Not Forgotten: Ice-T – Original Gangster

By 1991, although my roots were still embedded in Hip Hop, the rest of me was leaning ever more towards the ends of indie rock and the birth of britpop.
I had just moved to Cirencester from Loughborough and was still getting to grips with the shift in culture when, one lazy and hungover Saturday morning, I stood next to Lady Diana, the Princess of Wales, in WHSmith who was browsing the CD’s whilst a pack of paparazzi blocked the roads in an attempt to get a shot of her doing something newsworthy.

That night, primed and preened, I jumped into my mates VW Clipper soft top (which was cool at the time) and was about to relay my exciting news when the wail of a siren followed by the announcement of “syndicate fool” pushed me back into my seat, which the Clippers acceleration was incapable of doing…even in constant second gear, and held me firm with fear and awe.

Being already ‘primed’ for the evening I spent the next two minutes and thirteen seconds nodding ‘dubtellectally’ to Ice T as he introduced us to his L.A. in ‘Home of the bodybag’ as the bass, if not the bhp, did things to my chest and groin that only girls and grass had done since the start of the new decade.

Suddenly, my big news came back to me as Lady Diana was there once again, this time describing how she found Ice T to be the “dopest, flyest, OG Pimp Hustler, Gangster, Player, Hardcore MotherFucker living today” and how, “to be honest” she was “totally and completely on his dick”.

“Who’s the f***s this” I screamed, being seemingly no embargo on profanity, as the bass and drums cut back in and the angry man on the mic’ announced his return with little apology;

“I’m back Mother Fucker, Ice T 1991 fool!”

“Tracy Lauren Marrow” came the response from the driver through a purple cloud.

Tracey Lauren Marrow, aka Ice T, named after his love of the prose of pimp-turned influential author Iceberg Slim, spent the next fifty or so minutes twisting intellectual rhyme around his disdain for the police and politicians over a West-Coast vibe, before introducing us to ‘Body Count’ at track eighteen when Ice answers his critics who had accused him of selling out with ‘the use of Rock n Roll’ in his music.
Ice reminds us that “Rock n Roll is truly black music created by Chuck Berry and Little Richard” and that “Music is music” and shouldn’t be put into categories before a Jimmy Page “Stairway” type string-pick makes you forget who you are listening to…for a second or two that is before the John Bonham ‘When the levee breaks’ type beat kicks in and Ice delivers an angry tirade that is both hardcore metal and Hip Hop in equal measure.

Although O.G. raises more than the odd eyebrow with it’s attitudes to the law, women, drugs etc it is actually an extremely moral record with most tracks actually delivered as either cautionary tales or retrospective advice. ‘Bitches 2’ and ‘Straight up Nigga’ are in response to critics of his language and the latter is confirmation that he will call himself whatever he wants to , regardless of everyone else. “New Jack Hustler” is, on first listen, just your usual gangster-style bravado however you soon realise that this is a dissertation on the fuelling of the drug-crime industry by social conditioning and the greed of politics. ‘Escape from the Killing Fields’ urges gang members to break-free from their inner-city prisons whilst ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous’ stays away from the usual celebration of cash and coke and instead focusses on the very real down-sides to being on tour.

The rest of the album, all twenty-four tracks in fact, are laced with intellect, humour, irony and some of the tough questions that many fear to ask such as “Is this a nightmare…or the American dream” and many statements that most would fear to say;
“I gotta get more money than you got, so what if some Mother Fucker gets shot”

The production and clarity is way ahead of it’s time and Ice’s delivery is both sharp and convincing, honest and just a little bit frightening.

O.G. peaked at #9 on Billboard Magazines Top Hip Hop Albums and at #15 on the Billboard 200. It is featured in the ‘bible’ of 1001 Albums you must hear before you die and received critical acclaim, on it’s release, from Rolling Stone and Melody Maker (RIP) who described it as “Tight, intelligent and matchless musically”

For me, Original Gangster is not just one of the greatest albums of 1991, or of that decade but a timeless piece that is still unmatched today in a world where rap concentrates on cars and courvoisier rather than the real crap that is going on. This was Ice T’s greatest moment, and one of the greatest moments in Gangster Rap. He will never be asked to headline Glastonbury but then I don’t think he gives a shit ‘cos we all know Kanye shouldn’t have been asked either!

There I said it…Now if you don’t have O.G. go buy it, physically or otherwise then turn it up loud (Just check who’s listening first)

PS. It’s not really the Princess of Wales on ‘first impression’ but I’m pretty damn sure it’s meant to be.

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