Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1958, Ice-T lost his parents at a young age. After moving to south central Los Angeles to live with an aunt, he became involved with inner city crime and hustling. His talent for rhyme saved him from a life on the streets, and in 1987 he released his debut album, Rhyme Pays. In the 1990s, Ice-T became famous for his controversial political songs like „Cop Killer.“ The rapper also has a career as an actor, most notably playing a detective on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit since 2000.
Before beginning his rap career in the early 1980s, Ice-T spent four years in the United States Army, after which he returned to Los Angeles and took up a life as a self-styled hustler. Crime paid for a time, allowing Ice-T to take impromptu trips to the Bahamas and collect over 350 pairs of sneakers, but soon his addiction to the high life began to fade. In an interview, Ice-T recalled his breaking point: „I had a friend who I looked up to, ‚cause he made more money than me. And he said, ‚Yo, Ice, you got a chance. Do that rap thing.‘ And that word ‚chance‘ messed up my mind. And I just gave up hustling completely.“
Because every hip-hop artist needs a nom de guerre, „Ice-T“ came into being with help from author Robert Maupin Beck III, whose pen name „Iceberg Slim“ became Tracy Marrow’s inspiration. After spending a few years honing his craft by creating music for videos and releasing various recordings, Ice-T signed with Sire Records in 1987. Later that year, he released Rhyme Pays, his debut album, which eventually went gold. His recording of the theme song for Dennis Hopper’s gang-themed movie Colors (1987) also garnered the new artist plenty of attention. The movie explored life in the Los Angeles projects and marked the beginning of Ice-T’s controversial depictions of South Central in his artistic work. When the black community pushed back against Colors‘ cultural critique, Ice-T said, „People should give Dennis Hopper credit—he deglamorized the situation. He just showed the street gangsters. He didn’t show the kids wearing their diamonds and cruising in their Ferraris.“
Ice-T released two more albums in the late 1980s, confirming his status as one of West Coast rap’s most promising stars. His album O.G. Original Gangster (1991) was later cited as one of the key factors in developing the genre of gangster rap. Mixing social commentary with inflammatory lyrics, the rapper pushed musical boundaries by recording a heavy metal track with the band Body Count. He would later tour with the band and play at the rock-oriented Lollapalooza festival.In 1992, Ice-T again collaborated with Body Count on their self-titled debut album, a record that included the most controversial song of Ice-T’s career: „Cop Killer.“ This song quickly drew widespread condemnation for inciting violence against police officers. The artists claimed that the song was simply intended as a commentary on the police brutality and racism felt by the black community in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, the contentious track led to a firestorm of controversy, prompting Time Warner to block the release of Home Invasion, Ice-T’s next solo album. The artist soon broke with Sire/Warner Bros. Records, releasing his work for the remainder of the 1990s through his own Rhyme Syndicate and Priority Records. The next eight years would yield a number of Billboard hits, several groundbreaking singles, and further collaboration with heavy metal bands like Black Sabbath and Slayer.