After two obscure choices that were on my mind when cooking up the idea for this series, I want to come to something more ‘profound’, I want to say, although that might be the wrong word. My next pick is an album that also has a special place in my childhood gangsta rap heart and this is Ice-T’s second album Power, released in 1988.
What I remember: This must be the first Ice-T album I knew, although it could also have been O.G. I remember that I liked this album very much. It had stories about gangsters and violence but I don’t remember that it was glorifying the gangster life. I guess it criticized the police and celebrated music instead of drugs, for which I definitely remember “I’m Your Pusher” as my favourite song. It also had a sex song that I remember because it was confusing for my 10-year-old self as it was not the most reliable source to get information about sex. The cover also fascinated me back then a) because of the large gun Ice-T’s wife was carrying and b) yes, because of his wife in the swimsuit on the cover. I hadn’t known women could dress like that. The whole album was fascinating and a little bit intimidating.
What I say now: My first impression from the “Intro” is that Ice-T is not a convincing voice actor. There is a dialogue between two people and he speaks both of them and it sounds really weird. But it’s funny as one accidentally shoots the other because they both want to see “the girl on the cover” and the shooter then decides to listen to the album before helping his victim. Silly, yes, but somewhat clever in its intentional silliness.
The first song is called “Power” and Ice-T manages to get across some political messages while still bragging about his own power. He criticizes judges, D.A.s and the police and says “the system does stink.” He has “been to jail more times than you have probably been in school”, which is somewhat true (he had been to jail for two years) and it makes his lyrics more convincing. He mostly does know what he is talking about, despite some exaggerations. He also emphasizes freedom of speech several time (and he did have a whole album with that theme in its title). The verse about women and sex is confusing because it’s not clear what he wants to say. Women have the power of sex but they spend the men’s money? It’s something like that and at least it makes men look somewhat weak.
“Drama” is a dark and grim depiction of a gangster’s career and it does not glorify it at all. It also shows the attitude that many gangster rappers expressed, an attitude of being misunderstood and shunned by society. “You’re just a number, another piece of tough meat” and once you’re on death row you’re not “elite” anymore. Then there’s a party song, and a “everyone sings a verse” posse song. “Radio Suckers” also shows a popular attitude of rappers of the time, which is that radio stations didn’t play most rap songs. Ice-T claims “maybe my words are just too real” and continues
Nobody says that you have to agree
Censorship that ain’t the way to be
I thought you said this country was free?
which is a more convincing statement than the whole Banned in the U.S.A. album.
Then comes “I’m Your Pusher”. I’m not sure why I liked that song so much, but I think it’s a mixture between being amused by the chorus and the idea that Ice-T wants to convince people to listen to his music instead of taking drugs.
Crack or smack will take you to a sure end
You don’t need it, just throw that stuff away
You wanna get high? Let the record play
It’s full of drug metaphors that are turned into music metaphors and it’s fun.
Next, there’s “Girls L.G.B.N.A.F.” which stands for an invitation to sex. It’s the sex song that confused me a little when I was young. Compared to 2 Live Crew and other sex rap songs of the time (which I probably hadn’t heard when I heard this song for the first time), it can only be called tame. It’s not exactly feminist but it tries to be as respectful to women as Ice-T probably can. It’s far from the misogyny of most rap artists, which is somewhat refreshing and it tries to treat sex as fun. Again, it’s not completely successful and it’s not really necessary either but it’s also not overly offensive. And he mentions “safe sex”, which 2 Live Crew or N.W.A. probably didn’t even know existed.
There are some more songs that don’t add much new and then there is “Soul on Ice”, which I had completely forgotten but I now remember hating. It’s a long story of a night, with strange, groovy music, all spoken in a strange, drunken voice. The story is silly, about Ice-T being killed “that night that I quit.”
The album ends with an “Outro” in which the killer from the beginning remembers his victim, which he’d forgotten because the album was so cool. He wants to help him now but instead decides to listen to the album “just one more time.”
I’m not sure how much nostalgia plays into it, but for the most time I still enjoy that album. It is less violence-glorifying and misogynist than I expected, which certainly helps. The music is good, the lyrics aren’t embarrassing (yet, Ice-T’s writing skills deteriorated in later years) and the content is even somewhat political (even if it’s far from Public Enemy), although it is less than on some of his other albums (as far as I remember). So, did I like it? Yes, and I still do.