“Just call me Ice.”
A catchy stage name can sometimes come with inbullt problems. Renowned rapper and TV star of Law & Order: SVU, Ice-T, is known to his parents as Tracy Marrow.
“Not sure how to address you – do I call you Ice? Tracy? Mr T? Or Detective Tutuola?”
“Just call me Ice.”
Immediately our phone interview was off to a great start. Ice is best known as the gruff and sturdy detective on Special Victims Unit, which was just this week renewed for it’s 19th season.
But he has a whole other career as a worldfamous rapper, leader of the outfit Body Count, who are on their way to do three concerts in Australia next month – June 1 (The Tivoli Brisbane), June 2 (Margaret Court Arena Melbourne) and June 3 (Hordern Pavilion Sydney). This will mark their new album, Bloodlust(now available).
It’s a return visit; last time was in 1995. In the intervening years he’s been busy on all seasons of SVU and 19 years on any show is a massive achievement, let alone this high-rating cop show from Dick Wolf’s stable.
And therein lies a huge irony.
He plays a cop on the show and in 1992 he released the track Cop Killer, whose message was misunderstood by many at the time, including George W. Bush.
His songs are angry, loud, targeted and unrelenting in their message. Stop police brutality of blacks in the United States.
He explains the real message of Cop Killer, the track that will never go away, in this interview, but first . . .
What’s the latest body count of black lives in the United States?
“You know what? I’m afraid to count. I mean, it’s so out of control you don’t even wanna count,” he said in his trademark growl. “I think the main thing is you just wanna bring awareness to the problem, you know, that we can’t continue acting like it doesn’t matter, you know?”
I set out to shock on certain songs but a lot of the stuff is just the truth, you know. The other stuff is not really meant to shock, it’s meant to be hardcore and come straight across your jaw with somethin’ people try to shy away from.
You have a strong, undiluted point of view. Is it harder to shock people these days in the age of the internet?
“Well, you know, I set out to shock people on certain songs but a lot of the stuff is just the truth, you know. Bein’ honest.
“If you listen to the new record, maybe Here I Go Again is a shock-fest, understandin’ the worst possible shit – I’m actin’ like a serial killer – but the other stuff is not really meant to shock, it’s meant to be hardcore and come straight across your jaw with somethin’ people try to shy away from.
“I mean, honesty is controversial, you know. People don’t wanna be honest any more. They always wanna sugar-coat things, you know?”
There's a lot of anger in your material. Do you ever worry it may strike the wrong note with people listening to it and maybe play out with unintended consequences?
“I’m not really – you know, on my records I don’t tell anybody to go out and hurt anybody or do anything. It’s more like a way of venting, you know. It’s just venting. You come to a mosh pit and you see cats bangin’ into each other they’re just blowin’ off steam.
“My wife always tells me, she says ‘You have a way to vent! You get to blow it off, you know! I don’t have one!’ I’m like ‘OK, well, yell at me then!’ [laughs]
“I think that’s what the music does. It gives you the chance to kinda let that steam off, you know,. Hopefully, nobody gets hurt.”
George Bush objected to some of your lyrics. I think he, and a lot of other people, missed the irony of what you were saying in Cop Killer.
“Well, you know, Cop Killer was kind of a dead down-the-street record and I understand, you know, if I say ‘anybody kliller’, and you’re that target, you’re gonna be totally offended.
“The song was more about the mindset of this person who went on this rampage and it was based on police brutality. So it’s kinda like saying, you know, if you continue to behave like this somebody might snap.
“It’s like the opening track of this new record, Civil War, there is no civil war but I’m sayin’ this can happen if we continue down this road.
“This is one of my artistic techniques for tryin’ to wake the motherf – – – ers up. So that’s all I’m doin’.”
We have a history of Aboriginal kids hanging themselves in our outback jails, where it’s isolated. Would your lyrics perhaps play to that here as well . . . ?
“The one thing I don’t do is I never travel to a foreign place and talk about their politics because I always thought that was corny, like goin’ to South America and speaking on their politics then jumping on a plane and leaving, you know?
“So all I do is I talk about my politics and what I deal with, then you guys translate it to your politics – you follow me?
“It’s difficult. I think it’s corny when artists come and they, you know, I start speaking about the Aboriginals and maybe I’m not fully aware of what I’m even talkin’ about but somebody told me to say something and I miss the target and I look like a idiot. You know?
“So I kinda like to just talk about what’s goin’ on and you guys say you know, that kinda minds up with what’s goin’ on here and, you know, I think we find a common ground and we understand that this is happening all over the world to some degree.”
What sort of personal feedback have you got from cops?
“Honestly, I’ve had cops come up and talk about their cop partners and say like ‘Mack, he’s harmless, he just tries to act tough!’
Some cops come up to me and they say hey, we get your point, we know what’s goin’ on.
“A lot of cops came up to me and told me like, you know, we know who you’re talkin’ about and, you know, we’re not the bad guy.’
“Of course the ones that don’t like me, they never say anything. You know, they’re not gonna address me. You know, your haters, they don’t’ really say anything to you. They just look at you.
“But the other ones, they come up to me and they say hey, we get your point, we know what’s goin’ on. You know, fity-fifty.
“And you know I been playin’ a cop for 18 years on television now and I’m aware cops are human beings. There are good ones, bad ones. They have good and bad days.
“And it’s the luck of the draw when you meet one of them. They could be absolutely the coolest person you ever met or the biggest asshole. So, you know, you gotta deal with them one by one.”
And congratulations on your show being signed for the 19th time!
“Imagine that! I mean, who would’ve thought! I’m the longest-running black actor in television history! How about that!
“Bein' on the show for 18 years gives me the freedom to make my music. Now I got a day job I can be more real and honest in my music and not have to worry about gettin' a radio record. And I think the best music comes when you don't have that weight over your head. Like, you gotta sell records. I can actually go in a studio like, I really don't give a f – – –, I gotta job already. Let's do some records, let's have some fun!
What does your little girl (Chanel, 1) make of your music?
“You know what? She loves metal! Because for her whole life I've been makin' this record. Her whole life, you know? We started this record when she was born so she's been listenin’ to the demos, then I took her into the recordin' studio when we made it and now it’s out I play it in my house a thousand times so she knows how to growl like metal, she goes urgggghhhhhawwwww! An’ she puts her hands in the air, you know, she's a Blood Lust baby for real.
“Of course, she doesn't know what I'm sayin' but she knows I'm yellin'!”
- Tickets for Ice-T and Body Count: The Bloodlust Tour here.