp turned author Iceberg Slim. In an introduction to the 1996 Canongate Books reprint of Iceberg Slim's 1969 autobiography 'Pimp', Ice T explained: "Although I never met the man, Iceberg Slim was to have a profound effect on my career and life... Like him, I wanted to be somebody who didn't just die there out on the streets. I wanted to be able to document some of my experiences, and that's what I've been trying to do in my music for the past decade. I took my rap name in tribute to him, and I've never regretted it. He was a real hustler."
All of Ice-T's records on Warner Brothers spell his name Ice-T, while the spelling without the hyphen is more often used on more recent records, whilst his earliest 12" shows the spelling Ice "T". Most recently, on his 2006 release "Gangsta Rap", he routinely refers to himself as "Iceberg" rather than "Ice-T", a nickname also used in the 2004 video game "Def Jam: Fight For NY", which has an Ice-T character, and in the 'story mode' section of the game, the character based on him says, "You cannot defeat the Iceberg, punk".
Much of Ice-T's music is politically aware, like that of Public Enemy and more recently Tupac Shakur (2pac), although the political content within his raps has declined with time. Ice-T's "Killers" in 1984 includes comments on the death penalty, on nuclear war and on gang warfare. In 1986, "Squeeze the Trigger" was a seven-minute long political release by Ice-T, which later appeared on "Rhyme Pays". Ice-T's career saw comments on racism, police brutality, domestic violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, prison conditions, war and censorship. He was one of the very few rappers to condemn homophobia on tracks like "Straight Up Nigga" and "The Tower". He also condemned anti-white bigotry amongst blacks on "Momma's Gotta Die Tonight", and he condemned the anti-immigrant racism of the 1992 Los Angeles riots on "Race War". He has voiced conspiracy theories regarding the involvement of the CIA in drug trafficking on tracks such as "This One's for Me" and "Message to the Soldier", and in sections of his book.
Ice-T debuted as a rapper in the films "Breakin'" and "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo" in 1984, only two years after his first 12", "The Coldest Rap," which appeared on the streets in 1982. In the mid 80's Ice finally landed a deal with a major label, in the form of Sire Records. Shortly after, he released his debut album Rhyme Pays, released in 1987. On Rhyme Pays, he is supported by DJ Aladdin and producer Afrika Islam, who helped create the rolling, spare beats and samples that provided a backdrop for the rapper's charismatic rhymes, which were mainly party-oriented; the record wound up going gold. That same year, he recorded the theme song for Dennis Hopper's "Colors", a film about inner-city life in Los Angeles. The song -- also called "Colors" -- was stronger than his earlier tracks, both lyrically and musically, with more incisive lyrics, than anything he had previously released.
Ice T then formed his own record label, Rhyme Syndicate, in 1988, which was distributed through Sire/Warner Bros. Records. From this label Ice-T released Power, a more assured and impressive record, earning him strong reviews and his second gold record. Released in 1989, "The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech...Just Watch What You Say" established him as a true hip-hop superstar by matching excellent abrasive music with fierce, intelligent narratives, and political commentaries, especially about hip-hop censorship.
Ice T always managed to be the talk on the streets, whether it be for his political views in his muisc, his talent, or through controversy. He is believed to be the first rapper to have ever performed the notorious Crip Walk (or C-Walk) up on stage, in front of cameras, sometime in the '80s. This added to his already controversial fame and gave rise to the C-Walk's mainstream presentation in other videos via more recent rappers such as WC, Snoop Dogg, Warren G, and many other Crip-affiliated rap artists.
In 1990 Ice-T won a Grammy for 'Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group'. On 14th May 1991 he released his classic album "O.G. (Original Gangster)" which is regarded as one of Gangsta Rap's most defining albums. In 1998, the album was selected as one of The Source Magazine's 100 Best Rap Albums, and to this day it is generally considered as Ice T's best album. The Source magazine, considered by most as the 'Hip-Hop Bible' gave the album 4 out of 5 mics, and the All Music Guide rated the album as 5 out of 5 stating the album is "a sprawling masterpiece that stands far and away as Ice-T's finest hour." It was also on this album in which he introduced his heavy metal band Body Count. Body Count's debut album Body Count (1992) attacked, in graphic terms, various aspects of racism and criminality in South Central Los Angeles (now South Los Angeles), including corrupt police officers. Ice-T and his band caused a nation-wide controversy with the song "Cop Killer", a track co-written by Ice-T, the group's vocalist, and Ernie-C, the guitarist. It was originally released as the final track on the group's debut album and provoked a national debate about freedom of speech, resulting in police groups, parent groups and other advocates protesting the song and its content. This track is the reason that Ice-T and the group were eventually dropped from the roster of Warner Bros. Records.
Many people voiced their opinions on the highly controversial track, and it angered Dennis R. Martin, who is now the Former President, National Association of Chiefs of Police, he argued that:
"The misuse of the First Amendment is graphically illustrated in Time-Warner's attempt to insert into the mainstream culture the vile and dangerous lyrics of the Ice-T song entitled Cop Killer. The Body Count album containing Cop Killer was shipped throughout the United States in miniature body bags. Only days before distribution of the album was voluntarily suspended, Time-Warner flooded the record market with a half million copies. The Cop Killer song has been implicated in at least two shooting incidents and has inflamed racial tensions in cities across the country. Those who work closely with the families and friends of slain officers volunteering for the American Police Hall of Fame and Museum, are outraged by the message of Cop Killer. It is an affront to the officers—144 in 1992 alone—who have been killed in the line of duty while upholding the laws of our society and protecting all its citizens."
