Ice-T's Newest Role: The Voice Of Reason On Ice Loves Coco

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Who knew Ice-T was a role model? Ice Loves Coco, E!'s new reality show about the rapper/actor and his model/fashion designer wife, makes them look like such a perfect couple that you almost expect them to turn into anime characters and see little cartoon hearts popping above their heads as they kiss. Even more surprisingly, it shows Ice—you know, "Cop Killer" Ice—as a benevolent influence on those around him. He tells a friend that he shouldn't lie to the woman he's dating, helps his wife calm down at a photo shoot by expressing his confidence in her, and, in the most recent episode, rescues his ill-trained bulldog Spartacus from bombing at his own photo shoot. (The shoot is for a dog calendar; Spartacus is wearing a devil's cape and red horns; and, if anything, the scene is somehow even more adorable than this description might suggest.)

How did we get here? Ice's whole career has cast him as a kind of cultural antihero, from Original Gangster to "Cop Killer" and beyond. Sure, he's had the role on Law and Order: SVU, but that was an acting gig, and there's no reason he couldn't still be real underneath the detective costume. Ice Loves Coco is Ice-T IRL, though, and it turns out he's aged into basically the dad from That '70s Show—gruff but lovable, a softy underneath his hard exterior. Nor is he alone, what with fellow OGs Ice Cube and Snoop displaying their own variations of this persona. It's not that it's soft, but it's not really hard, either. It's more like a fundamental grumpiness, a sense of perpetual but mild annoyance at the world in general. And in Ice's case, it's crossed the line into outright cuddliness. Does this mean rap is softening, too?

Hip-hop, after all, only shed its initial novelty in the pop marketplace when its practitioners emphasized the malice inherent in both the music and the personae of the people making the music. The bumper crop of hardcore MCs in the '90 emphasized their criminal pasts, made the gang references in their lyrics explicit, and sprinkled the actual sound of gunshots through their tracks. Consequently, they became the focus of intense national controversy over lyrical content, and with the possible exception of 2 Live Crew no one experienced this phenomenon more acutely than Ice-T, who got called out by President George H.W. Bush for the sentiments he expressed in "Cop Killer" and who eventually yanked the track from Body Count's debut, swapping it out with a rock-tinged remix of his 1989 song "Freedom Of Speech."

As easy as it is to make jokes about this sort of thing—suburban white kids wanting to feel like inner-city black men, etc.—the association with a more intense lifestyle has been key to the success of every genre of pop music. Blues and rock have their association with sex and ancient powers (Elvis's hips, Robert Johnson's deal with the devil, Led Zeppelin's occultism), country and folk have their image as outlaw activities (Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie), and jazz and dance were seen as encouraging substance-fueled hedonism when they first emerged (flappers in the era of big bands, Studio 54 in the era of disco). Pop music offers a safe taste of the forbidden, and rap was no exception, even as it became a multi-billion-dollar industry. Three of its major practitioners (Eazy-E, Tupac, Biggie) died young, and in ways that confirmed the idea that the danger enacted in songs wasn't fake. (See also: rap labels' foundations in drug money, rappers going to jail, etc.) It was for real, and this emphasis on realness was what allowed rap to sustain a feeling of danger and vitality.



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