If ANYONE can speak on Los Angeles gang culture, it’s definitely Ice-T.
Although the Original Gangster was born in Newark, New Jersey, he spent his formative years in the City of Angels, honing his skills on the mic while bobbing and weaving around the violence that plagued the area throughout the 1980s. While attending Crenshaw High School, gangs began littering the school system, and he’d often see Crips and Bloods fighting in the hallways. Orphaned at 13, Ice-T was forced to commit petty crimes to support himself, but he managed to evade the often deadly consequences of that lifestyle by joining the Army.
After serving just over two years, he was able to get an early honorable discharge due to his status as a single father. Now armed with a passion for Hip Hop, Ice-T pursued music instead, which ultimately led to acting and the rest is history. With at multiple gold or platinum records in his arsenal—including 1987’s Crime Pays and 1988’s Power—and a long-running role as Sergeant/Detective Odafin Tutuola on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the Grammy Award-winning artist has long put his street days behind him but understandably felt compelled to speak out following the September 13 death of PnB Rock, who was fatally shot at Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles in South Los Angeles.
“I'm done explaining L.A. gang culture,” he tweeted at the time. “MFs will not listen. It's not a game. At all.” He followed up with, “People are still hitting me up about my comments about L.A. gang culture. If you notice, L.A. rappers don't wear a lotta jewelry. Me, Snoop, Cube, Dre, Game, Kendrick. The list goes on. It's not cause we're broke. L.A. is just a dangerous place, rapper or not. Why test the streets?”
Rock The Bells: Hip-Hop’s going a little haywire right now.
Rock The Bells: I’m not sure if you saw DMC's video about PnB Rock's murder, but he said he thinks Hip Hop needs to reset itself. What do you think?
Well, I don't know if you can ever start over. Nobody wants to see anybody die, and that's just the worst shit that can happen, especially these kids that come out of the ghetto, and to have a level of success, and they die. That's awful. And like Chuck D said, someone’s dying once a month at least.
Rock The Bells: I did the obit for 2021 and at least 23 rappers died violent deaths.
Right. And back when we were in our age, we lost 2Pac and Biggie. And once we lost them two, everybody kind of slowed down. The whole game just changed. This is not okay. But it's a lot of elements to it that are creating the situation, and the first one is poverty. And then that's put up against a few people that are making money, and I hate to say it, but flaunting it.
Rock The Bells: I agree.
When you wear money and you put on half a million dollars worth of jewelry on and decide to walk through Brazil, you got to understand some people will take that as disrespect. They'll think, “Wow, you got a lot of nerve to come around here when we don't have nothing.” To some, you kind of look like a big piggy bank. And I was talking to Tone Trump today, and he said, "Ice, what happened?” And I never thought of it like that. But he said when COVID came, a lot of people were getting those—what they call them?
Rock The Bells: PPP loans.
All of that stuff, right. People that didn't have it, all of a sudden they're in five star restaurants. And it's kind of like, they got a taste of the good life and now that's run out. Now you back fucked up. It's like they say a taste of honey is worse than none at all. So, the element is thirsty, and people feel broker than they ever felt because they actually had some money for a hot second.
Rock The Bells: When they have it all taken away, it’s sobering.
Oh yeah. I'm just not knowing that it doesn't last just because you have it in your pocket, it doesn't last. No one can tell me I haven't been pushing this line for years; just telling people, “Hey, you're' in the hood. You got to beware. You got to get out. You got to do what you got to do. You got to be safe.” I don't know what we can do other than make the youth aware that you can't do that, you know, you just can't do that.
Rock The Bells: I wanted to write an editorial about that actually, because the flaunting of wealth is getting people killed.
I posted something like that and some kid was like, ‘Oh yeah, I still wear my jewelry.” I'm like, “All right, you don't want to listen. I told my wife [Coco Austin] there are cars full of people that are rolling around at night, looking for a lick, looking to come up, and they're looking for a soft target. Somebody who's by themselves. Somebody who's got on bling. I know that for a fact because I used to be in those cars. Like Tone Trump said today, I've been in front of a gun, and behind a gun before. So, I know that mentality. This is not about rap right now. This is just about how to behave in the streets.
