Ice-T Explains Why Battling Unknown MCs Is A Bad Idea & More
Ice-T has been releasing records for nearly 35 years. Whether early independent 12″ singles of platinum albums with Sire/Warner Bros. Records, the New Jersey-born, California-raised artist has enjoyed a massive entertainment career. Now known for his seminal role in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the pioneering gangsta rapper appeared on The Library With Tim Einenkel podcast, to provide some valuable wisdom to his Rap peers.
Near the 8:00 mark, the MC/actor/reality TV star explained how he compartmentalizes his verses and writing after more than three decades. “Once you start making records, you write rhymes differently. You listen to beats and kind of contour the rhyme to the beat. It adds to the flow of the rhyme, and makes it better. So what I need is some producer to come and drop me some beats.” Throughout his career, Ice worked with producers such as Afrika Islam, DJ Aladdin, and E-A-Ski, among others. “I can write on the spot. Real professional rappers can go into the studio almost write right there.” Ice admitted that he memorizes certain verses that he does not record right away. “But then I also keep a whole bunch of freestyle rhymes I write, just to have in my clip, in case I go on stage. Like, the other night I was at Naughty By Nature’s show in Indianapolis. Vinnie [Rock] had to bring me on stage; I had to bust some rhymes. Nobody wants to hear [rhymes from] a record; they want to hear [something new]. You’ve got to keep some [rhymes] on your hip just in case, ya dig?”
Ice-T expanded on this lesson. Peers of Ice including KRS-One, Grandmaster Melle Mel (by KRS, no less), and Willie D have been subject to unsigned, unknown artists battling them. The Final Level O.G. urged, “Rule one: if you’ve made records, never battle a rapper that hasn’t made a record. Because they have an arsenal of raps that no one’s ever heard. They have tons and tons of stuff. They’re waiting to get on. They got so much material, where most of your material has probably gone out on records. So now, you can’t go to that ’cause you’re coming off the record. That’s a sin in live performance.” The MC further illustrated the point by looking at a member of his own SMG group, with Smoothe Da Hustler and Trigger Tha Gambler. Of the three MCs, Brooklyn, New York’s Trigger (brother of Smoothe) never released an album while signed to Def Jam. “Never battle Trigger. Never battle Trigger,” warned Ice, who maintained that the veteran ghostwriter is capable of four-hour rhyme sessions.
Ice-T also explained the ways an artist can pivot from being just a professional rapper to a true lasting entertainment giant. “You can be a rapper or you can be a star. Pay attention to this, this is real. There’s five points to being a star: it’s your show, it’s your video, it’s your record, it’s what you say in the press, and how you treat people that physically meet you.” Of the last point, Ice said that stars do not treat people dismissively, whether peers, fans, or media. “You have to hit on all five of those, and then you can be a star.” He said that those with star-power are invited to events, offered opportunities in new mediums, and have platforms that simple rappers cannot obtain. Ice, Queen Latifah, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, LL, and Will Smith are just some of the 1980s Hip-Hop guard that have proven this feat to be true. He added that even once certified, it takes work. “There’s only one thing harder than being The Mack, Tim: staying The Mack.”
Last week, Ice-T confirmed that his Heavy Metal band Body Count is recording their sixth album in Arizona.
Elsewhere in the interview, Ice discusses the 20th anniversary of his sixth studio album, VI: Return Of The Real, as well as his goal to make music that showed people a way out of the criminal system.