Nearly three decades ago, Ice and his heavy metal band Body Count recorded a song called “Cop Killer,” about a man fed up with police brutality, that threw gasoline on the already raging rap culture wars. In 2017, Body Count released the song “No Lives Matter,” about racism and classism in America. In between messages, Ice has spent 21 years playing NYPD Detective Fin Tutuola on “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.” And last month, the Grammy winner executive-produced and acted in “Equal Standard,” a movie available to rent online about a black cop shooting a white cop and the ensuing community fallout. “It costs nine dollars, but you spend that on Starbucks so stop playing,” Ice said.
Ice did the movie for free for the same reason he spends most of his social media energy lobbing f-bomb-laced truths at his over 2 million followers across platforms: “We’re at a very important part of history right now, world history.” We caught up with Ice to talk racism, hip-hop and how he does things differently at age 62.
Talk to me about “Equal Standard.” It’s about police brutality, fed-up communities, racism — so basically everything that’s happening now.
We had no idea this was going to happen because it was already happening. This movie isn’t based on George Floyd. This movie is based on Trayvon Martin. That’s what lands us here at this moment with this film. We want to get it on Apple TV. We want to get it on Showtime. We want to get it on NBC. It’s one of those types of movies that people need to see right now.
But is it too much? Will audiences just feel overwhelmed watching art imitating life and vice versa?
Right now people are confused. People are protesting, but they’re confused. A lot of people, because this hasn’t happened to them, they don’t know. They didn’t even know police could be as brutal as they were before they seen 'em beating little white girls with billy clubs and pushing old men down in the streets. And they’re like, “Oh my God.” Yes, yes, yes. We’re not making this s--- up.
TV shows about the police are under a microscope. You’ve played one on TV for more than two decades. How does Ice-T, the former gangster, square with Fin Tutuola?
Fortunately on my show, we’re chasing rapists and pedophiles so there’s no gray area. Even in prison they don’t like them. But no, it’s a dilemma. I understand that, but I think that this moment will create new writers that write different stories. I mean you know I don’t write “Law and Order” stories; I just act them. But there have been times when they’ve sent me lines and I’m like, “I ain’t saying that.” Sometimes the writers don’t even know they’re saying something that’s not okay.
Hip-hop has been sounding the alarm on police brutality since its birth as an art form. Your co-star in “Equal Standard,” Naughty by Nature’s Treach, called rappers “street correspondents. The hip-hop CNN.” What role does hip-hop have to play now? Will rappers have to step up?
Our generation of hip-hop, we started from the bottom. There was no hip-hop. We were talking about the cops a lot more. Once hip-hop got a foot up, the new generation didn’t need to rap about that no more because they’re starting from another place. My son got picked up from the hospital in a Rolls-Royce, so his struggle is different than mine. His music is about partying and clubbing. I created a different reality for my kids than my reality. Now the real reality is hitting them. “Oh the s--- that dad and them were rapping about is still going on.” They’ve been turning up and not paying attention.
They can’t really post on social media flossing because some girl is going to be like, “We don’t want to hear about that right now. There’s s--- going on. I don’t care if you got a new watch. Talk about something.” I read the other day somebody said, “I bet a lot of y’all can’t wait for this to be over so you can start posting bulls--- again on Insta.”
But you never shy away from being political on Insta — or responding to folks with less than 100 followers.
I’m not afraid of the people. I love everybody, man. I’m not a bad guy. And even now the line I’m pushing may not be radical enough for some. Some people want me to tell them to go tear up some s---. “The Art of War” says a general must not only be courageous, he must be wise. The general has to be very focused. So now people are looking to me, Ice Cube, Chuck D, Treach — their elders — for guidance. And I got to make the right calls.
For years, hip-hop was attacked for promoting violence with powerful critics like President George H.W. Bush. What role does hip-hop play in politics now?
Obama was the first hip-hop president. Hip-hop put him in office. The music we made let white people know that we’re not the enemy. Their parents tried to push that racist agenda. The fear of hip-hop wasn’t me and Treach fighting, it was their little white daughter taking down that New Kids on the Block poster and putting Treach up over their princess bedroom set. Unity has always been the fear. I think what got Trump in the White House was Black Lives Matter. Because it scared the s--- out of folks. It scared white people to the ballot box.
It feels like more celebrities, folks with huge platforms, are speaking out about policy issues now, as if they’re no longer afraid of alienating their fan base.
Nah, nah, nah. It’s not changed. They’re just going to say what their publicist tells them to say. That’s bulls---, too. If you haven’t been speaking on it, I’m not ready to hear you start talking about it all of a sudden. We all know in hip-hop who’s about it. We know who’s speaking up. If somebody popped up out of nowhere trying to talk, hip-hop would be like, “Man, miss me. Where’d you find that Public Enemy T-shirt? That ain’t yours.”
We have to talk about “Cop Killer,” the controversial protest song you recorded in 1991. Do you think folks will understand it now more than then?
It was a song about somebody who, during a moment like this, got so mad that they went after the cops. We don’t want that guy. But a lot of times you warn people by saying this can happen. I never killed no cop. I’ve written better songs that are more on point with what I believe today. I was a little more radical back then. “No Lives Matter” addresses my feelings at this moment. You got to remember, 30-years-ago Ice is different than 62-year-old Ice.
Who is 62-year-old Ice?
My correct guidance right now is know your allies and let’s continue to go forward. Don’t let up. Let’s go after Breonna Taylor’s killers. Let’s get it done.