Marrow escape for gangsta rapper
If Ice-T's real name was Dave, as opposed to what it really is - Tracy Marrow - chances are he wouldn't have become such a tough nut. As it was, he was forced to look after himself from day one, standing up to those who taunted him about his 'girly' name.
He's also the reason there's such a thing as the 'Parental Advisory' sticker on CDs. Turning his attentions to music after a stint in the army and a storied career on the streets as a pimp and hustler, Ice-T became something of a cult figure when the song Cop Killer hit the streets in 1992. Causing a global uproar, with politicians calling for the song to be banned globally, it eerily preceded the LA riots of the same year.
Funny then, that 13 years later, Ice-T has used his status to become, of all things, a cop - albeit one on TV, as the popular Detective 'Fin' Tutola on NBC's Law and Order.
'I haven't really changed,' he says over the phone from a hotel room in Taipei ahead of his Hong Kong performance on Saturday, when he's scheduled to appear alongside DJ Afrika Islam, son of pioneer Afrika Bambaataa.
'Nothing's really changed around me. A lot of people like me, which is good - as a real gangsta you don't want to be hated and feared. You want to be able to walk among the people. When I do my shows I come on stage now and I go, 'A lot of y'all know me as Detective Fin', and there's a big cheer. 'But I've got news for you. I'm Ice motherf***ing T.' And that's when they go nuts.'
Compared with that summer when Cop Killer caused genuine shockwaves, the world today is wise to the theatre of Gangsta Rap, while Ice-T - with his ex-stripper wife, Coco, and family - seems to have settled down. But if Gangsta rap is unable to shock, then what's it good for?
'You've got to remember that when we first came out, no one knew what the hell it was,' says the veteran rapper. 'We scared the s*** out of the world - like, 'Where're these black kids coming from? They're crazy! They're gonna kill us!' Now you've got 50 Cent doing it and everyone's saying, 'So what?' It's become saturated.'
Ice-T, meanwhile, has branched out into acting and has a book - The Ice Opinion - under his belt. All of which is enough to make you assume that the self-styled 'Original Gangsta' has mellowed. Not so.
'If you're a gangsta, then I don't think you ever really mellow out. You always keep that energy. You become more focused maybe. The old Ice-T was, 'I'll kill everybody!' The new Ice-T is kinda like, 'By the way, you know I'll kill you, right?''
Despite the fact that Ice-T can sell millions of records, choose where he wants to play in the world and stay in top hotels, he says his gangsta element hasn't been cushioned.
'When I was hustling we were in better hotels than this,' he says. 'The only thing I got going for me now is that I'm not crossing people or making enemies out on the street. That happens when you're hustling. You create enemies and every day you don't know when they're going to walk up behind you.
'Now I don't have those kind of enemies or those issues. But you're a target for other reasons - You can never relax. I could relax and then some kid could walk right up to me, cock a .45 and murder me. It could happen to Donald Trump, you know?'
So don't expect a friendly hug from a soft gangsta retiree in Hong Kong this weekend, then.
'We're gonna do five songs off the new album, a mature Ice-T album. An overview on this world of 50 Cents,' he says, before asking where I'm calling from.
'Hong Kong? Oh, you there with the triads then. They're the real gangstas. That's the difference - they're actually still doing it. I'm making records. Don't f*** with them, man.'
Ice T and Afrika Islam, Dragon-i, Sat, 11pm, $150 at door. Inquiries: 2899 0059