Ice T may now be better known to TV fans as Detective Odafin Tutuola on “Law and Order SVU,” but to rap fans, he’ll always be the guy who put his then wife, Darlene, in a veeery revealing bathing suit on the cover of his now-famous1987 album “Power.”
Now in his 50’s, Ice T was one of rap music’s most popular MC’s, as loved for his no-BS interviews as he was controversial for his song “Cop Killer.” Oh, the irony that he now plays a TV cop and has for the last 13 seasons. But all those TV episodes must have paid off as Ice now goes behind the camera to helm the new rap documentary “The Art of Rap.” It’s a look at hip-hop’s most prolific MC’s and their approach to their craft. No battles, no video models, no entourages, Ice T just talks to male and female rap artists about how they do what they do. We caught up with Ice T to ask him about this documentary and what we might learn about hip-hop in this doc that we didn’t in some others. Read on.
Blackamericaweb.com: How did “The Art of Rap” come about?
Ice T: It started out with an idea. I was looking at the state of hip–hop and I felt like it was getting a little diluted, kind of pop-ish. I always wanted to direct films and they said if you want to start something always start with the lowest hanging fruit so I know hip-hop well and I decided to make some phone calls and interview all my friends; a short interview of 12 questions and film it. That’s how this whole idea started. Our only objective was to make it to Sundance and we did and people loved it and now it’s going to be in theaters.
What makes your documentary unique? Is it because it comes from an artist’s perspective? Because we’ve had a few hip-hop docs, but no one’s made a definitive one yet.
I interviewed 50 MC’s, from the beginning to people like Kanye and Eminem. I talked to Grandmaster Caz, Bambaataa and Melle Melle and they were interviewed by me, and I’m a friend. So it’s more like a conversation between friends than just doing the basic interviews you’ve seen. When me and Ice Cube are talking, you’d never get a chance to see that conversation. I don’t ask them about the money, the cars, the jewelry, the girls, the beefs. It’s all about the craft.
Was there anything that was said that really surprised you?
Not really. It just confirmed my belief that all these guys are really artists and they all take their business really seriously. There’s a scene in it where I tell Salt that Coko said she doesn’t really listen to the words and Salt says “My husband says that.” When you tell a rapper you don’t listen to the words, we’re like “Really?”
All those words you slaved over.
And not that you don’t like them, you just don’t hear them. I think what you also see is a lot of humility in this movie. You’ll hear rappers talk about faith and about some of the stuff they went through. There are honest stories, like KRS talking about how he started rapping because he was standing around a group of guys who started to attack and diss him for no reason. And he had to reply and when he replied, it was such a great response that he was like “Maybe I can do this.”
Did you take any critical approach at all to hip-hop and discuss any of the issues of homophobia or misogyny or any of those things?
No. I didn’t ask any questions like that. The only question close to that that I asked was why do you think [hip-hop] is not respected as much as the blues and other art forms. This is a film that is more based on what we do versus what the critics say. As an artist, you don’t address those things. That’s what press likes to address.
You’ve been both a consumer and a producer of hip-hop. So after completing this project, what’s your take on where hip-hop is now?
I think it’s where it was never meant to be. It’s on the radio now. You’ll hear Q-Tip saying “Rap is not pop, when you call it that, it stops.” Hip hop is a counterculture. It’s meant to say things that can’t be said on the radio. So when you start to bleed into doing what radio dictates, you get a homogenized form of it and that’s what you guys are listening to right now.
Do you think that the political side of rap has been lost or is it still there but we just don’t hear it on the radio anymore?
They never really wanted the political side of rap. So now that they have this other stuff on the radio, they won’t really go into the groups that are saying something. But you still have groups like Dead Prez, Immortal Technique, you’ve still got people who are saying some heavy stuff. But if you listen to the radio now, you’ll believe that everybody’s rich and that everybody’s poppin’ Cris and riding around in a Rolls and it’s not true. Right now, we’re in some of the hardest times ever with the recession and the subprime crisis and a Black President that’s got a war, but the music doesn’t reflect that. The music just says party, party, and it’s all good. But radio isn’t political, it’s pacifying.
I can’t let you go without asking you about “Law and Order.” That’s turned out to be a pretty good gig for you.
I can’t walk a city block without somebody saying “SVU.” We’ve been on 13 years and I’m very fortunate to be on a show that has such a legacy like the “Law and Order” franchise. I went on that show to do four episodes and [ended up] doing 13 seasons. So I could go on for another five or six years. We did good, so we’ll see what happens next season.
Watch the official trailer for “The Art of Rap” below.