Published by Ballantine Books on April 19, 2011
Genres/Lists: Diverse, Memoir, Non-Fiction
Length: 7 hours 35 minutes
Read synopsis on Goodreads
Buy the book: Amazon/Audible (this post includes affiliate links)
Chances are, when you hear the name Ice-T, one of two images comes to mind: ‘Cop killer’ or ‘Odafin Tutuola. What probably doesn’t come to mind is a guy who was on the high school gymnastics team that hated stealing with a passion. That’s because over the past 20 years, the Original Gangster (given name, Tracy Marrow) has built a tough-guy reputation and catapulted himself into two different industries, music and television. For me, the name conjures up images of a low-hanging ponytail and a police precinct because I’m a diehard Law & Order: SVU fan (seriously – we almost named our rescue dog Fin, but literature won out and we named him Oliver). It’s my love of this show that led me to download the audiobook version of Ice-T’s memoir in the first place. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I don’t listen to rap or heavy metal and don’t know much about gangs, other than they’re bad news and have different colors. So, the book going to be about rap? Gangs? Pimping? Television? The answer is all of the above and the result is both insightful and entertaining. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I adored this book. Although it required me to step out of my comfort zone and listen to some difficult passages, the book had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion.
“I hated stealing so much that I did it with a passion. I felt once I’m doing it, I got to do it well. If I’m robbing you, then you’re gonna get f**king robbed, ’cause I hate the fact that I’m robbing you.”
In it, Ice starts out detailing his early life, including losing both of his parents to heart attacks and being sent to live his alcoholic aunt who had little interest in caring for him. By the 6th grade, he was dealing with racism for the first time and stealing bike parts after his own was stolen. From there, his spiral into a life of crime only accelerated. Ice candidly talks about his thought processes during his criminal days, why he got involved in a gang, and his aversion to drugs an alcohol, attributing it to the lack of self-control it results in. He goes on to talk about his reaction to his son’s brush with the law over a stolen laptop, his daughter dating men like him, and meeting his wife, Coco. On a deeper note, he reveals to the reader the two distinct instances that changed his life; a car accident and an army Sergeant telling him he was only in the army because he “can’t make it in civilian life.”
“Take Nice, drop the ‘N’, and you’ve got Ice.” (Ice-T on his embarrassing one-liner when meeting Coco)
I’m not well-versed in gang history (or rap, for that matter), so I was riveted by his accounts of what gang life was like during his younger days. Unlike what we read in the news today, gangs several decades ago were about loyalty, pecking order, and hustling, which is definitely not the same as warring over money and gang-banging (the book gives a great analysis of the differences). I also learned a lot about how rap got started and Ice’s influence on the music scene, albeit unwittingly in the beginning. He explains why he made the comments he did about Soulja Boy and working with Ludacris, who is on my good list because he rapped about a library and was on SVU. That said, my favorite parts were, of course, the ones pertaining to Law & Order: SVU. In this section, Ice talks about the critics who called him a hypocrite for going from a life of crime to playing a cop on TV, but he reminds readers that it’s just that: he’s playing a cop on TV. His goal? To play the cop you need.
“When you come from an environment where people have no problem putting you in check, physically, you learn you better measure your words. Be careful what the f**k you say.”
What I loved most about this memoir is that it is so refreshing. It’s nice to listen to someone talk about their life in a way that acknowledges, but doesn’t gloss over, the difficult parts. Despite Ice’s criminal past and rise to fame, he neither sensationalizes his actions nor tries to hide them. It’s quite obvious that Ice thinks the criminal life is a poor choice, but he also adopts an attitude of acceptance for his choices and makes no apologies. It’s no wonder that he looks so happy in photos and interviews; he focuses on the present and future, rather than dwelling on the mistakes of the past.
Filled with nuggets of wisdom ranging from gang life to the secret of a happy marriage (it’s all about admiration), this astute memoir is marked by breathtaking honesty. Clean readers who avoid tough topics and salty language will probably disagree, but any reader with a curious mind will enjoy the ride. As for me, I’m dying to chat with him about some of the social issues affecting our youth because, well, I’m a policy person and I think he’d have great insight.