Ice-T is a well-known figure worldwide. Most people have heard of his exploits in music, and younger generations recognise him from television. Few people know his full story though.
The odds are pretty high that if you’ve heard of a famous rapper in America, the individual is either new to the game or died long ago. Many of the genres pioneering individuals died as a result of poor lifestyle choices or violent feuds between artists and street gangs in America’s big cities. With a few notable exceptions, hip-hop stars in the United States don’t have a long shelf life. Ice-T is an example of one individual who overcame the violent imagery and criminal lifestyle associated with the brand to earn life-long success and establish himself as a social activist looking to add to the greater good in America.
Born to a Creole Mother
Ice- T has faced questions from fans and the media in the past about his racial identity. He was born into an African-American family, but some questioned him because of his lighter skin tone. His father, Solomon Marrow was an African-American man who worked a blue-collar job in the city of Newark, New Jersey. Solomon was married to Alice, a woman who identified as a Creole.
Born on February 16, 1958 as Tracy Lauren Marrow, Ice-T’s ancestral roots are clouded by the early loss of both parents. Ice-T was the only child of Solomon and Alice, and though he remembers them fondly, he cannot recall all of his experiences with them because he was so young when both died from heart attacks. Alice is recalled by Ice-T as a, “very supportive and smart woman. I know she cared about me, although she wasn’t very affectionate toward me.” She died when Ice-T was in 3rd grade, and his father died just four years later.
A Life on the Edge
Following the death of both of his parents, Ice-T moved in with an aunt in South Central Los Angeles. Here he was thrust into a world of gang affiliation and violence where young African-American men were discouraged by their friends from attending school and earning an honest living. Despite this negative influence, Ice-T managed to lead a relatively normal life. He graduated from high school on time and with good grades. He once admitted to pretending he was skipping school, when in reality he was just trying to ditch his friends to slip back into school unnoticed.
After high school, he spent four years in the United States Army, and served on station in Hawaii for much of that time. He returned to Los Angeles, pursuing a questionable living in the process. In his own words he was, “A hustler”, earning money through crime and even taking trips to places like the Bahamas. Fortunately, another calling would pull him away from crime forever and propel him to a better life.
“You Got a Chance”
Encouraged by a fellow hustler who, at the time, made more money than Ice- T, he took a chance on a rap career. Ice- T’s friend had told him, “Yo, Ice, you got a chance. Do that rap thing.” He spent a few years honing his craft writing and performing songs for videos and releasing various recordings. His first big deal came in 1987 with Sire Records. His debut album, Rhyme Pays, eventually went gold.
It wasn’t long before he transitioned into a parallel acting career as well. He displayed his acting skills in the 1991 film New Jack City, and followed that up with successful appearances in Ricochet (1991), Trespass (1992), and Johnny Mnemonic (1995). He launched his own reality television show on VH1 entitled Ice-T’s Rap School, and eventually landed a leading role on the popular television series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as Odafin “Fin” Tutuola.
Inspiring the Next Generation
Ice- T readily admits that those few words from his friend in the late 1980s, “You’ve got a chance,” helped push him away from a life of crime and toward a life where he cashed in on his own talents and made his own future. In 2011 he launched a reality TV show on the A&E Networks entitled The Peacemaker: L.A. Gang Wars. While the show is no longer on air in the United States, it’s the premise of the show that resonates with Ice-T to this day.
He launched the show in the first place because he wants to contribute to bringing about the end of violence in the neighbourhoods and communities he grew up in. He hopes that the simple chance at a better future might mean the same thing to today’s generation that it meant to him three decades previously. Without a chance in rap, or music at all, Ice- T is never shy in admitting, “I was so programmed into being a hustler, that, without rap, I’d either be dead or in jail.”
Music gave him a shot at a different life, a better life. He strives to this day to provide that same opportunity, not just to his own children, but to any children living in cities and neighbourhoods controlled by gangs. One chance is all it takes.