Ice-T has always been one of hip-hop’s most interesting figures. On the one hand, he’s a highly articulate, intelligent star whose caustic, clever lyrics have framed some of the genre’s best pieces of social commentary. On the other, he’s someone who revels in gratuitous violence and misogyny with a glee. But even when he’s at his worst, his clever rhymes are enough to keep us listening. Here, we take a look back at his career as we rank all of the Ice-T albums from worst to best.
8. Gangsta Rap
Ice-T dropped his eighth and latest studio album in October 2006. The front cover’s depiction of the rapper and his wife Coco Austin naked in bed was sketchy enough, but what lay waiting inside was even less pleasant. It’s not completely lacking in merits – Dear God Can You Hear Me is surprisingly mature, while both Pray and My Baby are worth taking for a spin – but overall, it flops hard, with lackluster production, unconvincing collaborations, and a complete absence of any big hooks to chew on. A patchy album that even die-hard fans might want to avoid.
7. The Seventh Deadly Sin
Ice-T’s seventh album was released on September 12, 1999. Commercially, it was disastrous, becoming his first album not to chart and his second after Ice-T VI: Return of the Real not to be certified gold or platinum. Critically, it was the same story. Sonically, the album hovers between 1989 and 1999, sounding neither current nor in the same league as his early material. Lyrically, he’s the same old Ice-T as ever, leaning heavily on strong language and generic gangsta topics. The highlights, which include Don’t Hate the Playa and the title track, only serve to spotlight just how lackluster the rest of the material is.
6. Home Invasion
Recorded as it was during the major media storm that surrounded the Body Count song Cop Killer, it’s easy to understand why Home Invasion falls some way short of Ice-T’s best album. Described by All Music as an “uneven, muddled affair, not the clean, focused attack of O.G. Original Gangster,” the album lacks a clear direction, and despite a few nuggets (which include the excellent Gotta Lotta Love), winds to its immemorable conclusion long after the listener has already switched off. For all that, it was still a moderate commercial success, reaching number 14 on the US Billboard 200 and number 15 on the UK Album Chart. It’s since certified gold in both countries.
5. Ice-T VI: Return of the Real
Ice-T’s sixth studio album, Ice-T VI: Return of the Real, was released June 4, 1996. It was a minor commercial success, reaching number 19 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and number 89 on the Billboard 200. But while there’s a few flashes of brilliance, Ice’s hardcore, street-oriented gangsta rap loses its bite to weak production and dated arrangements. In the 10 years since he’d released his debut, the music landscape had undergone a seismic shift, but here, Ice sounds completely impervious to any changes. In itself, that wouldn’t necessarily be a problem – after all, plenty of other artists have survived in their little world for decades – but rather than sounding like a maverick, he simply sounds like someone with zero interest in progressing.
4. Rhyme Pays
Ice-T may not have created gangsta rap, but with his debut album, he did more to popularize it than almost anyone else on the scene. Released on July 28, 1987, his true crime tales and sexploitations displayed a talent for streetwise lyricism unlike almost anything else around at the time. Even when he slips into an almost harrowing level of violence and casual misogyny, his rhymes are still absurdly clever. For a debut, the album enjoyed a fair amount of hype, something that translated into enough sales to push it to number 93 on the US Billboard 200 and number 26 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums charts. It’s since been certified gold in the US after shifting over half a million copies.
When Ice-T released his second album Power in September 1988, people didn’t like it. Or at least, the people who got offended by the album cover, which showed Ice’s then-girlfriend Darlene Ortiz, DJ Evil E, and Ice himself, didn’t. According to them, it perpetrated stereotypes and glorified violence. Taking about glorifying violence, the album does a lot of it, which again, didn’t go well in certain quarters. But Ice has always rapped about sex and violence and things polite people don’t talk about, and here, he sounds utterly compelling as he does it. Strong, menacing, and utterly gripping, it’s a triumph of an album, even if some of the production does sound dated.
2. O.G. Original Gangster
Ice’s fourth studio album, O.G. Original Gangster, was released in May 1991 to a resoundingly positive reception. It flew to number 15 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and number 9 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Two months later, it had sold over 500,000 copies to certify gold. Critically, it was just as much of a hit. Described by Entertainment Weekly as sounding more defiant, angry, and clever than ever, Ice blazes through tracks like Escape From The Killing Fields, The Tower, and the scathing Lifestyles Of The Rich And Infamous with a rage and an intensity that’s daunting.
1. The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech… Just Watch What You Say!
After encountering crippling censorship problems on tour, Ice-T responded with The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech… Just Watch What You Say!, a dark, intensely gritty account of his experiences with free speech. The album cover features a B-boy with two pistols pressed against both sides of his head and a shotgun in his mouth. Speaking about it later, Ice explained, “The concept of that picture is, ‘Go ahead and say what you want. But here comes the government and here come the parents, and they are ready to destroy you when you open your mouth’.” Despite the heavy subject matter, it’s far from a heavy slog, with enough lightness provided by songs like My Word Is Bond and the hilarious The Girl Tried to Kill Me to break the tension.