I did this interview with a twenty-year-old girl. She asked me, "Ice, when did you sell a lot of records?" I said, "When people went to the record stores." She said, "What's a record store?" I said, "Well, like, Tower... but it's gone... Wherehouse...?" I couldn't name any record stores that were still open. She said, "Like Best Buy?" I said, "Really, they'd rather sell you a refrigerator than a record."
A lot of people, when they rap, they say they wanna be the best. They want to be rich. They want to be famous. My only objective was to get out of the street. My objective was to change my occupation, to just become a rapper. I knew my days were numbered to low digits in the streets. I wanted out, but I didn't know how to get out. When I saw rapping-honestly, when I was in the streets hustling, I thought it was silly. I liked it, but nobody was getting money. And me being a hustler, you gotta get some money for me to really respect you. I was on some street sh*t. Right now, if you go to a real-life drug dealer in the streets, he might be like, "f*ck rap." The brain is in another place. It's kind of corny to you. People who are breaking the law, they look down on everything else. So, I was listening to rap, but it wasn't triggering me to do it yet. Then I heard Schoolly D's "P.S.K."
Melle Mel was the first one I'd heard who put any real thoughts or ideas into a song. He did it on "The Message" in 1982. That was kind of what pulled me in at first. Then I was in this spot hustling, I had a gun on me, I heard "P.S.K." come over the mic and I was like, "This sh*t sounds like how I feel." The way Schoolly D was spitting it-he was talking about being in the streets; he wasn't real explicit with like what would come later, but it was the seed. When I heard it I immediately was like, "Whoa, that connects to my life."
So now I saw this lane where I could have the things, the money and the cars-see, because hustlers and players, they want flashy sh*t. That's all a hustler'll think about. He wants girls, he wants jewelry, he wants cars. I did, too. And I was getting it on the street. But when I saw a lane where I could get all that and not go to jail, it was like, "Aw, yeah, that's what I wanna do." But I knew I had to get better at rapping. Even by then, by the mid-'80's, there was a hierarchy of talent. But again, people wanted to be the best. I didn't. I just wanted to be named among the rappers because that meant I was a rapper and not a street hustler anymore. That was my goal. I just wanted to be named. If someone said, "Kool Moe Dee," then I wanted someone else to say, "Ice-T." That's all I wanted. I wanted to be included. I couldn't give a f*ck about being the best. If someone said, "EPMD," I just wanted someone else to go, "What about Ice-T?" That was all that mattered.
The most important moment of my rap career is different from my biggest moment personally, even though one kind of led to the other. My most important moment was when the "Colors" video hit. Colors was a movie starring Sean Penn and Robert Duvall. They were cops in it and it was set in L.A. when L.A. really had a bad gang problem. I'd been rapping for a while, I had an album out. But I hadn't popped yet. When Colors came, Dennis Hopper-he directed it- he asked me to do the song for it. I knew there was going to be a lot of controversy around it so I did it. When I did the song and the video, it took off, that's when I got national attention. "Colors" woke the country up to me. That was 1988. It wasn't long after that that I spoke for the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C., and then later was on Oprah. "Colors" was why. And right after "Colors" was The Dope Jam Tour, my biggest moment.
The Dope Jam Tour was just... I was out there with Doug E. Fresh and Kool Moe Dee and Eric B and Rakim and Biz Markie and Boogie Dow Productions; all of these greats. it meant so much because that was the first time I got to get across the country and really see with my own eyes that I had fans. It's one thing to think that you have fans or hear you have fans. It's another thing to actually see them. That tour was the first time I saw that they knew me. That's such a big thing. You could have fans in London but until you go there you don't really know it.
My first show on the tour was San Antonio, Texas. I was the opening act and they went f*cking bananas. I was just blown away that they were excited to see me. I was coming form playing small clubs, playing garage parties and small bullsh*t shows, and then to be able to play an arena and have the whole crowd go off, that's when it really sinks into you like, "This sh*t is real. I got real fans out here." I knew after that I was always going to be mentioned with the rappers. I was going to be important.
A song that's "important" is a song that changes the route of the music of introduces a new element to the music. Like "Fight the Power," that was Public Enemy in 1989. The video showed people marching in the street. That was the first time, to me, a rap group looked like a political movement. That was a huge change. That turned Chuck D into a spokesman instead of just a rapper. If somebody does that, it changes the course of music. When I came out and I was cursing and talking about drugs and the cops, no one had done that. It changed the course again. Important songs birth new things: new rappers, new groups, eventually new movements all together. If a song comes out and it's a new style and it flops, nobody'll take that route. When it comes out and it hits, it becomes a subgenre. It's not restricted to violence, either. The Native Tongues movement-De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, people like Queen Latifah, all that-that was a lane. That was important. It was on the other side of what we were doing. It was necessary. Picture it like branches on a tree. Rap started out in this straight line going up like a tree and then spread out into all these different things. The songs that caused those changes, they're important.
If I'm picking important songs, songs that are going to last forever, that changed rap, I'll say "It's Like That"/"Sucker M.C.'s" by Run-DMC in 1983. I'll say "Rapper's Delight," of course. There was rap before then that wasn't recorded- Spoonie Gee, Cold Crush Brothers, the Treacherous Three. But "Rapper's Delight" was the first commercially successful record. That was 1979. I'll say "Eric B. Is President" by Eric B. and Rakim because when I was making my album I was in New York and that record was every-f*cking-where. Rakim- to me, he invented the flow. Kool Moe Dee and T La Rock had introduced rhyme patterns that were a little more difficult than the Sugarhill Gang or Busy Bee Starski. But Rakim took this technically and made it cool. Schoolly D's "P.S.K." in 1985 was what inspired me to make "6 in the Mornin'," and that was a big song that caused a lot of changes. Toddy Tee was an inspiration of mine for that song, too. I can't leave him out. And "Fight the Power," that one always should be included.
Rap will always evolve. This stage we're in now, there's all this singing. It'll turn into something new and then that'll turn into something new, too. Rap's gonna be around forever. I don't know where it's headed, though. They probably didn't know in 1979 what we were gonna be doing in 1986.