The arc of Ice-T’s first five albums is the third of fourth class I would require if I was organizing a hip hop degree. When the politicians and activists were coming after hip hop they compiled a list of acts too extreme. Because of the language these acts were using ,the images painted in rhyme, they assumed theses were easy targets. Get on the Senate floor and shame Ice-T so vehemently the burning hot spotlight that follows crushes his career moving forward. Problem for them was Ice is one of the most tactically advanced gameplanners of his generation. One of the most memorable covers in hip hop history the hands holding the guns are gloved. This is acknowledging powerful forces are after him and he will not succumb. The Iceberg comes out three full years before Cop Killer and the controversy that followed. It’s a big reason that the heat they put on Ice never melted him.
Produced almost entirely by Afrika Islam this is regarded as his dark album but it’s not singularly that. Whether robbing jewelry stores or hosting pimp conventions Ice has always believed in a code of ethics. Even when he’s bigging himself up he clears space to show love to his crew or to Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane and the contemporaries who inspire him. This One’s For Me is what I’m thinking about. First verse is about a radio station that refuses to play hip hop but not just him he lists BDP and others. Second verse Ice goes all in on the controversy where Professor Griff supposedly said in an interview with The Washington Times that ”The Jews are wicked. And we can prove this.” Ice discusses how sickened he is that everyone turned their back specifically stating
Public Enemy broke a new rap age/And now you rappers ain’t got nuttin to say?
“Yo it’s their problem” “Griff shouldn’ta said it”/E where’s my pistol? (Yo I’ll go get it)
Cause it’s time for me to enforce some discipline/Are you down or not, are you out or in?
Chuck Flav and Griff are my true friends/I got their backs if it means my career ends
The way he says that last line is hard to explain. Most people would have stamped it down. Given an LL Cool J I’m Bad kind of delivery to make you feel the impact. Ice is low, gravely, haunting not monotone but you can feel the blankface he had on rapping it. I’m Jewish and you might think I would have issue but I don’t know Professor Griff at all and Ice does. No matter what I think about comments here or there Ice will always and has always had Public Enemy’s back. My opinion doesn’t get to effect that friendship. The distinction is important. If Griff had been accused of dastardly sexual misconduct this song would hit differently but the media wasn’t used to talking to rappers in 1989. Ice spoke to the community and said “Don’t let people from the outside dictate who stays here.”
The Girl Tried To Kill Me is masterful. Ice starts this album with a Black Sabbath flip. On this song in particular Beatmaster V (from Body Count) puts the sticks through the drums. Ernie C goes full force lead guitar forcing Ice to really deliver overtop his frenetic noodling. Hardcore hip hop in the 80s spent a lot of time diminishing female characters within stories, which isn’t kind but also doesn’t make much sense from a demographic appeal perspective. If you listen to Prince he always elevated the power and uniqueness of his female characters. He was going on the ride of being in their sphere. This woman’s sexual focus turns Ice out elevating both of them.
The headlines around this album are sex rhymes with flashlights in vaginas and the sounds of heads cracking(Black ‘N’ Decker) , Jello Biafra spoken word about the nature of freedom. It’s all there but not as interesting as how much Ice loves hip hop. Hit The Deck third verse is one of the very best of his career:
You start to think and wonder bout how it’s done/”An emcee? Maybe I could be one”
Drop the thought, get a job, change your mind/To be a dope MC takes time
Eight years of mine, no time for draggin/You wanna be an MC? “Get off the bandwagon!”
But if it’s in your heart, get a pen/Don’t stop writin til the inkflow ends
Work and work and don’t halfstep/Dog the mic every chance you get
Motivation must be kept/Stay down and build your rep
Ice looks back at the audience and says if you want to do this give it every single inch of you: your heart, strength, use it all to smash each opportunity to bits then smash it again next verse.
The Hunted Child is a track that doesn’t just have police sirens woven into it but runs away from them. The chants of “GO!” and the speed of pace really carry through the paranoid state Ice was living in at this point. That is not the end of this album though. What Ya Wanna Do? Is a posse track with everyone on it (including Everlast) at almost nine minutes its pure old school party rocking. The Iceberg ends with Donald D and Bronx Style Bob overlapping voices and laughter, trading wildly invented nonsense brags to crack each other up. You see it’s not about how evil the forces after Ice were or even how hard it was to survive as the most dangerous rapper alive. The Iceberg is a sincere thank you to everyone helping to carry Ice through the turmoil. From family to crew to fans who believed Ice was always getting strength from his support and feeding strength back into them. He’s the best interview in the history of hip hop because as straightforward and earnest as each word is as a tactician Ice always puts himself in the right place.
Check the album out: