Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Rhyme Pays [Sire, 1987] B
  • Power [Sire, 1988] B+
  • The Iceberg: Freedom of Speech . . . Just Watch What You Say [Sire, 1989] A-
  • O.G. Original Gangster [Sire/Warner Bros., 1991] A
  • Home Invasion [Rhyme Syndicate, 1993] B+
  • Cold As Ever [Blue Dolphin/Hit Man, 1996] Dud
  • Return of the Real [Rhyme Syndicate, 1996] *
  • The 7th Deadly Sin [Coroner/Atomic Pop, 1999] C+
  • Greatest Hits: The Evidence [Atomic Pop, 2000] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Rhyme Pays [Sire, 1987]
With heavy help from DJ Afrika Islam, this reformed criminal is the rap equivalent of pimp-turned-paperback-writer Iceberg Slim. Can't know whether his streetwise jabs at Reagan and recidivism will make a permanent impression on his core audience, but his sexploitations and true crime tales are detailed and harrowing enough to convince anybody he was there. Wish I was sure he'll never go back. B

Power [Sire, 1988]
I don't know about his role modeling: for anyone who thinks real men defy danger, dealing is obviously a surer and easier route to the gold than rapping. But he's got his own sound--flat, clipped, quick-lipped. And when he sticks to his subject, his narrative style is as gripping and understated as Islam's samples. B+

The Iceberg: Freedom of Speech . . . Just Watch What You Say [Sire, 1989]
Realer than Luke Skyywalker, glibber than Frank Zappa, able to scare small radio programmers with a single sound, this gangster's new artistic vocation is talking shit to the PMRC. Gratuitous f-words, obscene street rhymes, hilarious metal s&m, Jello Biafra recitations, the joke about boring into a motherfucker's skull with a cordless drill--all are designed to enrage censors while talking to the people live and direct. And as always, the street tales bite harder than fact. Fierce. Funny. A-

O.G. Original Gangster [Sire/Warner Bros., 1991]
Learning and diversifying, remembering where he comes from and sticking to what he knows, Ice-T wins big as the old school shakes out. He won't desert the hards because a hard he remains; his violence is pervasive and graphic because he knows brutalization from the inside. But he's nothing if not a moralist, and so the new jack drunk dies in his Benz, the cops break down the gangbanger's door, his gays are left to live their own lives, and his prematurely ejaculated sex jam is a dis on the horny fool who slavers for it. Since most of what I know about the hard audience comes from rap records, I can't guarantee he'll get away with it. But I can guarantee that this one has something to teach everyone who can stand to listen to it and almost everyone who can't. A

Home Invasion [Rhyme Syndicate, 1993]
At first it sounds as if the bad guys won--from sexy stories to o.g. kissoffs, he spends too much time proving he's still Ice Motherfucking T. But in fact he contextualizes himself as shrewdly as ever. He may write the misogynist rhymes--"I got an ill side that drips from my brain," he explains--but he leaves the worst to DJ Evil E and 2 Live Crew sicko Brother Marquis, the conceit being that some black men think women are hoes just like some black men wanna off cops, and that every one of these black men deserves to be heard. Which I buy, sort of, while noting that in the lead track a narrator posing as Ice-T offs a cop himself, and not for the last time. "Addicted to Danger" is a shrewd gangsta fable; "99 Problems" takes bitch-talk over the top where it belongs; Grip plays his Yo-Yo; the carefully phrased "Race War" and the self-aggrandizing "Message to a Soldier" and the amazing "Gotta Lotta Love" (is that a bridge?) are as politically felt as the greatest PE. But in a rapper as musically expedient as Ice-T, pro forma claims to hard prowess are rarely of much interest in themselves. Blame them on the bad guys. B+

Cold As Ever [Blue Dolphin/Hit Man, 1996] Dud

Return of the Real [Rhyme Syndicate, 1996]
making one wonder yet again--what is reality, anyway? ("I Must Stand," "Rap Game's Hijacked," "The 5th") *

The 7th Deadly Sin [Coroner/Atomic Pop, 1999]
On "God Forgive Me," the finale until the wittily grandiose Zionist-baiter "Exodus" was tacked on, comes a belated hint of the sardonic persona-mongering that once terrified a republic: Ice begs absolution for inventing the "gangsta rap" that "changed the course of the world." Maybe that's not as ridiculous as it seems. But certainly no such claim can be made for this clipped collection of pimp-dope-biz boasts/tales, which transcend genre hackwork only when anabused 16-year-old coos the title hook of "Always Wanted To Be a Hoe" like she can't wait to get the next dick in her mouth. Watching the O.G.'s back is a jaw-dropping procession of old-timers you hoped had gone into management, including Brother Marquis, Ant Banks, King Tee, Onyx, Kam, and, always last and always least, wee little Too Short. Proving mainly, I guess, that you can never find a cop killer when you need one. C+

Greatest Hits: The Evidence [Atomic Pop, 2000]
I missed "Cop Killer" (at least "KKK Bitch," or--remember, Eminem?--"Momma's Gotta Die Tonight") until I accepted Ice-T for what he here chooses to be: not an outrageous ironist but a cold-eyed truth peddler, a man who knows from well-remembered, -observed, and -imagined experience that crime sometimes pays and usually doesn't. Not only does no G get trepanned here, no woman gets misused; the violence is almost all suffered or recalled. Thus contextualized, the clarity, economy, and devastating detail of the man's rapping and rhyming are a benison, turning the spare beats he favors into an ascetic aesthetic. A

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