Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ice T

Ice T, Toronto, June 1989

UP UNTIL THE LATE '80S HIP HOP WAS ALMOST ENTIRELY AN EAST COAST BUSINESS. It became bicoastal at the turn of the '90s with the arrival of a more aggressive, stridently controversial group of artists from Los Angeles, and one man was essentially the bridge between the two.

Ice T was born Tracy Lauren Marrow in Newark, New Jersey, a middle-class child who lost both his parents before he was thirteen. Living out the real life, non-primetime version of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, he moved to L.A. to stay with an aunt, got involved with the fringe of the Crips, joined the army, returned to a life of crime after his discharge and decided to go clean after an auto accident.

He was in his first movie before he made his first album, which would set a trend for west coast rappers who shifted easily between the studio and the soundstage. By the time I photographed him for NOW he'd released two albums and had appeared in three movies, which is probably why, with the second of my two rolls of film, I used a big window draped in sheer swags in the lobby of a suburban hotel to try to create something that looked like a film still.

Ice T, Toronto, June 1989

He was in his early thirties when I did these photos, hardly a kid, and I remember he mostly saved the attitude for the photos. He traveled with the usual entourage, which included his girlfriend, dancer Darlene Ortiz, whose bikini'd derriere had graced the cover of Power, his most recent record, and who served him serious stick during the whole shoot.

At one point he was talking about a car that he wanted to buy, to her undisguised disapproval. He got defensive, saying that it was "the kind of car the President would drive."

"Uh huh," she drawled back. "The president of the high school."

At least a few members of Ice T's posse had a hard time disguising their smirks.

Ice T, Toronto, June 1989

My main backdrop/prop for this shoot was a big circular chandelier on the ceiling of the hotel lobby, which I turned into a halo behind my subject's head, shifting and weaving with my Nikon and wide-angle lens as I crouched beneath him. It was hardly my only use of religious imagery in my photos at the time, and by the time I got to Thursday's subject in this series, it had become a preoccupation.

Ice T would court controversy over the next few years, provoking the law with singles like "Cop Killer" while crossing the line from hip hop to rock with his band Body Count, and by working with Slayer, Black Sabbath, Jane's Addiction and Motorhead. He's done podcasts, documentary and reality TV, and has taken so many roles as cops and lawmen during his acting career that it might be possible that he's made more money playing cops than singing "Cop Killer."


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