My Rap-awakening came late, at the ripe old age of 27, and solely thanks to the book I Shot A Man In Reno by Graeme Thomson, mentioned in the very first post of this blog. The book dedicates a considerable amount of paragraphs to Rap-music, quite inarguably one of the most significant new music styles of the late 20th century, and a large amount of that space to Ice-T, along with Ice Cube, N.W.A. and Public Enemy. Rap was a genre I had previously not been interested in and had even dissed a bit, much because I was a Heavy Metal kid in the 90’s when you either chose Rap or Metal but not both (and everyone spat on the Nu Metal kids). However, the book opened up a bit the history and background of Rap, and suddenly I realized I’d dismissed it far too hastily. Luckily it’s never too late to remedy such errors (as long as you’re alive), and pretty soon I had in my hands classic albums by all of the aforementioned artists, except Ice-T actually. It took a couple of years more until I, entirely by chance, found a second-hand copy of O.G. Original Gangster and bought it; a few weeks later, thanks to the Body Count track on this album, I also bought Body Counts’ classic debut.
Now, I’m the first to admit I’m still pretty much an ignoramus when it comes to Rap. I have no idea of what’s happening in that particular scene these days, there are tons of classics I’ve never heard, and I wouldn’t be able to carry a sensible discourse about the deepest essence or details and finesses of Rap music. But if pressed, I would name O.G. Original Gangster as my favourite Rap album, well above classics such as the debuts of Wu-Tang Clan, Ice Cube and N.W.A.; there’s just something on this album that “clicks” into place.
Ice-T is a guy who can walk the fine line between humorous delivery and completely serious lyrics, sometimes dipping into the realm of the ludicrous in a manner that seems incidental, accidental and unintentional but probably is everything but, and in the next deliver lines that simultaneously tough, credible and also laden with a genuine message. A few people have pointed out to me that Ice-T’s background in more “party” oriented Rap could be seen as casting a shadow of doubt over his credibility – but on the other hand, he really has a history of street crime, drug dealing, pimping, gang affiliations and the whole lot, so he is the “real deal”, so to speak; and what’s more, he was there, part of the generation of Rap artists that defined what streetwise, tough as nails Rap would be. So when choosing camps, I’m gonna side over with the guys who say Ice-T is the real deal. Also because if I talk shit, I might get shot.
Instead of copious amounts of borrowing instantly recognizable stuff from other artists for his backgrounds, on O.G. Ice-T goes for an often minimalistic backing relying on primarily drum machine and often a single layer adding a bit of melody – often nothing more than a short bass line looping; sure, most of the tracks utilize samples, but they don’t stick out, and clearly leave the spotlight on the Iceberg himself, whose enunciation, rhythm, flow and delivery are the single pillar and carrying force on the album; on many tracks, he could just as well rap over a bare drum machine backing track and it’d still work. Ice-T’s delivery is calm, collected, precise and punctual, and equally at home on slower and faster tracks. My favourite track on the album is probably Mind Over Matter, one of the tracks which takes a shortcut to the ludicrous with lines such as “Grab the pen/And place it on the loose leaf/Nothin’ soft, always the tough meat/The white paper and the blue lines excite my mind”, but the delivery lends even this song, in all its macho posturing, credibility. It is also one of the slower tracks on the album, with Ice-T taking a leisurely slow pace, but still keeping the rhythm and flow tense. Following track New Jack Hustler is on the other hand faster (and gives the sampling a bigger role); Ice-T doesn’t really go for the speed limit or words-per-minute records here, which is just as well, because this is all about keeping shit tight yet understandable: the listener doesn’t really need to grab the booklet to check the lyrics. Ice-T can convey rage, anger and discontent without resorting to spitting or shouting out words unintelligibly.
O.G. is – at least in my mind – the companion to Body Counts’ debut (Body Count was introduced on this album with the bands’ title track) released a year later: it has the same kind of social consciousness, anger at the establishment, the authorities and the state of things, the same dark and twisted sense of humor, the offensive, in-your-face lyrics, and most of all, the same kind of tough, uncompromising attitude. Together, these two albums in a way show that there’s not a wide gorge between Rap and Rock music, not beneath the surface at least: both are – or aspire to be – the voice of discontented kids all over, something which Ice-T has emphasized with his staunch anti-racist stance, openly bringing white kids into the fold as well.
Like said, I’m not an authority to comment on Rap, and I think this is in fact the first Rap review I’ve ever written, but that notwithstanding, O.G. ranks quite high up on my list of albums that have had a profound influence on me.