In 1991, Ice-T embarked onto a serious acting career, playing a police detective, starring alongside the likes of Wesley Snipes and Chris Rock, in Mario Van Peebles' feature film "New Jack City". The film was an independant film released primarily for urban areas, however it recieved rave reviews for its cast, storyline, and soundtrack. New Jack City was produced with an estimated $8,500,000 budget. The film initially premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 17, 1991, before being released nationally on March 6, 1991; it grossed $7,039,622 during its opening weekend. It became the highest grossing independent film of 1991, grossing a total of $47,624,253 at the US box offices. The soundtrack to New Jack City, which featured a track from Ice-T, the opening track on the soundtrack, reached #1 on Billboard's "Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums" charts, and #2 on "The Billboard 200". The single "I'm Dreaming" performed by Christopher Williams and "For the Love of Money" performed by Troop, Levert, and Queen Latifah, reached #1 and #12 on Bilboards "Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles" respectively.
Ice-T continued to portray his political views in the track "Escape from the Killing Fields", which portrayed a difference in views from those of rappers like Chuck D and Ice Cube, in that Ice-T did not see any virtue in staying in the ghetto, but rather encouraged Black people to leave the ghetto. The last track on O.G. Original Gangster is a spoken-word opposition to the Gulf War and to poor conditions in prisons.
Ice-T appeared alongside the now the now deceased, but legendary rapper Tupac Shakur (2Pac), who at the time was only an up and coming star. Much like Ice-T, Tupac was also known for his passionate political views and he gripped many people with his lyrics, music, views and life in general. Because of Tupac's passion and pure talent, and his life constantly been surrounded in controversy, he lived his life in constant media coverage, all factors which may have resulted in his murder in a gangland style drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. The song these two Hip-Hop legends performed together was entitled 'Last Wordz', a track taken from 2Pac's now multi platinum sophomore LP 'Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.', released in 1993, spawning the hits, and now huge Hip-Hop classics, "Keep Ya Head Up" and "I Get Around".
After Ice-T's album Born Dead was released in 1994, Ice-T's music has contained much less political commentary than before. In 1994, Ice-T wrote a book titled The Ice Opinion. The purpose of this was to provide clear answers to questions that he was constantly asked in interviews about his political beliefs, his life and the controversy surrounding his music. Having often voiced controversial statements about corruption, he goes into detail about his suspicions of police/CIA involvement in drug trafficking and of how certain businesses profit from prison-building. It lasted 196 pages, and had an extra 3 pages as a "Pimptionary" of pimp slang. The book has now been translated into Japanese, German, French, and Italian.
Ice-T then cotinued within his role as an actor, with a notable lead role performance in Surviving the Game in addition to his many supporting roles, such as J-Bone in Johnny Mnemonic (1995), and as one of the mutants in Tank Girl, also released in 1995. Ice-T was also interviewed in the Brent Owens documentary Pimps Up, Ho's Down, where he is quoted as saying "I can't act, I really can't act" and he raps at the Players Ball.
In 1995 he had a recurring role as vengeful drug dealer Danny Cort on the television series New York Undercover, which was co-created by Dick Wolf. In 1997 Ice-T co-created the short-lived series Players, which was produced by Wolf. These two collaborations led Wolf to add Ice-T to the cast of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, where the rapper has portrayed Detective Odafin Tutuola since 2000. This can perhaps be considered an ironic role, taking into account the early controversy surrounding his group Body Count with their song Cop Killer. Ice-T also appears in the movie Leprechaun in the Hood. Ice is a worldwide celebrity, particularly in the UK, where not only his music is successful, but where he has had a multi-season series on Channel 4 as the presenter of Ice T's Baadasss TV. The show is Ice T's personal guide to Blaxploitation movies and to black culture in general.
Ice-T also voiced Madd Dogg in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas as well as Agent Cain in Sanity: Aiken's Artifact. He also appears as himself in Def Jam: Fight for NY and UFC: Tapout fighting video games. Ice-T made an appearance on Chappelle's Show as himself presenting the award for "Player Hater of the Year." He was dubbed the "Original Player Hater." At WrestleMania 2000, Ice-T performed his song "Pimpin Ain't Easy" during The Godfather and D'Lo Brown's entrance.
In the summer of 1996, Ice-T released his first rap album since 1993, Return of the Real. The album was greeted by mixed reviews and it failed to live up to commercial expectations. 7th Deadly Sin then followed in 1999.
In 2005 Ice-T launched a clothing line, IceWear, and a year later Ice-T released his first rap album since 1999, entitled Gangsta Rap, which landed in stores on October 31 2006. It has caused controversy over its cover, which showed him and his wife, Coco, lying naked, with Coco covering Ice-T's penis; many retailers have been reluctant to supply this. Early reviews of the album have not been too enthusiastic; many were hoping for a return to the political raps of Ice-T's most successful albums, but he seems to be continuing with the apolitical gangsta approach of the previous two albums.