In his incredible 2009 compendium Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop, linguistics professor Adam Bradley posits to legitimize Rap as a true literary art form that deserves to be studied and appreciated as such. In the book’s first comparative study, Bradley draws numerous rhythmic and syntactic parallels between Sylvester’s Dying Bed by celebrated early 20th century poet Langston Hughes and 6 ‘n The Mornin’ by none other than Mr. Tracy “Ice-T” Marrow. Ice himself is also no slouch when it comes to exploring Hip Hop’s vast history all over America; In his 2012 directorial debut Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap he candidly spoke to pretty much everyone who’s ever had anything to do with the genre and after nearly 30 years in the game (and unilateral praise from all his movie’s interview subjects), it’s time for Ice to grace us with a freshly remastered Greatest Hits collection.
While the rigid programmed drums and hokey samples of 1987’s breakout 6 ‘n The Mornin’ sound fairly primitive when played next to the Jay-Z’s and Kanyes of Hip Hop today, it’s crucial to remember that absolutely none of them would be household names were it not for the old school trailblazers like Ice. It’s also fairly easy to forget that iconic pop-culture catchphrases like Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy and O.G. Original Gangster came from the man who is arguably best known for playing Detective Fin Tutuola on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
For as many incredible rappers as he inspired with the pure, old school jams that comprise the majority of this Greatest Hits set, he is also – in a roundabout way – to blame for perennial musical punch line Limp Bizkit and the ubiquity of rap-rock in the early-‘00s. His band Body Count was among the very first to combine heavy guitars and rap vocals and their eponymous track – with that immortal introduction for the haters – features here. Yet after a reunion and admittedly, a not-that-great new album Manslaughter earlier this year, it’s probably for the best that they remain a footnote on Ice-T’s otherwise stellar street reputation. All the classics from his back catalogue get a nod here however – The funked-out cautionary drug anthem I’m Your Pusher, the dusty breakbeats of Power (which, for the audiophiles among us, really benefit from the remastering treatment) and the gritty street realism of Colors all remind us why Ice is an important figure in music.
There have been not one, but two other “best-of” sets from Ice-T in the past – 1993’s The Classic Collection and Greatest Hits: The Evidence in 2000 so it’s pretty clear that this latest anthology is, beyond its limited vinyl release for Record Store Day, somewhat of a cash-grab. It must be aimed at those who missed the birth of one of the world’s most expansive and diverse musical sub-cultures, but the current incarnation of Ice-T’s Greatest Hits still proves to be a lean, mean introduction to one of the stone-coldest playaz ever to rock the microphone.