Ice-T: "I'd tell my younger self, don't shoot people"
When I was 16 I was in high school in LA, thinking a lot about girls. I wasn’t that popular with girls yet – you need more money for that, you need to get yourself together. I was already part of a high-school dance group. And I was learning about the gangs – they pretty much ran the high schools so I had to get up to speed quickly on that. Fortunately my school was predominantly just one gang – at Crenshaw everybody was a Crip so you didn’t really have any problems with gangs because the whole school was in the same one. You learned to wear the blue and you didn’t have any problems.
I moved to LA after I lost both my parents [his mother and father both died of heart attacks by the time Ice-T was 12]. I was shipped to my aunt but she didn’t really want to take care of me – she just had to. I didn’t have any other living relatives. I didn’t get along with her. That definitely toughened me up. I had to strike out on my own. That’s one of the reasons I never drank or got high; I had to be responsible for myself, I didn’t really have back-up. The gangs kinda acted as a surrogate family, but you learn very quickly that life is hard when you’re young and you’re orphaned that early.
I didn’t know my parents well enough to really miss them. I’ve never wondered what they’d think about me or things I’ve done. I guess a lot of people might think about that, but I don’t – I kinda deleted that from my thinking. I’m a very forward-looking person. I don’t look back.
I know now I’m very fortunate to have survived the life I was leading when I was younger. By the time I was 18 I knew no one was going to help me, that’s for sure, so I just launched off on my own. I tried to go to technical college, then I joined the army. That got my feet on the ground to an extent, but I still got into trouble when I came out. I moved with a pretty elite group of criminals in LA, doing robberies and other things like that. A lot of the guys I was with got life sentences or ended up murdered. Hip hop detoured me from that lifestyle. I started to make records and rap about it and I didn’t actually do it any more. If music hadn’t come along I don’t know what I’d be doing now.
I didn’t really take rap seriously when I started. I thought it was a joke. I didn’t know people could do any more than party with it. Hip hop was the youth culture – everyone was trying to rap and breakdance. It was a fun thing to do. But when I heard Melle Mel and The Message I began to think I could really do something with this music. It was only then I started to take it seriously. You have to remember, when we started, no one had ever even bought a car through rapping. You weren’t doing it for money. Though rapping, becoming a celebrity in the neighbourhood, it did make you more attractive to women.
If I met my 16-year-old self now I think I’d like him but I’d feel I had a lot to teach him. I’d tell him he’s probably on the wrong path. I’d tell him to stay in school. I’d tell him to try to use intelligence in everything he chooses to do. And to store all the information he gets from school. It might sound square but it’s the smartest route. And I’d tell him, don’t shoot people.
Ice-T’s Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap is in cinemas from July 20. See www.facebook.com/ArtofRapUK for more information. Tickets for the world premiere on July 19 at Hammersmith Apollo are available from: http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/event/360048C1F9496566 or http://www.hmvtickets.com/events/6503