Way before Ice-T began portraying NYPD Sergeant Odafin “Fin” Tutuola on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, he was a rapper spinning tales of murder and mayhem in LA’s inner-city. His persona poems shook the airwaves and scared conservatives, but his MC skills were not to be fucked with. He was writing reality rap before gangsta rap was even a genre and though the term “OG” was arguably used by gangs and cannabis culture before it was ever in a song. Ice-T is the one who popularized it with the release of his fourth studio album, OG:Original Gangster in 1991, proving him to be The Real O.G., after all.
“I’m Your Pusher,” 1988
This pro-music anti-drug takedown is a reimagined version of Curtis Mayfield’s 1972 recording of “Pusherman,” which set up Ice-T as one the first dope [beats] dealers in history.
“Straight Up Nigga,” 1991
Ice was ahead of his time with this one, embracing the N word in song and spitting in the face of stereotypes with a strong Black voice, adding to the discussion of identity politics.
This nightmarish retelling of a trip to the ampm gone very wrong laid on top of Black Sabbath’s song “Black Sabbath” should have been the first tip-off that Ice was a closet metalhead, as his band Body Count was morphing into reality right around the same time.
“Cop Killer,” 1992
OK, it’s technically not rap but it is the song that set it off for his rock band, Body Count. The anti-police-brutality anthem sparked protests across America, almost causing Warner Bros. to drop the artist from its label. The recording came hot on the heels of the Rodney King riots, the song was pulled from the reissue, and Warner Bros. gave it away as a free single. Ice-T left the label amid the controversy and Body Count released their next album on Virgin Records. Who knew that years later, he would receive two NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for playing a cop?
His lyricism is on full display in the title track of his second album. The record made waves as much for its content as its cover image of his then-girlfriend Darlene Ortiz in a cut-out swimsuit, wielding a shotgun, with the flipside showing her backside. It all added up to one statement: I got the power.
“Pulse of the Rhyme,” 1991
That creepy, funky bass line lifted from Freddie Robinson’s 1973 cut “Off the Cuff” combined with smooth-yet-roughneck-style vocals keep listeners locked and looking out their windows.
So what if it was written for the movie of the same name? The song landed him on the radar of mainstream America, with kids in the suburbs memorizing every word about gang warfare, homicidal revenge, sagging pants, and braided hair.
“New Jack Hustler,” 1991
Another soundtrack hit, it’s the ultimate dystopian hustler-fantasy-meets-critique of capitalism: Lock me up, it’s genocidal catastrophe/There’ll be another one after me! Plus who didn’t love to sing: H-you-S-T-L-E-are hustler (minus the “new jack” part)?
The title track to his fourth album permanently impacted popular culture, solidifying gangsta rap as a genre by introducing the abbreviation for original gangster to the world at large. Part memoir, part twisted-persona poem, the song embodies that perfect mix of controversy and influence his fans have come to love.
“Six ’N the Mornin’,” 1986
The lyrics, the beat, the visceral “Fresh adidas squeak across the bathroom floor” — this song set the bar for the then-new genre known as gangsta rap, forever a point of reference for other artists and the O.G. MC himself. It was first released in 1986 on the b-side of his 12-inch EP “Dog’N the Wax (Ya Don’t Quit-Part II).” It’s easy to hear the inspiration of Schoolly D’s song “P.S.K. What Does It Mean?” and premonitions of N.W.A.’s “Boyz-n-the-Hood,” whose original version was released on 1987’s N.W.A. and the Posse, then remixed on their 12-inch single in ’89. This lyrical ode to the life of hustling opened doors for Ice, seizing souls forever devoted to his music.
Honorable mention: “Disorder,” 1993
The pairing of Slayer and Ice-T for the Judgment Night movie soundtrack was genius, and to hear Ice vocalizing the Exploited’s lyrics (it’s a mash-up of three of their songs) paved the way for Body Count’s cover of Slayer’s “Raining Blood” on their 2017 album Bloodlust (Century Media Records).
* Banner Image: Ice-T 1989 in Los Angeles, California. / Photo by Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images