Sunday, May 8, 2011

May 8: Ice-T, "New Jack Hustler"

Artist: Ice-T
Song: "New Jack Hustler"
Album: O.G.  Original Gangster
Year: 1991

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

In some way or another, every genre deviates from its original sound at some point, as every style of music must grow and progress.  However, this can become problematic when during such changes, the original meaning or mood behind the genre in question becomes lost and the style almost becomes a joke of what it was meant to be.  One can see this trend occur when a particular sound begins to crossover into the mainstream, and it is perhaps no more clear than when one examines the rise of what has become known as "gangsta rap."  When one mentions the genre, a handful of artists come to mind, and yet a majority of these performers represent the more pop-centric style of the genre, and they have little in common with the few emcees that "started" this style.  When one traces "gangsta rap" back to its roots, it leads to one man: Ice-T.  Bringing an unapologetic, often overly-aggressive performances style, Ice-T is responsible for some of the most gritty, yet vivid insights into inner-city life, and though many have tried, none have been able to match his intensity.  Yet there was almost always a deeper, socially conscious subtext to his songs, and while many did not like his music, it was impossible to ignore.  Though his later would would cause massive controversy, the true definition of both his own persona, as well as "gangsta rap" as a whole can be found in Ice-T's brilliant 1991 single, "New Jack Hustler."

Almost form the first note of the song, it is completely clear that "New Jack Hustler" is completely unlike any other rap music that was being recorded at the time, and even more than twenty years later, the sound remains unique.  The edge and attitude that comes through in the musical arrangement sets a fantastic, dark mood for the song, and yet there is a swagger that fits perfectly with the character and scene that Ice-T presents.  The combination of samples stands as one of the best in all of hip-hop history, and one can easily pick out pieces from James Brown's, "Blues And Pants," as well as Sly And The Family Stone's, "You Can Make It If You Try."  The third major sample on the song comes from Bobby Humphrey's "Jasper Country Man," and it is the way in which DJ Aladdin fuses the sounds together, creating something entirely new, that makes the song so amazing.  The three samples are combined with a handful of more modern sounds and record scratching, and yet DJ Aladdin shows just how much musical range one can create within hip-hop.  There are times when he pulls all of the sound minus just the bass or break-beat, and the way that this emphasizes certain lines of the song is a technique that would become widely used.  Yet it is also the way in which guitars, a saxophone and other more traditional instruments are used that give a peek into the music that Ice-T would soon create with his band, Body Count.  Though many have tried to duplicate the sound, there has rarely been another musical backing that worked as perfectly with the rhymes as one can experience throughout "New Jack Hustler."

However, throughout his entire musical catalog, there has never been another element that even came close to eclipsing the power and presence of Ice-T's vocals, and he remains one of the most instantly recognizable voices in the entire history of hip-hop music.  While he may not use much more than his speaking voice when he raps, it is the way in which Ice-T raises and lowers the intensity in his delivery that makes him so distinctive, and there are few emcees that better define the idea of "inner city storytelling" than one can find in his rhymes.  On tracks like, "New Jack Hustler," his rhymes are so vivid that one cannot help but become completely mesmerized, and while many rappers that followed have attempted to paint a similar picture of "ghetto success," none have come close to this original display from Ice-T.  However, though his rhymes here may have set the blueprint for "gangsta rap," there is far more going on within his lyrics, as he speaks directly to both political and financial systems in his words.  When Ice-T drops rhymes like, "...I got nothin to lose, much to gain, in my brain, I got a capitalist migraine...,"it becomes clear that this is far more than just your average "power and money" rap, and he completely turns society onto itself when he makes the almost philosophical comment on the "drug game" with the line, " this a nightmare? Or the American dream?"  Simply put, though he may have kick-started the "gangsta rap" movement, few later artists even came close to the level of thought or intensity that Ice-T brings on "New Jack Hustler."

Only a few months before it was released as part of his game-changing O.G. Original Gangster record, "New Jack Hustler" was used as the primary theme to the film, New Jack City.  The film and song matched perfectly, telling a story of the darker aspects of the inner-city drug trade.  Yet even without its connection to this movie, "New Jack Hustler" easily stands on its own, as Ice-T paints what may be the most vivid scenes in the entire history of hip-hop music.  Furthermore, Ice-T challenges the idea that the power and money gained through drug sales is a "bad" thing, and it is very much this song and notion that created the persona that scores of later emcees would follow.  In many ways, Ice-T makes the lifestyle out to be perhaps the only way for urban youth to gain such power and money, and yet one can see the third verse of the song almost as a reflection of "the dealer" in a wider social context.  Across the entire lifespan of hip-hop music, many have made allusions of the conditions within the inner city, but few have made as poignant a statement as when ice-T delivers the lines, "...pregnant teens, childrens' screams, life is weighed on the scales of a triple beam..."  It is this line that in many ways sums up the entire song, as it somehow manages to almost justify the actions of the main character.  Though many may attempt to write it off as "just another gangsta rap" song, there has never been another recording that either musically or lyrically can compare to Ice-T's brilliant 1991 single, "New Jack Hustler."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article.