Herc Your Enthusiasm (23)
By: Roy Christopher | Categories: Poetry, Read-outs


Twenty-third in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating old-school hip hop.



The history of hip hop holds only a handful of personalities like Ice-T. As we all know he currently plays a police detective on Law & Order: SVU without a whiff of irony toward his days being vilified by Law Enforcement nationwide for singing “Cop Killer” with his metal-core band Body Count. Before forming Body Count, Ice-T released several classic hip hop records (e.g., Rhyme Pays, Power, The Iceberg, and O.G. Original Gangster), the first of which was the first record ever to bear a Parental Advisory sticker. And let’s not forget that Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” (2003) were Ice-T’s in 1993.

Prior to being the unsung pioneer of what became “Gangsta Rap” (what he called “Crime Rhyme”), Ice-T was bringing New York to L.A. His early classics sounded like Schoolly D or BDP’s Criminal Minded. The West Coast didn’t have its own recognizable sound yet. No “Gangsta Gangsta,” no O.G., no G-Funk, the sounds of these streets weren’t shaded by palm trees and red and blue bandanas. To do rap meant to sound like New York.

Ice-T’s first single, “The Coldest Rap”/”Cold Wind Madness (a.k.a. The Coldest Rap, Part 2)” consists of a two-part rhyme-fest of boastful wordplay. The single is backed with “Body Rock,” an electro-dance number that puts in extra work trying to explain what hip hop is all about. Past all of the playful posturing and woefully dated structure, one can hear the seeds of Ice-T’s lyrical heyday. His distinctive delivery, his cadence, his occasional turn of phrase, and his gift for innuendo all shine through, hinting at his future success on the mic. “The Coldest Rap” is a player anthem, a party song, a hip hop trope that Ice-T would revisit throughout his recording career. The power production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who were then core members of Morris Day’s band, The Time, as well as close associates of Prince, provided the backbone for the track. They stretch out a bit on Part 2, but Part 1 is all Ice-T’s, though the track originally had female vocals on it. “They stripped the girl’s vocal out,” he told Wax Poetics in 2010, “gave me the instrumental, and I rapped over it that night in the studio.” In spite of the single’s inauspicious origins, Ice-T sounds as authoritative as ever, if not as focused as he would become a few years later. “Those were just some rhymes I had in my head,” he said.

Among Ice-T’s subsequent songs was one for the Breakin’ soundtrack, a movie he also appeared in as a rapper, cementing a link to screen work that would continue to shape his career 30 years on. He remains one of the very few rappers who have stayed relevant on screen after his raps grew stale, and it all started with “The Coldest Rap.”


ALL POSTS IN THIS SERIES: LUC SANTE on Spoonie Gee’s “Spoonin’ Rap” (1979) | DALLAS PENN on Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” (1979) | WERNER VON WALLENROD on Kurtis Blow’s “Rappin’ Blow” (1979) | DJ FRANE on Blowfly’s “The Incredible Fulk” (1980) | PAUL DEVLIN on Jimmy Spicer’s “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” (1980) | PHIL DYESS-NUGENT on Funky 4 + 1′s “That’s the Joint” (1980) | ADAM McGOVERN on Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5′s “Freedom” (1980) | DAVID ABRAMS on Blondie’s “Rapture” (1980) | ANDREW HULTKRANS on Treacherous Three & Spoonie Gee’s “The New Rap Language” (1980) | TIM CARMODY on Afrika Bambaataa & The Jazzy 5′s “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” (1981) | DREW HUGE on Grand Wizard Theodore & The Fantastic Five’s “Can I Get a Soul Clap” (1981) | OLIVER WANG on Grandmaster Flash’s “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | DOUGLAS WOLK on Busy Bee’s “Making Cash Money” (1982) | ADRIENNE CREW on Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5 (featuring Melle Mel and Duke Bootee)’s “The Message” (1982) | DART ADAMS on The Jonzun Crew’s “Pak Jam” (1982) | ALEX BELTH on Malcolm McLaren & The World’s Famous Supreme Team’s “Buffalo Gals” (1982) | JOSHUA GLENN on Wuf Ticket’s “Ya Mama” (1982) | PHIL FREEMAN on Malcolm X with Keith LeBlanc’s “No Sell Out” (1983) | NATE PATRIN on Afrika Bambaataa’s “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2″ (1980/1983) | BRIAN BERGER on Grandmaster & Melle Mel’s “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” (1983) | COSMO BAKER on Run DMC’s “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” (1983/1985) | COLLEEN WERTHMANN on Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” (1983) | ROY CHRISTOPHER on Ice-T’s “The Coldest Rap” (1983) | DAN REINES on L.A. Dream Team’s “The Dream Team is in the House” (1985) | FRANKLIN BRUNO on hip hop’s dance crew The Lockers.

