Actor. Rapper. Reality-show star.
And now, crime-show host.
Ice-T (a.k.a. Tracy Lauren Marrow) has done it all, including playing the gangster and the cop. The 60-year-old New Jersey native made his debut in the late ’80s as a feared L.A. rap pioneer and today, celebrates his 19th year portraying cop Odafin “Fin” Tutuola on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
In between, he founded the heavy-metal band Body Count, acted in countless films, starred in the E! reality series “Ice Loves Coco” with wife Nicole “Coco” Austin, and sold lemonade (not ice tea) in a Geico commercial.
On April 1, Ice-T adds True Crime Host to his resume with the debut of his own series, “In Ice Cold Blood” on Oxygen. He phoned in from his home in New Jersey to talk about the new show, a career on both sides of the law, and why hip-hop’s O.G. now watches “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” in his spare time.
You’ve played the criminal, the detective and the hapless husband. What’s your role on “In Ice Cold Blood”?
I host, kind of like a Rod Serling, “Twilight Zone” thing. So I present reenactments of these crazy crimes.
How is your show different from the billion other true crime series out there?
Those other shows are usually based on the cop’s [perspective]. Ours is about the psychology of what makes somebody do this crazy … So it’s more along the lines of “Mindhunter,” where I’m saying ‘Really?! This is a decision you thought was OK to do?’ It about that psychology behind the murders. It’s spooky and macabre.
You seem to know a lot about the world of true crime reenactment.
I’m a fan. That’s how it started. Coco loves “Snapped,” it fills up our DVR, so I watch it with her. And for you guys who don’t know, “Snapped” is about women killing their husbands. So here’s my advice: if your wife watches “Snapped,” watch it with her because you need to know.
Do you find similar themes between your new show and “Law & Order”?
After being on “Law & Order” for over 19 years, we’re kind of ripped from the headlines, then we add drama and theatrics. Also my music was always crime-based. My whole life has been based in the underworld and crime, so it was a natural transition.
You’ve been with “SUV” nearly two decades… Sorry, I meant “SVU.” How many times do people mess that up?
Wish I had a dollar.
Did you have to do a lot of research when you began playing a detective, because most your acting, and certainly your music, was based on the other side of the law.
I did zero research. I’ve just had a lot of contact with the cops in my life, let’s put it like that. I’ve been in a lot of interrogation rooms. And honestly, you know, acting like a cop is no different from acting like a gangster. You both have a gun, you both want answers and if you don’t get answers, there’ll be consequences.
So a lot of times when I’m doing interrogations on my show, I look at it like ‘…, you owe me money and you got to tell me what I need to know!’ So that energy plays like a cop but it’s the same thing as a gangster. It’s a heavy, it’s somebody who has no fear.
You dropped your sixth Body Count album last year, which was nominated for a Grammy. And you still make solo albums as Ice-T. How do you juggle it all?
I tell people, I act for money, and I do music to remain sane. The hardest thing is getting all of those worlds to co-exist — not so much artistically but professionally — because “Law & Order” doesn’t really care about you going on tour. It’s all about scheduling so they don’t cross paths. You can’t get a day off from “Law & Order” to do a concert. It doesn’t work like that.
In 1990 you were too controversial to touch. The “Cop Killer” song, the fear of rap, the protests over things you said about law enforcement and police brutality. Now you’re a mainstream celebrity whose work spans several different platforms. It’s an amazing trajectory.
I wasn’t lying back in the day. I wasn’t inventing … When I was yelling about the cops 20 years ago, it was true, but we just didn’t have video cameras [to validate] it. So at some point, there was a moment of vindication, like now we kind of owe him. We … on him, but he was telling the truth, he was trying to warn us. So now maybe they’re paying me for … me over. Also, my fan base is now in power.
What do you mean?
The people who were after me, they’ve moved on. Now the kids who were 19, who went to N.W.A concerts, are in their 40s and 50s and are CEOs of companies. They have influence.
You think that’s why TV and film dramas have shown such interest in ’80s and ’90s South LA, when and where you came up, like “Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.”, “Straight Outta Compton” and “Dope”?
I know the stuff that happened firsthand. I know all the people. And I like it. Some of the stuff is sensationalized, like me and Ice Cube were friends [not rivals]. I’m just happy to see these stories coming to fruition. But yeah, the reason it’s happening is because the hip-hop generation is now in power.
I’ve heard you say Obama was the first hip-hop president.
I think he got into the White House because white kids who listened to Public Enemy weren’t afraid to vote for a black person. Black people didn’t put Obama in. Black people only make up 15% of the population. Obama got in because young white people weren’t afraid of a black president and it’s because of hip-hop. There’s no other reason.
You still tour with Body Count. Touring is a full-time gig, and you have like three other gigs.
You know, music is the fountain of youth. Mick Jagger is 73 years old and still having kids. There’s something about music that, you know, you don’t age. I was watching this show on PBS with doo-wop singers and they all still have their voices and can hit all the high notes. Also when fans hear that song, they go back to high school, when that song came out.
Music can also be really ageist. Its stars, styles and vernacular change every couple years, so you can be considered old at 24.
I wrote the other day on Twitter that I’ll be glad when I live to be 100 because all you young … will be 70 and still trying to talk that young [BS].
What do you watch on TV other than “Snapped”?
“Naked and Afraid,” stuff like that. I’ve got a 2-year-old so I watch cartoons. The “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.” [Sings] “Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggity dog.”
[Calls out to Coco in the background] Coco, what other shows do we watch?
Oh, right, “American Greed.” We’re also watching “The Assassination of Gianni Versace.” Thank God for DVR because I would never be able to catch any show when it comes on.
“Law & Order” is looking forward to its 20th season. The record is 21 years, so if we get picked up again, then we’re 20, and it’s just one more year to beat the world record, which is held by “Gunsmoke.”
You cut a path for other rappers into film and TV and I don’t think you’re credited enough for it. So I’m just going to say it — you were way out in front.
Thank you, but people who need credit, they’re whack to me. You need credit? On the street they say, “Those who say don’t know, and those who know don’t say.” I get credit. Those who know, know. I remember when we did “New Jack City,” I got the job because there weren’t any black actors. Wesley Snipes had only done “Major League” and there was a shortage of black actors.
So they turned to rappers…
They thought rappers may be able to pull it off because they sell records. Now look at “Black Panther.” It’s all progress. Any time somebody like me gets a job, that means there’s going to be black hair dressers, black makeup artists. Every win is a win for the culture. More people are going to see our stories. So just keep knocking down walls. That’s the game.