Hip-Hoppin' With Afrika and Ice T

I will be the first to admit that I am not a part of the hip-hop culture. I don't break dance, moon walk, scratch or rap. My idea of a decent dance falls somewhere between stationary swaying and what my older sister used to call a fox trot. My taste in music does not include scratching a needle back and forth on a record. I hardly ever talk in rhyme.

I am intrigued, however, by what appears to be the very latest among those who break, walk and scratch. It's called rappin'. I qualify latest because rappin' may have been around since the Lower Pliocene without my knowledge.

When I mentioned to one young person that I had never heard of rappin' as a form of entertainment, he was utterly amazed. "Man," he said, " Everybody raps!" Not in my crowd they don't.

Rappin', if you share my ignorance, is a kind of rhythmic, rhyming street talk which, like pepperoni pizza, has been elevated to a modest form of public acceptance by the sheer audacity of its nature.

It was born in the ghettos of New York, as I understand it, spread to L.A. and was eventually adopted by apple-cheeked Beverly Hills teens who rapped in the air-conditioned comfort of their Porsche Targas.

Then, of course, it came to Hollywood.

Movie-makers, noting the success of modern classics such as "Breakin' 2 Electric Boogaloo," have created--make that concocted --a film called, of course, "Rappin'."

Its master rapper is a young man who goes by the name of Ice T, ice meaning cool and T being short for Tracy, which is his first name.

Those who indulge in rappin', by the way, have developed a whole new lexicon that generally draws from an altered form of the English language and almost always drops the consonant "g."

For instance, frontin' . It derives from the word fronting and is a condensed form of "coppin' an attitude," which, I think, used to mean taking a position.

A press agent who is an expert on this sort of thing explained that if your old lady thinks you're playing (or playin') around, you respond with, "Now don't you be frontin' none of that stuff on me!" See how easy it is?

I discussed all this recently with Ice T in his tiny Hollywood apartment, which one entered through a utility room. A giant poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger, dressed in chains and rawhide, hung above the clothes washer.

Ice T was wearing black leather shorts, sneakers and an Adidas baseball cap. With him, sitting frog-like on the floor, was a man identified as Afrika Islam who, I was told, is famous as president of a hip-hop club in New York called the Zulu Nation.

Afrika Islam said nothing during the interview, but often expressed his pleasure by somberly nodding his head.

Ice T, who is 27, was born in New Jersey but left home during his high school years because the relatives who were raising him were too severe. As old Ice tells it, "They had rules and regulations. I had to be in the house and sit down and eat an' all."

No doubt wounded by the stringent nature of his upbringing, Ice joined the Army, which he also disliked, and vowed upon discharge never to work again. "I decided to be a disc jockey," he announced.

It was never made clear to me how Ice began rapping, I mean rappin', but pretty soon he was out there on the street doing his thing (do they still say that?). Then he made a rappin' record called "The Coldest Rap" and the rest is a plaque in any future Rap House Hall of Fame.

"There's all kinds of rap, if you know what I'm sayin'," Ice explained. "Smooth rap, nasty rap, roughhouse rap and hard-rock rap. I rap in the middle."

In addition to performing, he also writes for rappers, among them a group called the Evil 3 Emcees. "Each group has its own style," he said. "Evil 3 don't like things, if you know what I'm sayin'. 'It's better since you gone' is what I write for them instead of 'I love ya and I need ya.' "

Then Ice offered a modest example of party rappin' from his own vast repertoire:

"Party people in the place with the bass in your face, my name is Ice T, I put a smile on your face, so kick off your shoes, relax in your sock, Ice is in the house and he's ready to rock."

I'm not certain where one puts the punctuation in that sort of thing, but you get the idea. Ice bopped as he rapped to an erratic beat, which wasn't easy to do seated on one of those couches you sink in up to your waist.

"Hey," I said, "that was nice." Afrika Islam nodded.

What I should have said, of course, was word. Ice's press agent explained that a lot of white breads are still saying right on when they ought to chill out and say word. I suppose hardly anyone says, "Hey, that was nice" anymore.

By the time I left, Ice was listening to stereo rap classics tuned to an intensity that could shatter concrete. But he wouldn't let me go before telling me that rappin' is the music of the '80s and will live forever.

When I pointed out that nothing, not even the electric boogaloo, lives forever, Ice replied defensively:

"Just because it ain't successful, man, don't mean it'll die!" Then he demanded, "You understand what I'm sayin'?"

I think so.

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