I am a nightmare walkin', psychopath talkin',
King of my jungle, just a gangster stalking,
Living life like a firecracker, quick is my fuse . . .
Red or blue, Cuz or Blood, it just don't matter,
Sucker, dive for your life when my shotgun shatters,
We gangs of L.A. will never die--just multiply.
--"Colors" by Ice-T
The decorations in Ice-T's Hollywood apartment say it all. One wall has a poster of a favorite movie, "The Terminator." Another displays a poster of Public Enemy, his favorite rappers (present company excluded).
And across the room, hanging from a leather strap, is his favorite weapon--an Uzi.
No one's ever going to accuse L.A.'s leading hip-hop star of being a rap dilettante. "We got a lot of kids coming over here--and you don't know who everyone is," Ice-T explained, petting a playful pit-bull named Felony. "So after they check out all the stereo equipment and the TV stuff, I like for them to see the Uzi, so they know not to come back and mess around with anyone."
It's hard to imagine that Dennis Hopper could've picked a more appropriate rap wizard to compose and perform the title track for his controversial new hit, "Colors." A graduate of both Crenshaw High and the streets of South Central L.A., Ice-T freely acknowledged: "I was so programmed into being a hustler that if I hadn't had a chance to rap, I'd either be dead or in jail--or I'd be rich, but I knew the odds were against it."
Born in Newark, Ice-T moved to L.A. as a young teen-ager after both of his parents died. He says he graduated from Crenshaw with "lots of A-grades," though his academic achievements met with such dissaproval from his friends that he admits "acting like I was ditching class when I was really ditching my friends so I could slip back to school."
He related that he spent years supporting himself as a hustler and then went straight and has emerged as L.A.'s most credible rap spokesman--and something of a self-styled expert on the city's deadly gang crisis. He's articulate, savvy and starkly charismatic--if he'd grown up under different circumstances, it's easy to imagine him as a preacher. He still has many pals in gangs, but has scrupulously avoided taking sides--"I have a kind of diplomatic immunity." (Now that he's an entertainer, however, he refuses to give his age).
Here are his views on "Colors," the gangs and coming of age in South-Central L.A.
* On the black community's largely negative reaction to "Colors": "Whenever you do something real, it makes people feel uncomfortable. And people like the NAACP are just spending most of their time sweeping dirt under the black community's carpet. People should give Dennis Hopper credit--he deglamorized the situation. He just showed the street gangsters. He didn't show the kids wearing their diamonds and cruising in their Ferraris. You see more Mercedes in South-Central than you do in Bel-Air!"
* On the much-publicized police sweeps: "That's a joke. It costs the police $100,000 a night to run the sweeps. But the kids out there are making $200,000 a day. So who's gonna last longer? I was down in South Central the other day and I asked the homeboys, 'What y'all doing during the sweeps?' And they were just staying home with their girls and watching TV. I went to see 'Above the Law' on Hollywood Boulevard the night of the last sweeps--and all the Crips were there, going to the movies. They arrest 1,000 kids, but by morning only 20 are still in jail. These kids aren't broke anymore. I personally know kids who were bailed out in limousines."
* On the changes in gang behavior: "The public had a chance to stop gangs five years ago when they were still killing each other for colors. Now it's all drugs, the business of drugs. You could put a Crip next to a Blood and they wouldn't kill each other, but put a Crip together with a Crip who's messing with his business and he'll kill him straight off. It's all about money, because these kids never had it. Give a kid an application for a job at McDonald's after he's been making $2,000 a week dealing crack. Come on! It doesn't compute! The only religious belief these kids have is that they believe in what's green and has got a dead president on it."
* On the power of media images: "No matter what they say about 'Colors,' nobody in entertainment has done more to promote gangs than Michael Jackson. He was in search of a masculine identity, so what did he put behind him in his videos--Crips and New York street gangs. He could've showed the Guardian Angels or the someone in a police uniform, but he used gangs as his vision of masculinity. And that sent a message to the universe that being in a gang is rough and is OK."
* His life as a teen-age hustler: "I don't want to come off as a bragging criminal, 'cause they have statutes of limitations. But we stole cars, did burglaries, faked credit cards. We even figured a way of copying numbers off American Express cards on TV commercials after we'd flattened a real card and. . . . The money we were making was incredible. We'd fly to the Bahamas, go to Boston for a basketball game, drive $70,000 cars. I had 350 pairs of sneakers, all the girls I wanted--it was just like being Eddie Murphy!"
* On giving up the high life: "Being in crime--and winning--is more addictive than any drug. But you're still a nobody. I had a friend who I looked up to, 'cause he made more money than me. And he said, 'Yo, Ice, you got a chance. Do that rap thing.' And that word chance messed up my mind. And I just gave up hustling completely. I went broke, 'cause I was still spending money at hyper-space hustler level. But now I'm making it in rap. That's why I called my album 'Rhyme Paid.' Because it came from someone who thought crime paid. And now I'm known for what I've done, not just for how much money I have. I have less money than I used to, but I'm richer as a whole person. And I've got my autograph. I'm legit. When I'm in Venice Beach, I see these guys with their fancy cars and jewelry. But their girls run over and say (falsetto voice) 'Oh, Ice. Can I have your autograph?' And those guys are just staring at me, 'cause I got one thing they can't buy for nothing--my autograph."
* On survival: "When people see us with our ropes (jewelry) and beepers, they think we're ultra gangsters. But I just have the beeper to keep in touch with my agent. Of course, the cops still treat me like a gangster. They see me rolling down the street in a convertible Porsche, playing rap music and man--you get pulled right over! I've been handcuffed, searched--I just got stopped last week. But I stay clear of the gangs. When rappers come in here from back East, I tell 'em--'Man, don't even try to talk their talk with the Crips or the Bloods. Just tell 'em you're from New York!' "