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ICE-T: Open Forum Interview
by Kevin James
Photo Credit: Rolling Stone Magazine
ICE-T OPEN FORUM INTERVIEW- MIDNIGHT SPECIAL BOOKSTORE
MARCH 1994 - EXTENDED 12' INTRODUCTION
by Kevin Salveson - page 5
See, you can walk on the lawn all you want but you certainly can't shit on it. That's against public decency.
Because I love good rap and good music in general. It's a craft and an art like any other. I could quote you the Freestyle Fellowship and Kendrick Lamars which I listen to (in my defense), and I could quote you all that good old African American funk all day. (Most of which you probably never even heard of or already forgot). Yes, I got the funk deep in my soul. You think that's not possible but I think it is; my mind was freed by Parliament and my ass followed. Give me Herbie Hancock, give me Curtis Mayfield. Give me Stevie Wonder and Soul Train. Give me Busdriver. If the Swampers can be of any color and if Greg Errico can drum for Sly Stone, I think I can say, safely, that music is universal in the end. MLK's dream of being judged by the content of your bassline is a reality in this day and age. He got his own national holiday for it because we all agree on the fundamental truth of it. Especially if it has some Bootsy or Larry Graham style slapping.
Heck, even some Geto Boys or Son of Berserk is just too damn funky to complain too much about the lyrical content. After all, you can't take words too seriously, as Ice-T says. And sometimes people just want to get themselves off.
So it's not like I'm just white, right and uptight. I give propers to the great African Americans like Robert Johnson or Charlie Parker or Son House or Howlin Wolf or Sly Stone who have originated styles now loved the world over. At its best, rap and rappers have produced worthwhile work on par with the best of the world's poetry and music. (Guru, for example).
But gangster rap quickly became tired and pernicious to good taste and social harmony, to be honest. We the public were asked to swallow the copycat gangster rap which followed Ice-T as 'authentic' perhaps because in America revenge violence is always a romantic form of entertainment especially when it has the moral force of poverty behind it.
After all, we are a society which celebrates the underdog as a fighter who can claim the American dream (even if it takes a pitiless amount of amoral determination to do it). See: The Kennedys. We Americans love a rags to "bitches" story. See Young, Andre: billionaire. To Americans, in terms of their entertainment (and deep within the underbelly of the capitalist psyche) the profits are all the proof we need that a pudding tastes good, even if it's blood pudding.
But since the gangster's bios were tailored to match the music so closely, or vice versa, why didn't the public find this insulting, a PR three card monte game?
We were told it had the moral authority of fact until its exaggerations and exploitation were called out. Then it was quickly called 'just a fiction' that exculpated the authors. Then that fiction got more and more wicked and sometimes it all bled back into reality like a feedback loop. Meanwhile, the marketeers at the rap labels and the majors were happy to have the line be blurred alltogether. You could have your blood pudding and eat it too that way.
Gangster rap was sold as art, free expression, even as it was purportedly mostly all about the Benjamins and stories of bloody t-shirts and an aspirational criminal lifestyle, which to me lacked much in the way of artistic and aesthetic merit.
Perhaps, in the end, such stories did more to harm the image of African Americans overall in America than good? That is too impossibly complex a calculation to be able to arrive at an answer easily or maybe at all. But it did leave us some good groves and a lasting impact on the culture at large.
Still, IMHO, while at first it might have helped wake people up to the realities of poverty and understand better the pressures that force people to express their frustration in unhealthy ways, later it just seemed to exacerbate and exploit the problem for the gain of a small cabal of mostly pretty shameless hiphop hacks. Check the statistics about how Compton and other inner-cities fared economically following the gangster rap era. So both sides of the debate had worthwhile arguments.
To me, even at that early stage, even in the Venice Music Plus as a privleged but fairly "down" non-racist funk-loving white boy in 1988, the song "Colors" by Ice-T was obviously a harbinger of a new and vulgar age. Tihs is what Hollywood and the entertainment industry will sink to? I thought. Another round of murder ballads. Well they always work, just like people rubbeneck car accidents.
So in the years that followed I realized that any artist worth their salt better get busy eating that proverbial lung if they wanted to get over. I mean, the media and the public couldn''t distinguish (or didn't care to) between exploitation and entertainment, and still doesn't anymore to this day.If it bleeds, it leads.
This is the kind of mentality, I thought, that gives rise to all kinds of ugly people doing terrible things with rightous gusto because it'll get media coverage, or just because they don't care for anyone else. More and more, true life tragedy is just more grist for our amusement. It's basically the same media philosophy that guides groups like ISIS. Both they and the gangsters and the rioters quote that old saw: only violence gets the attention. If we didn't act like chldren having a tantrum we wouldn't get the attention we want, so it's justified.
Thus the era of the rule of law was declared over by the gangster rappers; now we ere living in the time of the rule of terror, which is seemingly the golden rule of the 21st century modern media age. Hey, you gotta sell ads in between the scenes so the scenes better grab that audience. Next up, snuff films. Should they be illegal? We'll show you some and you decide. After that, we'll cover the developing snuff film controversy. Is the media wrong to show them? Both sides go at it as the insiders tell their tale without moral filter. Next on Faux!
I'm being satiric, and the issue of using violence to solve problems is a deep one, but isn't that what it all leads to? Dumb sociopaths trying to get over because the marketplace is looking to buy some freakshows for next season. Well, that's entertainment!
Anyway, to conclude, while many of Ice-T's arguments and apologies for anti-social or criminal content and behavior in his music and in real life fall somewhat flat when submitted to scrutiny, he certainly proves in the interview that he has the skills that make a great public speaker: the charm and rhetorical tools to do a good job swaying and controlling the crowd with humor, passion and ideas. And he puts it all in a way which is often persuasive to many, via music.
To that degree, gangster rap is just all part and parcel of the American free speech project. Anyone with a good grimace and a story to tell can sell some books and CDs, act in movies and get their own TV show (no matter how anti-social or repugnant their actual viewpoint) as long as they have a little wit and charm. Isn't this more evidence that the American dream is actually alive and well after all? That, despite the challenges and uproar it may cause, you still can say your peace and it can still lead to your fame and wealth in this country? I think so.
But the flp side of it is that the audience has to be educated enough to reject the most degenerate content, even if it is hard to look away from the explosions of that kind of horrible cultural car accident.
For example, I remember coming back from a trip to China in 1996 and seeing how things had already degenerated (in a way) by that time. I remember joking to a friend, "Hey, as satire, I got an idea! We should be rappers who dress up like evil killer clowns or something stupid." My friend smiled at me mysteriously while I continued. "Ha ha, but no," I said. "That's just too dumb, even for satire, right?"
-- Kevin Salveson, November 2015
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