Saturday, July 25, 2009

July 25: Ice-T, "O.G. Original Gangster"

Artist: Ice-T
Album: O.G. Original Gangster
Year: 1991
Label: Sire

Before Dr. Dre brought the world the "g funk" style of gangster rap, there was one man who brought some of the most potent and hardcore rhymes that the world had ever heard. One of the first rappers to be labeled as "dangerous," the rhymes of Ice-T have become some of the most revered and famous in the history of hip hop. Bringing an aggressive, hardcore style that bridged the gap between hip hop fans and rock and heavy metal fans, it is largely due to Ice-T's albums that hip hop gained such a diverse audience. From the seminal "6 In Tha Morning" to the beyond controversial, "Cop Killer," Ice-T is largely responsible for creating the entire "gangster" image that is still seen throughout the rap world. Though neither of those songs is found on it, Ice-T's 1991 album, O.G. Original Gangster stands as his finest achievement, and as the blueprint for nearly every "gangster" rap album that followed, it is one of the best and most important records in history.

O.G. Original Gangster rivals any other hip hop record ever in terms of being "hardcore," as the lyrics and mood on the album are as intense and "real" as you'll find anywhere. In many ways perfectly presenting everything that makes the album great, one of the highlights of the album is the song "New Jack Hustler. If you look deeper into the songs lyrics, it proves to be a scathing comparison between street drug dealers and the richest men within the U.S. capitalist economy. While the song glorifies the drug dealing lifestyle, the lyrics study every angle of the persona, looking at it from the perspective of the dealer, and then examining him from the viewpoint of the larger society, as well as looking deep into his morals and character. The song is one of the most vivid and dark human studies ever recorded, and Ice-T's rhymes are simultaneously stunning and unsettling. In the end, Ice-T sums it all up with an amazing question that he leaves to the listener when he rhymes, "...Is this a nightmare? Or the American dream?" The song was also used as one of the most prominent songs in the movie, New Jack City. It is very much this ability to be ruthlessly introspective, and rap as directly and aggressively as any other emcee in history that makes both Ice-T as well as O.G. Original Gangster one of the most important hip hop records in history.

While the overall music on O.G. Original Gangster is an aggressive, angry offshoot of funk, there is a dangerous, somewhat menacing mood that pervades most of the record. The songs are all brilliantly produced, yet the entire album maintains the feeling that at any point, the cops might bust in and stop the recording. This sense of urgency gives a great amount of "authenticity" to the record, and O.G. Original Gangster is one of the few records that captures this feeling without becoming cliché. The samples used by DJ Evil are absolutely perfect, ranging from James Brown and Funkadelic to Motown and funk classics on a number of the tracks. However, one of the most interesting aspects is the amount of rock and metal that are featured on the songs. Everything from Guns N' Roses to Black Sabbath to Jimi Hendrix can be heard throughout O.G. Original Gangster, and Ice-T even takes a moment on the album to address the issue. At the opening of the song, "Body Count," he discusses the origins of rock music, and simply states, "music is music." It is this very song that would launch Ice-T to crossover success, as the song is the debut of his own hardcore rock group, Body Count. The group would join Ice-T on stage for the entire run of the inaugural Lollapalooza Tour in 1991, and would later help to deliver his most notorious song, "Cop Killer."

Simply put, Ice-T has one of the best rapping voices and delivery styles in the history of the genre. Truly personifying the idea of rap, as in speaking forcefully in rhyme, Ice-T's voice is clear and direct on every verse. The power with which he raps is second to none, and this forcefulness of his rhymes truly set him aside from his peers. His voice also has a sense of grittiness and each rhyme sounds as if he himself live(s/d) the stories he is telling. Furthering his "street cred," Ice-T grew up in South Central Los Angeles, attending the storied Crenshaw High School. Few records have painted as honest and vivid a picture of the environment as one finds on O.G. Original Gangster. The rhymes found throughout O.G. Original Gangster are surprisingly varied, given the albums' title and overall mood. Though many of the songs revolve around Ice-T glorifying the "gangster" lifestyle, there are also a number of extremely socially conscious rhymes on the album. Though it rarely receives the credit it deserves, the fifty-seven second rhyme, "The House" is one of the most bold and disturbing cries against child abuse that has ever been recorded. Ice-T also takes a moment to call out anti-free speech icon Tipper Gore on the albums' final track. Due to his amazing sound and style, as well as his diverse, brilliant lyrics, Ice-T remains one of the most highly respected emcees in history.

Ice-T remains one of the most recognizable people in the world, though now he may be more known for his TV and film work than he is for his rap career. Regardless, his impact on the musical landscape is so monumental that in many ways, it can never be overshadowed. Harnessing his love for rock and heavy metal music, and incorporating it into the hip hop style, Ice-T was able to draw in fans of other genres, and diversify the rap genre. Unveiling his hardcore rap/rock group, Body Count, he created an entirely new style of rap music, and this style would morph into the sound that dominated the end of the 1990's and beginning of the 2000's. Simultaneously one of the most innovative and controversial emcees, Ice-T makes sure that, if nothing less, you can't ignore what he has to say. While he is often spinning rhymes about the luxuries of the "gangster" lifestyle, he takes time to denounce many of societies' darkest aspects, as well as stand up for the rights of those who feel disenfranchised. With a phenomenal combination of amazing beats and samples, along with Ice-T's unmistakable, flawless rhyming style, 1991's O.G. Original Gangster is by far one of the hip hop's defining albums, and easily one of the greatest records ever from any genre.

Standout tracks: "New Jack Hustler," "Midnight," and "Body Count."

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