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An Open Forum Interview
by Kevin James
Photo Credit: Rolling Stone Magazine
ICE-T: AN OPEN FORUM INTERVIEW
By Kevin James Salveson
First time I ever heard of Ice-T, I was working in a Music Plus on Lincoln near Washington in Venice, California. It was early1988.
I was going to college and working part time there. We never had any trouble. It was just people renting videos and buying CDs and candy. We'd stock the stuff on the shelves during the day and then try to hook up with our co-workers after we slid the grates shut at the end of the shift each night.
Little did we know at the time that the heat was turning up all around us. LA would be gripped by the fist of riots four years later. Meanwhile, I was just a white middle-class college boy who had grow up in the suburbs. What did I know? Some, but not much.
One day in the late late overcast afternoon of a boring May Venice beach Friday, over the store's loudspeakers slithered and prowled the song "Colors" by Tracy Marrow, aka Ice-T. Starting with that almost dubstep snakey low-synth bassline and those growling pitched down vocal samples, it was intense and menacing.
And it was threatening me with bodily harm! Without a shred of remorse.
But, hey, it was from a movie. I understood it in that context. More in your face than normal, but Tinseltown will do anything to get your attention, won't they?
It was from something involving Sean Penn; he plays a bad cop. So this was Hollywood dramatizing (and/or exploiting) the rising new wave of crack-related law and order horror stories which were starting to permeate the culture like a viral joke at the time.
Gangsters, an old film topic to be sure.
But what had never seen before was gangsters themselves shooting the film in order to profit from the celebration of their criminal acts. Yet this song "Colors" was from the monster's own POV, presented without filter.
Deal with it. And we, as a nation, certainly had to.
* * *
Central to justifying that shocking content were complaints about abuse of police power in Los Angeles in the Darryl Gates era. Certainly, those complaints were legitimate. Yet from society's point of view, a few bad apples don't justify chaos or burning down the local Little Ceasars.
The rule of law is what makes America great. We were founded on it. The Bill of Rights restricts government abuse of power as well as illegal behavior by citizens against other innocent citizens; the court a forum where the law is structured to apply equally to all (abuses notwithstanding).
If the police were abusive the reason was --from their point of view-- that the criminals were becoming brazen.They were just fighting back, though they were expected to have one hand tied down to a book of laws and the concept of justice whereas the criminal element had no loyalty to anything but their own selfish ends.
If a gangster wanted to impart moral force to their complaints about the police violating the rule of law then they ought to be a shining example of lawfulness in their own communities, right? Then they'd have the high ground.
Well, I don't want to write a polemic about the rule of law right now (that'll go in my book, 'cause a book has to be gawdawfully long anyway, ha ha). Suffice it to say that Ice-T knew he was working on the edge of acceptible discourse for a truly civil and educated society regardless of the complaints about the unjust war on drugs. The complaints were legitimate but sometimes it seemed as though the raps bragging about lawbreaking and murder were exacerbating the situation even if they were sometimes rightous. I mean, you can draw attention to a problem the right way, or you can talk about how you do it in your neighbor's blood as part of a criminal enterprise that seems to be part of the problem not the solution.
Well, that was the way it seemed. Certainly I, as a middle-class college educated white guy, might have less personal insight into such issues vs someone who has lived with inner-city violence on a day to day basis. And here was this other world coming over the loudspeakers of the Music Plus for mass consumption.
I also understood that if early gangster rap depicted a sorry world of constant stress and threat perhaps it was only a mirror of the reality that our society had created and that was part of the message. The monster was accusing us all.
I know I'm a monster, admits Ice-T. What else would I be? This is what happens to a dream deferred. It finds a work-around.
So there was a response that was demanded from this genre of music, implicitly and sometimes explicitly. And if an artist puts their art into the public doman discussing those topics, they presumably welcome comment on it. And if you put out shocking, beguiling, confident, rightous, sonically intriguing and confrontational music about issues which are justified in being discussed, you are going to create a shitstorm of controversy and maybe get rich to boot.
Well, in the end we all we all have the rights to free speech in this country. I'll defend that right. (So I guess that also includes me).
But to use your legal rights to claim that all there is, really, in the end is... the law of the jungle? To claim that the law as it stands is applied imperfectly and so that authorizes ianti-social behavor? A lotta people dunno about that, regardless of background.
As humans we are all entitled to a point of view and if a professed killer (or a guy taking on the persona of one with a bio to match) has it, then so does everybody.
As such, I don't think anyone should go around banning gangster rappers or anyone else. Certainly not. I am not in favor of censorship. Like Ice-T recognizes, we can't shut down dialogues because of our differences. We need to continue to reach out and listen. Hopefully, posting this interview here on the IDM site does that in some way. (That might mean that I get a chance to be listened to as well. As we are all part of society we all have to part of the solution.)