The Art of Rap festival that Ice-T and his partner Mickey Benson are preparing to bring forth has a hell-of-a lineup, to be sure, but Hip Hop festivals have been taking a beating over the last few years. That means nothing to Ice, though because he believes in Hip Hop. In fact, he’s one of its most ardent believers. So much so that he’s gotten this troupe together and taken this act to NorCal and SoCal.

Both locations will feature almost the same lineups sans The Game and Rakim, who will only be featured at the Irvine show, and Cold Crush Brothers who will only be featured at Mountain View. Both locales lineups, we’re sure, will rock the house. But the festival is important not only because it fills a hole that needs filling but because it’s based on T’s amazing indie Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap. The film took a documentary-styled approach to Hip Hop as T interviewed a gaggle of Golden Era stars.

Ice-T’s importance to the game goes far beyond his love of Hip Hop, though. He’s been an outspoken advocate for the genre as well as a tireless fighter against the powers that be. When interests, be they corporate ones or law enforcement, try to push people around, Ice-T pushes back. So, as we spoke about his brand new festival, we couldn’t help but speak on Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, and the other major and minor American cities faced with deeply unjust circumstances.

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Ice-T Explains The Art Of Rap Festival 

DX: What made you want to get such a star-studded lineup together for the Art of Rap Festival?

Ice-T: We really just did a spin-off of the film. So after we did that we thought why wouldn’t it be great to take a different type of tour out. Not necessarily with people at the top of the charts [or] got the hot record on the radio, but just people who we considered to be great artists. We came up with the idea and we tried to pick an old school, new school, East Coast, West Coast and this is just the beginning of the tour. The Art of Rap Festival will become a brand and we will be able to take different groups on different tours all over the country continuously, but hanging on to the culture. Dealing with the graffiti. Dealing with the break dancing. Dealing with all the other elements.

DX: The rap tour has taken a beating lately with Rock the Bells and also with Murs situation as well. Why do you think this one will be different?

Ice-T: It’s similar. Rock the Bells was such a great tour and we went to that every year it came out. I just think there need to be more organized tours out there to give artists more of a chance to perform live. You got to remember nowadays it’s really hard to sell a record [so] cats need to be on tour and rap packages sell well. It’s easy to put a bunch of groups together, have a nice hot lineup and a random amount of groups. We’re just trying to start our own thing.

Ice-T Explains Who’s Original In Today’s Generation 

DX: In the film, Big Daddy Kane talks about originality over just a banging beat and a catchy hook. Who do you think is original in this generation right now?

Ice-T: I don’t know, you got to figure out what’s original versus what’s pretentious. A lot of times artists are trying to be so different that it’s obvious. I think that in my generation it was just paramount that you never were close to anyone’s style. You couldn’t dress like anybody, you couldn’t use the same slang as anybody. You had to be totally unique and that’s what separated the groups. I see a lot of similarities with the new guys, but I think a lot of them are original. I am a big fan of Kendrick Lamar, I’m a big fan of Lupe Fiasco, I like Young Jeezy, I like T.I., I think they all have their own lane. It’s really important in rap because you don’t want to be a biter, you don’t want to steal anybody’s style.

Ice-T Explains What Made Him So Influential

DX: We spoke to Killer Mike and he called you one of the most influential people in the culture of rap history. How do you think you’ve influenced Hip Hop so far?

Ice-T: I think I have always been one of the few people out there talking shit. Speaking on issues dealing with cops back in the day, dealing with free speech head on, getting arrested, being that voice that didn’t quiet down when Hip Hop was about something. Also, probably for taking Hip Hop into different directions – into acting, into movies, into television, writing books. I was just a rapper that really showed people that we are not just rappers. We can do a lot of things and at the same time keeping it gangsta. Not holding onto the image of what I thought people thought of me, not ever letting people corner me and say, “Well, that’s what Ice-T does.” You have no fucking idea what Ice-T does. I can be racing sailboats next week. I think that opened a lot of Hip Hoppers heads to try new things. I am a fan of Killer Mike. He’s a trendsetter and a groundbreaker too. I appreciate that compliment.

DX: Killer Mike has kind of been the spokesperson for Hip Hop for the last couple of years. He’s been on CNN, he’s been to the protests and this is the 23rd anniversary of the LA riots. Do you have anything to say about that?

Ice-T: I said on Twitter the other day, this Baltimore situation and Ferguson, it will continue to repeat itself from city-to-city until they address the issue. Until they fix the situation. It’s not really going to go away. I was watching Jon Stewart the other day and he really hit the nail on the head, you can’t sweep the community away and act like they don’t exist and then just get mad when they have these little explosions of anger. We have to deal with the problem from the bottom up. We know the cops are out of pocket and they have to be held accountable. They need independent investigators dealing with these cops. People only want justice and that’s all they want. You’ve never seen people get mad when the cops bust them drug dealers in the neighborhood – they don’t get pissed. People are pissed because these are innocent people, unarmed people. They have a right. And it’s not just black people. White people are marching, different classes of people are marching, so I am glad to see the uprising. Of course, not the violence, but I like to see people stand up.

DX: It’s interesting to see because Hip Hop is starting to stand up. Joey Bada$$ was out there marching in New York the other day. It brings me back to that crazy Oprah interview you had back in the day, with your famous line “If I had grown up like Bryant Gumble, I’d rap like Bryant Gumble.”

Ice-T: I said in the Body Count record, “Pop Bubble Full Of Bullshit.” Google that. I did a record called “Pop Bubble Full Of Bullshit.” I say, “Obama did eight years cuz, why you singing bout bottles and clubs.” I think that with all these things going on, hopefully, rap will fucking take notice and understand that you have to speak more than about what they’re wearing or what they’re dressing in and what they bought. We understand that. You got some money, I got that. What else?

I think also the Hip Hop press has to become more conscious and they gotta ask that to the artists. You gotta ask that tough question to the rapper that ain’t said shit. Put them on blast! That’s all you care about? You did a whole album on drug selling. That’s it to you? Really? Let them be exposed to people that don’t really care.

Ice-T & Mickey Benson Talk The Art Of Rap & Hip Hop Press

DX: With Hip Hop press and the Hip Hop artists, there’s been a disconnect there for a variety of reasons and I think one of those is because we’re not exactly asking tough questions. What do you want to see more out of the press that represents the black community?

Ice-T:  My thing is I did my time and I put myself on the line and as much as I can right now I am an older cat. It has to be 20-year-old kids talking this shit. It’s got to come from the youth. You can’t run every time the cops go upside somebody’s head and call me, Chuck, KRS-One and Ice Cube to be the spokespeople. You need the Wale’s, you need the young cats and those that don’t say nothing they need to be checked for that. Why the fuck you muthafuckas is on the net all the time and when shit hits the fan y’all ain’t saying shit.

Mickey Benson: Come to the Art of Rap Festival and tickets are on sale tomorrow for the Shoreline Amphitheatre, July 19th and July 18th at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre right now. Come see what Hip Hop is when you have rap music; when you have break dancers; when you have graffiti; and you got your deejays, not just your regular content.

Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant that has contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Features Editor for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.