Book Review — 17 May 2011

By Malice Intended

Ice-T has achieved true O.G. status in the rap game, having arguably created the blueprint for gangsta rap (among other things).  He parlayed his successful recording career into an enduring film and television career.  Surely, a man who has been traveling that road for the past 28 years must have a few stories to tell.  Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption-from South Central to Hollywood collects those stories and arranges them into a single epic. 

Ice-T received a lot of help from co-writer Douglas Century, who is no stranger to Hip-Hop or the street life, having penned New York Times best-selling Street Kingdom: Five Years Inside of the Franklin Avenue Posse in 1998.  Century has grown considerably since the publication of that novel, as Ice-T has grown from a rapper to a recognizable television personality and that experience informs every part of Ice.

The reader learns of Ice-T’s life as a young boy in New Jersey.  His parents’ lack of warmth gave him a detached perspective on life that served him well when he was suddenly forced to relocate to South Central under tragic circumstances.  His high school years came amidst the burgeoning Los Angeles gang scene.  In this portion of the book, Ice’s ever-cool persona is thawed somewhat to expose a level of vulnerability that belies his stage persona.  The loss of innocence is apparent, and Ice generates ample sympathy from the reader despite his stoic delivery.

That same balance is maintained in the chapters chronicling his years in the military and the duration of his criminal career.  Ice’s experiences as part of burglary ring are as crazy as anything you’re likely to hear in one of his raps, but grounded in reality despite the larger-than-life presentation.  Ice-T and Century realize that compelling realism has no need for exaggeration.  That is a lesson that has been lost upon the dozens of gangsta rappers that emerged in Ice-T’s wake.  This sense of literary discipline serves Ice well.

The book gives equal time to Ice-T’s show business endeavors, from his first groundbreaking singles to his role in New Jack City and beyond.  Ice-T gets behind the scenes of the production, relating the experience from the eyes of the mostly unknown (at the time) cast.  The cop killer controversy is finally and thankfully put on blast.  Its effects on Ice-T’s career and his relationship with Time Warner are put squarely into perspective, without the interference of pundits and the like.

The Soulja Boy debacle is also covered, as is the current state of mainstream Hip-Hop.  Ice-T acknowledges the futility of engaging in such a pointless “beef” without apologizing for his feelings about Soulja Boy’s brand of music.  Hustler though he may be, Ice takes Hip-Hop seriously and that shines through, making his insights into the culture worthwhile.    

The biggest strength of Ice is how packs so much into just 250 pages.  That density also serves as the biggest source of frustration.  The story moves along with such nimble ease, that one wishes Ice-T would expound more on his life’s experiences.  We don’t really get any insight into his recording process, or the creation of classic albums like O.G. Original Gangster.  The lack of “liner notes” in such instances isn’t necessarily a flaw.  The book reads just fine without it.  Still, it would have made a highly enjoyable experience that much more satisfying.

Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption-from South Central to Hollywood is one of the best rapper autobiographies ever written, and perhaps the most complete product Ice-T has ever delivered?  It fills in the gaps of his celebrity bio in a way that hardly feels puffy or embellished.  He emerges as both more human and more iconic.  His legacy is one of the most productive and substantial in the history of Hip-Hop.  Ice reminds the world of that fact without an ounce of pomp or hubris.


Out of 5


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