Ice-T - O.G. Original Gangster - Review
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critics' view

The music industry has a tendency to dehumanize the consumer and devalue our relationship to the very product they create. Human beings have feelings, "units sold" do not. A record that may change someone's life is just another barcode for SoundScan to tally up. The larger the corporation, the more twisted the scenario becomes. A record with the ability to uplift your soul or change your worldview can be deemed "not commercial enough" or "unmarketable" and never make it from test press to your stereo deck. Sometimes even a test press is a rarity. Entire albums get shelved unheard, lost to the annals of time due to the myopic view that their release would not be profitable, even in a digital age where it would almost be impossible NOT to profit selling songs over the internet sans all the usual manufacturing costs. If you heard an album growing up that changed your life, you can chalk it up to one of two things: (1.) dumb luck - so many albums are thrown at the consumer at least one was bound to stick or (2.) even in a shitty system cream still rises to the top.

As I get older I realize the debt I owe to the breaks I got, from getting into breakdancing at an early age (even though I SUCKED at it), to having a local Fox affiliate that would show "Pump it Up" really late at night on weekends, to having a subscripton to The Source and so on. Each of these things could individually be called dumb luck, but collectively they formed an intimate awareness of hip-hop. Those first fifty or so albums I bought (with #50 being Eric B. & Rakim's "Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em") were therefore anything BUT dumb luck in almost every case. I bought the albums I was led to believe would be dope and was rarely ever let down. Then again it may have been dumb luck that I came of age in the golden age of hip-hop when everyone from Public Enemy to N.W.A. to De La Soul to the Geto Boys to GangStarr were dropping classics. When every purchase had to count on limited funds, every one seemed to excede my expectations. Enter into that era Ice-T's "O.G. Original Gangster." I had a limited awareness of Tracy Marrow's music at the time, but what I knew I liked. In particular I had been awed by the slick talk of "High Rollers," the cautionary tale "You Played Yourself" and the metaphor of the high-powered brain in "Lethal Weapon" where knowledge had more power than any firearm ever would. Therefore without the benefit of any of his prior records in my catalogue, when I heard "New Jack Hustler" from the soundtrack of "New Jack City" I made an informed decision that may in retrospect have been dumb luck. Either way it worked out far better than I ever could have imagined.

"I find Ice-T to be, the dopest, flyest, O.G. pimp hustler, gangster player hardcore motherfucker, living today. To be honest I'm totally and irrevocably on, his, dick."

The erudite British woman speaking on "First Impression" was undoubtedly playing the role of comic relief when compared to the "hardcore motherfucker" known as Ice-T, but she was also 100% dead on the money. Sixteen years later I'm still on Ice-T's dick and "O.G. Original Gangster" is the reason. The scope of this 24 track, 72+ minute long album is almost inconceivable by today's mediocre hip-hop standards. There is no way to limit this album with classification. It's not political rap, gangster rap, West coast rap, East coast rap, intentionally provocative or a real life narrative. "O.G. Original Gangster" is all of these things and far more than its worth the time to list. To be perfectly honest there's something magical about this record having come out of the corporate folds of Warner Brothers, especially given how quickly everyone there would shun Ice-T as a musician when the "Cop Killer" controversy erupted. They may have talked a good game about the first amendment, but when their stock price was threatened Ice quickly saw the writing on the wall. Every time I listen to this album I treasure the fact it exists. Seemingly unfiltered and unabridged in any way, the album still manages to be thoughtfully organized and thoroughly well-written. Even though the album could be enjoyed by skipping through the tracks entirely at random, listening from start to finish is in many ways a story all its own with a somber and almost eerie conclusion. Ice pulls no punches with the musical opener, which reminds us that Los Angeles is the "Home of the Bodybag." He further illuminates this point 45 seconds later on the short but intense Afrika Islam and Ice-T co-produced "Ziplock".

The rhetorhic in Ice-T's lyrics may at times be violent, but like a true lyrical magician he knows when to play it true and when to pull away the curtain to reveal the illusion. It's only later that you realize the sleight of hand was another illusion in itself, taking your ears off the dope beats provided by DJ Aladdin, Afrika Islam and SLJ. Saying their craftsmanship on the boards is "up to par" would be like saying Tiger Woods is "pretty good" at golf - an analogy so understated it's nearly vulgar. I couldn't have told you at that young age that DJ Aladdin and Ice-T blended "I Bet You" by Funkadelic with "Mind Power" by James Brown to create the empowering rap "Mind Over Matter," but I could have told you that the slow subtle and smooth backdrop complimented Ice-T's thoughtful rap perfectly.

The closing speech by Ice-T on "Ya Shoulda Killed Me Last Year" applies so perfectly to today that we all ought to be scared by it - after all young men and women were called up to serve in Iraq in each case and both were sent there by a President named Bush. Perhaps "scared" isn't even the right word - "scarred" is more apt since we didn't learn the lessons the last time. It's fair to say this album left that permanent of an impression upon me as a teenager but not in any way that was painful. More than anything Ice-T struck me as a brutally honest pull no punches MC who could be as verbose or funny as he wanted to but made no apologies for any words that would upset or offend the politically correct or overly sensitive. Obviously as a Midwesterner I never would know what Tracy Marrow's lifestyle was like, rich OR infamous, but Ice could still use his powerful vocal tones and strong beats to illustrate the good, bad and ugly sides of Los Angeles. The album goes beyond good into brillant on the strength of his performance - Ice doesn't mumble, stutter, slur his words or mash them together incomprehensibly. This is a man speaking with supreme confidence in himself, his abilities, and those of his peers helping put the album together. Every word is said AND produced clearly. The perfect storm of function and form meld flawlessly into "O.G. Original Gangster," an album some of my peers have referred to as an album "you SHOULD listen to before you die." Even that seems inadequate - listen to this album a HUNDRED times before then. In the last sixteen years this record has not gotten old once and I suspect when I'm (hopefully) old and gray I'll still feel the same way. Even a cold and calculating record label can screw up once in a while and accidentally release a masterpiece - this is such an album.

Steve 'Flash' Juon
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