Ice-T ~ Rhyme Pays (1987)

Posted on December 2, 2012

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This release was a warning shot to the rap world; from the first King of L.A. Along with Philadelphia hustler Schoolly D and Brooklyn bruiser Just-Ice, Ice-T is a part of gangsta rap’s Holy Trinity; a founding father of a subgenre that staged a blitz attack on the free world. From the moment he hit nationally in 1987, Ice-T altered the landscape of popular music, and laid the foundation for a future generation of West Coast rap legends, including Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube.

The most memorable chapters of the Ice-T saga were written in Los Angeles in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. But his tale began more than 2,000 miles away, and several years earlier. Born in New Jersey in 1958, Ice-T (Tracy Marrow) was sent out West in 1970, after both of his parents died. As he grew, Tracy came of age in the Windsor Hills section of South Los Angeles, where he’d find his way to Crenshaw High School as a teen, and be inducted into the Crips gang. From the mid 1970’s into the early 80’s, Tracy proved prolific in both notable and dubious concerns: serving four years in the Army, taking to pimping and larceny after his discharge, and cultivating a skill for rhyming and storytelling, using the alias Ice-T in tribute to pimp philosopher / pulp novelist Iceberg Slim. In 1983, Ice made his recording debut with “The Coldest Rap” b/w “Cold Wind-Madness”, a 12-inch single released on Los Angeles indie Saturn Records; and followed up with 1984’s “Reckless Rivalry” (from the Breakin’ soundtrack), and 1985’s “Killers” b/w “Body Rock”. In 1986, Ice upped the ante with “6 In The Morning”, a bottom-heavy street smash partly inspired by Schoolly D’s “P.S.K. (What Does It Mean)”. The stark inventiveness of Ice’s lyrical content, along with the success of “6 In The Morning”, drew the attention of Seymour Stein, the founder of Warner Bros. Records affiliate Sire Records. Stein signed Iceberg in ’86, and in early 1987, Ice-T gave the West Coast its first gangsta champion, with his debut album Rhyme Pays.

Rhyme Pays showcases Ice-T’s bicoastal roots; combining West Coast attitude with East Coast energy and rhyming acumen. The first selection “Intro/Rhyme Pays” combines a poetic, spoken-word interlude where Ice summarizes his bio, and the album’s flavorful title cut, where Ice hog-ties producer Afrika Islam’s rumbling drums and rock guitars, and flows over them with flair and precision. Up next is “6 In The Morning“, the seminal, seven-minute number where Ice-T sports a cavalier flow, weaves winding tales of felonious capers, and displays the storytelling skills that would make him a legend. Signifying his East Coast background, Ice takes us back to the Atlantic on a few cuts. “Make It Funky” throws the party into overdrive; with Ice shooting the gift over a frenzied Afrika Islam track, and shouting out the five boroughs of New York City, alongside his Brooklyn-born DJ Evil E. “Somebody Gotta Do It (Pimpin Ain’t Easy)” flaunts Ice’s crushed-linen lifestyle; through a cocky, Dana Dane-type flow, and the synth hits also used on the Boogie Down Productions classic “South Bronx”. And “409”, named after the cleaner Ice uses on his Adidas, gets the crowd jumping once more; as Afrika Islam switches the beat and rhythm at will, and Iceberg rides the waves like a speedboat.

Ice-T flexes his full lyrical schematic on Rhyme Pays, including his player persona. “I Love Ladies” acknowledges Ice’s one true vice: women; and finds him savoring every dimepiece he comes across, atop some echoing bass shuffles from Afrika Islam. “Sex” recalls the Beastie Boys’ “Girls”, with Ice-T and Evil-E chanting the title like drunken frat brothers, and recalling their various encounters with random females. The album’s gangsta vibe is revived on the next two cuts. The thundering “Pain” details the rise and fall of a street king, and how his life crumbles right before his eyes. And on “Squeeze The Trigger”, another eternal classic from the “6 In The Morning” era, Ice spits parables coated with Teflon, while Islam’s sinister instrumental crawls up and down your spine.

In addition to its original selections, Rhyme Pays also contains a few bonus cuts. The “Make It Funky (12-Inch Single Mix)” is here, with an extra 50 seconds of dance floor heat. There’s also a bonus instrumental mix of “Sex”, and a slightly extended version (24 seconds longer) of “Somebody Gotta Do It (Pimpin Ain’t Easy)”. And the album closes with an impromptu performance from Ice-T and DJ Evil-E, with the mix-show inspired “Our Most Requested Record”.

Both Ice-T and his producer Afrika Islam came off admirably on this album. Though his super-cool sheen and mack mystique overshadowed his mic skills, Ice-T was quite gifted with a microphone. His flow was nimble and versatile; his storylines were intricate and visual; and Iceberg was extremely charismatic. He had the same magnetism that other great Golden Era storytellers possessed, such as Slick Rick and Kool G Rap. And Afrika Islam has beats to match each of Ice’s story angles. Islam’s hard drum beats and moody melodies keep listeners attuned to each bar and plot point.

Rhyme Pays presented a number of firsts in its time. It was Sire Records’ first foray into rap music, as well as the release that crystallized the West Coast’s first credible voice in Hip Hop. The album also netted Ice-T his first gold plaque, as the album sold more than half a million copies, and it became the jump off point for a lucrative multimedia career for its creator, leading Ice-T into the worlds of film and television in the years to come. But, at its core, Rhyme Pays gave rise to an entire subgenre of Hip Hop: gangsta rap; and many artists ran through the door that Ice-T opened. Eazy-E, NWA, and their followers would take gangsta music to new heights, but none of it would’ve been possible without Ice-T. Iceberg moved to higher planes as his career continued, but Rhyme Pays was the genesis of it all. Give it a spin or two; and witness the birth of an O.G.

To listen to Rhyme Pays, click here.

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