Saturday, June 30, 2012

Ice-T Gets Wrecked

Oh, Ice-T. What to say about Ice-T? I really like his early B-boy stuff ("The Coldest Rap," "Dog'n the Wax"), and when he first developed the gangsta style it was sick. "6 N the Mornin'," "High Rollers," "Colors." But that's probably about where his career should have ended.

It didn't, though. In fact, for mainstream audiences, he was just coming onto the scene, with his big-time controversial material. And, to be fair, he still did some decent stuff in those days... I already blogged about one of my favorites from that era, and Melle Mel-did some solid song-writing for him on "The Tower." But as far as I was concerned, Ice may have been the masthead for The Rhyme Syndicate, but he was the least interesting artist on the roster. His almost spoken word style of delivery drifted further from more a traditional (and enjoyable) rap flow, and his schtick always struck me as pretty thin even before he wore it into the ground with album after album. Warner Brothers may've dropped him because of "Cop Killer," but I suspect, if that had never happened, his time would've been short there anyway.

But "Cop Killer" was a huge deal, and so Ice was immediately picked up by Priority, who ate that kinda publicity up, and Ice's career was sustained for years and years, despite never having another hit record. The biggest of those post-Warner Brothers albums was Home Invasion, because it was first - in fact, the first single ("Gotta Lotta Love") actually came out on first on Sire/Warners, and then again on Priority; that's right when the switch happened. So, when this third single dropped in 1993, the writing was already on the wall: he might push out albums for years and years to come (further aided by his later success in television and movies as an actor), but the days of him making "relevant" music was over.

But it's kind of interesting to see what he got up to when he was off the radar. Ice opted to jump into the trend of the time, and that trend was the east coast hardcore backpacker... You know, like Young MC put on the tough image for his What's the Flavor album. Okay, maybe that's a little harsh. Think more EPMD putting on their hoodies to diss crossovers or Run DMC when they hung up their iconic style to dress and act like Naughty By Nature for their practically final album (or, for that matter, The New Style dressing and acting like Naughty By Nature haha). This was that time. Black Moon and co. were jumping off, Tim Dog was getting wreck with Krs One, etc.

Now, "I Ain't New Ta This" is right off the album, and really only partially in that What's the Flavor mode. He actually manages to work the phrase "it's time to get wrecked" into two of his verses (that's not really a good thing, just to be clear), and the production is very much of that time and style, with deep but clearly strummed bass notes, and DITC-like drums (Lord Finesse was in The Rhyme Syndicate, so that kind of instrumental connection to his style makes sense). In fact, the production here is pretty tight, . It's by DJ Aladdin, who also drops in some nice but not too in your face scratching. It really sounds like a New York record, except Ice-T just isn't up to the track. I'd love to have heard Big L or Pun on this. Fortunately the 12" includes the instrumental, so if you're feeling creative, you can play with those possibilities. But on it's own terms, the beat feels like a missed opportunity, and you get the impression that some label executive accidentally released album filler as a single.

What compelled me to pick this single up, though, was the exclusive B-side: "Mixed Up" featuring SLJ of Wrecked Dialect. Now, that's a 90's sounding group name if ever I heard one. So, who are Wrecked Dialect? No clue, as they don't seem to have any records or other appearances. But I sure know who SLJ is. Heck, just look at the credits on this single and you'll get the idea - he's Ice and Aladdin's production partner, who produced the majority of this and their previous album with them. He has a few other west coast production credits from around that time, but he's much better known today as Shafiq Husayn of Sa Ra. Now, he just does R&B neo-soul funk kinda stuff, so it's not really my thing. But here he spitting like a NY hardcore backpacker, credited as a member of Wrecked Dialect. Who knows, maybe that was Sa Ra's original name before they established themselves. Or maybe Ice just made it up to give him some underground rep and compel east coaster heads to get curious and pick up the single. Hell, I fell for it.

And SLJ plays that role to the hilt. He even rhymes "mystical... spiritual... lyrical." They go back and forth trading verses with a lot of enthusiasm, but he's not all that impressive; and he winds up being outshone by Ice-T, who comes even harder on this one. So hard, in fact, it feels a little too over the top ridiculous, like he's fronting, especially since he plays it so straight and earnest:

"One, two, three,
It's time to flip with the O.G.
Gangsta, banga,
Underground slanga

Of the murderous rhymes your moms hates.
Motherfuck the KKK and Daryl Gates.
Give me the microphone now, god damn it,
So I can blow it, throw it,
Rip it, wreck it, pimp it, ho it!
I got a bullet with your name on it,
Want it?
Knock your grill out,
Fill it with gold and pawn it.
Oh my god!
This nigga's hard, call the bomb squad.
Too late, I detonate,
Obliterate three states!

I got a fucking slow leak in my damn brain
And this shit's drippin' out; I'm damn near insane.
What's up? You wanna try to focus your sights on the mic?
This nigga can flip scripts all night.
Yeah! I wrecks shit nice!
The microphone smokes like dry ice.

Bang nigga, bang nigga, I'm a known gang figure,
Catch so many bodies, need to my trunk bigger. (Ha!)"

This single actually kinda reminds of when Shaq started rapping (really, can't you just hear him kicking those rhymes above?), and was out to prove he could come as "lyrical" as any real MCs... He wasn't totally off-base, his intent was in the right place, and he got good collaborators and everything. But he just couldn't carry it off like said real MCs, and it wound up sounding just a little too corny to listen to unironically (you can almost make a drinking game out of the times Ice uses the word "wreck").

On the other hand, to its credit, it does feel like Ice is trying to lay claim to his more pure, hip-hop roots after having possibly drifted away with the pop success and heavy metal projects. The A-side in particular feels in some ways like the darker successor to the short "Fried Chicken" track from O.G. But unfortunately it's too clear that he's desperately cycling through all the tropes of what's popular at the time. It's cool if you're open-minded and interested in it as a semi-successful experiment that never quite takes off. But the instrumental's really dope (for the A-side; the B-side's alright but nothing special), so get this 12" for that if you're up to making a remix with somebody else's acapella.

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