People don’t really talk about it much these days, but Ice-T is probably responsible for one-third of all rap music. In an era when hip-hop was all good times, b-boys, and graffiti, Ice-T emerged from the streets of Los Angeles with “The Coldest Rap,” and with it, a new message—that life is a jungle, so you better either get to gettin’ down or get to layin’ down. His original productions—minimal, tightly looped samples laid atop thundering breaks, set the template for producers from Dr. Dre to J. Dilla to the Bomb Squad—and his lyrics were the first to articulate the viewpoint of the unrepentant, stone-cold gangster from the streets. Meanwhile, his heavy metal project Body Count showed the world that rap-rock could not only not suck, but actually be the most amazing, innovative, and aggressive music around. Verily, the world owes a debt to Ice-T.
But, just as all men must make the inexorable march towards death, Ice-T got older, and with age came perspective, and with perspective came the conclusion that rapping is not as sustainable as appearing in award-winning syndicated crime shows. A couple weeks ago, I sat down with Ice before a rare New York concert in the basement of the Standard East Village as part of the inaugural CBGB’s Fesitval, with the intention of asking him about his legacy, his wife Coco’s gigantic ass, and his beef with Soulja Boy. Very quickly, it became evident to me that he mainly wanted to talk about Law & Order: SVU, where he plays the beloved character of Fin Tutuola.
To catch you up to speed on Fin, he’s a gruff but lovable cop who, despite working in an illogically busy unit where dead hookers are a given, perps will traffic rare monkeys across state lines with the intention of turning them into high-end chopsticks, and Jerry Lewis will appear out of nowhere to push a dude in front of a moving train, is perpetually incredulous that anyone would do anything mean or fucked-up in the world at all. In short, Law & Order: SVU is the best show on television, and Fin Tutuola is the best part of it, and Ice-T is a legend, so if Ice-T wants to talk to you about Law & Order, that’s what the fuck you’re talking to Ice-T about.
Noisey: You don’t really do a lot of concerts. Why is that?
Ice-T: I be doin’ a lot of spot shows, but a lot of those have been transferred into now what they call “appearances.” So Coco and I will go out, and I’ll stand up in a booth and do three or four songs. But it’s difficult with my Law & Order schedule.
Tell me what it feels like to be a legend.
I don’t know if you know you’re a legend. It’s kinda like something people have to tell you. It’s like a girl who says she looks good—it doesn’t really count. People have to say she looks good. I think to be a “legend,” you really have to span a few generations. There have to be stories about you that could be true and could be false. You become immortalized in folk legendry. Like, “I heard about the time Ice-T killed seven people!” All these crazy stories. Some of ‘em are true, some of ‘em are not. But I don’t know. It feels good. A lot of people love to say, “Ice don’t get enough respect.” But the only way I could get more respect would be if people carried me around. I get it. I get what I deserve.
One of the side effects of being on SVU—which is my favorite show ever, by the way—is a lot of younger people don’t realize you invented gangster rap.
You gotta think about it. I’ve been on Law & Order for 15 years. If you’re 17 now, that means I started when you were two. So you don’t have a reference point for me as a rapper. Your mother does, your father does. But with YouTube and all that, they can go back and check history. Now, should they respect that? I don’t know. It’s an interesting concept. One thing about rap is it’s the fountain of youth. When I start rapping, I believe I’m the same age I was when I wrote that record. I think Mick Jagger thinks he’s still the young Rolling Stone. I think it also transports the listener back to the time when they first heard it. I’m just glad to still be in the game.
What was your first reaction when you heard the name “Dick Wolf?”
A dangerous person. Wolves and dicks are dangerous. The man matches up to his name. When you meet him, he’s a big guy. He looks like he’d sit at the head of a table at a mob meeting or something. He’s very serious. Thank god for Dick Wolf. His checks clear, I don’t have nothin’ to say bad about that guy. In this business, if you have one powerful executive that likes you, he can basically help your life. Dick Wolf has bought me a lot of cars, paid for a lot of vacations… I ain’t mad at the dude.
One thing I appreciate when you play cops is this sense of empathy you have for the criminals.
When Dick Wolf put me on the show, he said, “Ice, you don’t like the cops, do you?” I said, “Not all of ‘em. I ain’t got problems. Some of ‘em are cool.” He said, “You admit we need ‘em.” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, play the cop we need.” So that’s what you’re really seeing. It’s kinda like, if I was a cop, that’s how I’d act. The thing about being on SVU is we’re going after child molesters and rapists. So I’m not bustin’ anybody in the gray area. I’m bustin’ real scum. They don’t even like them in prison. So if I gotta play a cop, lemme be an SVU detective.
New Jack City was sort of—
New Jack City was undercover. The concern was me being able to be so believable that Nino would believe I wasn’t a cop. I had to be very street smart like that.
LL Cool J: Also a rap legend, also on a crime show. Do you guys have beef?
It’s interesting. Me and LL have had a parallel relationship. We used to rap at each other back in the day. It wasn’t anything more than he was a New York rapper and I was comin’ out of LA. We wanted to be the best. Everybody thinks they’re the best in rap. That’s why when people got turned out by Kendrick Lamar, I was like, “Everybody claims they’re the best. That’s part of hip-hop.” But to see LL have such a great career, still be around, and have an acting career… He’s done sitcoms. I haven’t done that yet. For him to be on (sic) NCSI… it’s just great to see somebody from my era still in the game like that. Me and LL ended up in Monte Carlo at a television festival together. I’m happy for LL.
Drew Millard is the Features Editor of Noisey. He's on Twitter - @drewmillard