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Most performers who rise to fame are able to climb past competitors because of their innate toughness — but once they reach the top, they employ handlers charged with shielding them from reality, as if the slightest unpleasantness might prove fatal.
Jorge Hinojosa tackles this task for Ice-T, and even though the hard-core hip-hopper turned Law & Order: Special Victims Unit cast member has long cultivated a lethal image, his manager treats him as delicately as a newborn lamb. In lieu of scheduling a phone interview with the Ice man, Hinojosa arranges an e-mail exchange. Then, rather than asking his boss to actually type answers to questions submitted by journos like yours truly, he calls and reads them to him — sort of. In a recording of the exchange accessible on Westword's website, Hinojosa sticks to the text only briefly before shortening or altering the queries. He then skips several others toward the end of the conversation, including innocuous items about Law & Order actor Fred Thompson's possible run for the presidency, before inventing an embarrassing, suck-up closer about whether Nicole "CoCo" Austin, Ice-T's cartoonishly buxom wife, will accompany him to Colorado. Rest easy, concerned Denverites: She will.
Judging by his responses to the subjects Westword actually wanted him to address, Ice-T doesn't require the eggshell treatment. The former Tracy Morrow, who issued his first long-player, Rhyme Pays, in 1987 and stoked the ire of police officers in the early '90s with his song "Cop Killer," is forthright and blunt about his place in hip-hop today and the modest sales of his latest CD, 2006's Gangsta Rap, despite the presence of a naked CoCo on the cover.
"It's really hard to make a buck right now in rap," he concedes. "The majors are looking for the next big thing. They're not looking to sign somebody who I guess they see as past their prime. That doesn't mean I'm not going to continue to make music, and people who listen to the new album might think it's the best album ever. But without the push, only certain people are going to hear it."
Much of the hip-hop the masses are digging these days leaves Ice-T cold. "You've got to come with something new," he argues. Yet he doesn't expect to be given props simply because he once broke ground. "I don't feel that there should be respect for elders" as a matter of course, he says. "I think respect is given when it's due. Just because you're from old-school hip-hop doesn't mean anybody has to respect you. I think a lot of people who want to be respected when they're old weren't respected when they were current."
That's bold talk, Jorge. Betcha the boss could have survived those Fred Thompson questions.
Visit our blogs for more of our interview with Ice-T.