Rock The Bells: That’s what I said.
Another thing is wearing gold and diamonds was always a show of strength. It was like the drug dealers that would wear that were almost saying like, “Yeah, I'm a tough guy, and I can do this.” And if you saw some cats, they had the big ropes, you'd be like, “Who are they?” They weren't rappers. They were gangsters. They were like, “OK, that’s who they are. And ain't nobody fitting to fuck with him.” But now people think jewelry is fashion, and it always has been something that only the tough cats could wear.
Rock The Bells: I do.
So, it's a whole different energy right now. And I definitely hate seeing these kids die. And then also, the thing is they come to L.A. and they don't get it. When we say it's a gang culture, they don't understand it. There's a gang on every fucking block of L.A.
Rock The Bells: Somebody from Inglewood was telling me he didn’t understand why PnB Rock was at that particular Roscoe’s because most people who visit go to the Inglewood location.
Right. It's 87 Crips and it's Swans over there, too, which are a Bloods gang. If you get off over there, you could tell it's different. On the east side of L.A., we call that the evil side. There's a fucking Roscoe's in Hollywood, man. Go there.
Rock The Bells: Exactly.
You don't need to be up in over there and if you do, you want to be low-key. You just don't want to pull up in a Rolls-Royce or nothing. You become a target, man. And they don't know you neither. We always say check in and this, that and the third. If you were checking in, somebody would've told you not to go over there. If I go to Atlanta, and I know people in Atlanta, they're going to say, “Ice, don't go over here. Don't go to this club. This is fucked up. They're riling over here. They shooting over there.” Having somebody to tell you what's going on is not stupid, and it's not being a punk either. You just have to be smart. And even now, man, I'm Ice-T. I'm grown. I'm very cautious of my surroundings because I know I'm a target.
Rock The Bells: I was thinking every time I meet up with Chuck D, he's never wearing anything like that. The only thing he ever wears is this little PE medallion around his neck, and it's small.
Right. He’s not showing off. Body Count did a song about it called “The Ski Mask Way.” And it's all about people posting shit on the internet, and the jackers are basically watching it. So I mean, when somebody like this dies, it makes me nervous ‘cause I'm just like, “Yo, these muthafuckas is really about taking shit right now.”
Rock The Bells: Fat Joe said today that rappers are now an “endangered species.”
Well, I said it before. I said rapping is the most dangerous occupation. But it's really, rapping isn't the problem. Like Glasses Malone said, they don't kill people in L.A. for being rappers. It's some type of street shit you're getting yourself into. ‘Pac did not get killed for being a rapper.
It's when you engage in street shit that you're not supposed to be involved in. And hey, of course I'm old, but I'm old for a reason [laughs].
Rapping isn't the problem. Like Glasses Malone said, they don't kill people in L.A. for being rappers. It's some type of street shit you're getting yourself into..."
Rock The Bells: You are around because you played it safe or I should say, smart.
Rock The Bells: And you know how to move. And that's what these kids don't understand.
You have to humble yourself to the streets because it doesn't take a big guy with muscles. It takes a kid with six ounces of pressure, and you're dead.
Rock The Bells: Wow.
You just need to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and it could pop off.
Rock The Bells: That sounds like a lyric right there. Six ounces of pressure.
That’s it. Unless some of the shit got hair triggers. You know what I'm saying? It's like a mess and they'll kill you, man. They'll kill you. So people like, “The rappers are killing each other.” Not really. People are killing rappers because rappers seem to be shining, and it look like they got money, and people are jealous and envious. And that's what it is. I mean, them kids that killed Young Dolph were just jealous.
Rock The Bells: A hundred percent, and that's what I think is at the root. And I think you know that. We all know that.