HIP HOP ON HILOBROW: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM series (25 posts about old-school hip hop) | DJ Kool Herc as HiLo Hero | Gil Scott-Heron as HiLo Hero | Slick Rick as HiLo Hero | Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels as HiLo Hero | Afrika Bambaataa as HiLo Hero | Biz Markie as HiLo Hero | Eric B as HiLo Hero (forthcoming in November) | U-God as HiLo Hero | Slug as HiLo Hero | Adam Yauch as HiLo Hero | Ghostface Killah as HiLo Hero | DJ Run as HiLo Hero | Flavor Flav as HiLo Hero | Scott La Rock as HiLo Hero | GZA as HiLo Hero | Schoolly D as HiLo Hero | Aesop Rock as HiLo Hero | Notorious B.I.G. as HiLo Hero | Melle Mel as HiLo Hero | Rick Rubin as HiLo Hero | Rakim as HiLo Hero | Ol’ Dirty Bastard as HiLo Hero | Madlib as HiLo Hero | Talib Kweli as HiLo Hero | Danger Mouse as HiLo Hero | Kool Moe Dee as HiLo Hero | Chuck D as HiLo Hero | Dizzee Rascal as HiLo Hero | RZA as HiLo Hero | Cee-Lo Green as HiLo Hero | Best Ever Clean Hip Hop


KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (series on Jack Kirby panels): Douglas Rushkoff on THE ETERNALS | John Hilgart on BLACK MAGIC | Gary Panter on DEMON | Dan Nadel on OMAC | Deb Chachra on CAPTAIN AMERICA | Mark Frauenfelder on KAMANDI | Jason Grote on MACHINE MAN | Ben Greenman on SANDMAN | Annie Nocenti on THE X-MEN | Greg Rowland on THE FANTASTIC FOUR | Joshua Glenn on TALES TO ASTONISH | Lynn Peril on YOUNG LOVE | Jim Shepard on STRANGE TALES | David Smay on MISTER MIRACLE | Joe Alterio on BLACK PANTHER | Sean Howe on THOR | Mark Newgarden on JIMMY OLSEN | Dean Haspiel on DEVIL DINOSAUR | Matthew Specktor on THE AVENGERS | Terese Svoboda on TALES OF SUSPENSE | Matthew Wells on THE NEW GODS | Toni Schlesinger on REAL CLUE | Josh Kramer on THE FOREVER PEOPLE | Glen David Gold on JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | Douglas Wolk on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | MORE EXEGETICAL COMMENTARIES: Joshua Glenn on Kirby’s Radium Age Sci-Fi Influences | Chris Lanier on Kirby vs. Kubrick | Scott Edelman recalls when the FF walked among us | Adam McGovern is haunted by a panel from THE NEW GODS | Matt Seneca studies the sensuality of Kirby’s women | Btoom! Rob Steibel settles the Jack Kirby vs. Stan Lee question | Galactus Lives! Rob Steibel analyzes a single Kirby panel in six posts | Danny Fingeroth figgers out The Thing |

KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012 series on Captain Kirk scenes): Justice or vengeance? by DAFNA PLEBAN | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss by MARK KINGWELL | “KHAAAAAN!” by NICK ABADZIS | “No kill I” by STEPHEN BURT | Kirk browbeats NOMAD by GREG ROWLAND | Kirk’s eulogy for Spock by ZACK HANDLEN | The joke is on Kirk by PEGGY NELSON | Kirk vs. Decker by KEVIN CHURCH | Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk by ENRIQUE RAMIREZ | Captain Camelot by ADAM MCGOVERN | Koon-ut-kal-if-fee by FLOURISH KLINK | Federation exceptionalism by DAVID SMAY | Wizard fight by AMANDA LAPERGOLA | A million things you can’t have by STEVE SCHNEIDER | Debating in a vacuum by JOSHUA GLENN | Klingon diplomacy by KELLY JEAN FITZSIMMONS | “We… the PEOPLE” by TRAV S.D. | Brinksmanship on the brink by MATTHEW BATTLES | Captain Smirk by ANNIE NOCENTI | Sisko meets Kirk by IAN W. HILL | Noninterference policy by GABBY NICASIO | Kirk’s countdown by PETER BEBERGAL | Kirk’s ghost by MATT GLASER | Watching Kirk vs. Gorn by JOE ALTERIO | How Spock wins by ANNALEE NEWITZ



Roy Christopher marshals the middle between Mathers and McLuhan. He was assistant editor of Paul D. Miller a.k.a. DJ Spooky’s Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Culture and Music (MIT Press, 2008), and his first book is Follow for Now: Interviews with Friends and Heroes (Well-Red Bear, 2007). He is currently working on a book called The Medium Picture (for Zero Books), and another called Hip-hop Theory. He is also a Visiting Lecturer at The University of Illinois-Chicago. He writes regularly at roychristopher.com.