Ice-T is on a quick break from shooting Law & Order: Special Victims Unit when he picks up the phone. The pioneering Hip Hop legend has played Detective/Sergeant Odafin Tutuola for the past 19 years.
But before he landed that career-defining role, he was cast as NYPD detective Scotty Appleton in the 1991 Mario Van Peebles film, New Jack City. Although Ice had previously earned small roles in Breakin’ (1984) and its aptly titled sequel Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (1984), New Jack City was his first major acting role and catapulted him to a whole other level of notoriety.
So naturally, when news of an upcoming New Jack City reboot started circulating last month, people wondered if the Hollywood machine would try to reunite the same cast — Wesley Snipes as powerful drug kingpin Nino Brown, Chris Rock as lovable crackhead “Pookie,” Allen Payne as Brown’s second-in-command “Gee Money” and, of course, Ice as Appleton.
Considering Ice heard about it the same way everybody else did — the internet — it doesn’t seem likely a proper remake is in the cards.
During an exclusive interview with HipHopDX, Ice outlines why he think a reboot won’t work, his long-awaited collaborative single with original gangsta rapper Schoolly D and his thoughts on Tekashi 6ix9ine’s star witness role.
HipHopDX: What is your opinion is on the idea of a New Jack City reboot?
Ice-T: I heard about it on the internet. I didn’t really know it was happening. Nobody contacted me or anything, so I very highly doubt that I’m involved in the new one. I don’t know if they’re going to be able to pull it off for a couple of reasons. One is Wesley’s performance. It’s going to be hard to match Nino Brown. I mean, Wesley did a legendary performance to where people are actually calling themselves Nino Brown. He really did it, a fictional character. Two, I think that movie had a lot to do with timing.
HipHopDX: I agree.
Ice-T: It was about the crack era during the crack era. All the music was current — from the New Jack Swing music and the stuff Teddy Riley was doing. It was based on an actual operation out of San Francisco Felix Mitchell had going, where people were getting high in a building and never leaving. So, that was real, The Carter was based on something that was real. So right now, you’re in a opioid epidemic, but I just don’t know how they could flip it.
HipHopDX: I was just going to bring that up. They’d have to make it more about heroin and opioid painkillers more than crack because that’s definitely the era that we’re in right now.
Ice-T: Right, right. Absolutely. So, the key to that movie was timing. It was all about a movie that was happening at the moment. And just like Boys N The Hood, that’s what was happening at the moment in L.A. with the gangs, so it’ll be interesting. I mean, they tried to remake Superfly and that sucked. I mean, it was a valid attempt, but you can’t make a movie that’s just a big music video.
HipHopDX: It’s seems nearly impossible to top a classic or an iconic film.
Ice-T: Yeah, you had Chris Rock. Everybody was new. Chris Rock was new. I was new. Wesley had only done one movie. You had Judd Nelson … it had very interesting cast. I don’t wish them bad luck, but I think it’s going to be very difficult to pull it off.
HipHopDX: Especially without the original cast. If they did approach you, would you even be open to something like that?
Ice-T: I definitely would want to read the script. I wouldn’t want to mess with it. Even though that was my first movie, that’s still one of my best movies that people talk about, so I wouldn’t want to destroy that legacy. I think they’d been better just doing another movie, not having it to do with New Jack City; just do a new movie. I don’t think you can remake New Jack. I don’t think you can remake Scarface. I don’t think you need to remake The Godfather; certain movies like that, leave them alone, you know?
HipHopDX: We’re kind of seeing that a lot in Hollywood lately. It’s all these reboots, sequels and revamps. Are they out of ideas?
Ice-T: I mean, they even got Batgirl and Batboy (laughs). But Hollywood’s about making money, and they’re just going to throw out stuff if they can make a profit, so you can’t be mad at them. But every once in a while, art has to step in. So I’m just like, “Yo.” Now, if I was a new actor and they offered me a chance to be in the movie and it was a legitimate bag, of course I’d do it, you know? But I know certain things … out of all the movies I’ve done, that’s the one that they call a classic. They don’t call every movie you make a classic; only certain movies get that credit.
HipHopDX: Even with Louie Rankin just passing away, he was in Belly and that movie initially flopped, but it was Hype Williams’ first movie. It ended up being a cult classic. To me, it’s better to leave those alone. I also wanted to talk about you and Schoolly D getting together to do a collaboration. How that happen finally and why is the timing right now?
Ice-T: Well, me and Schoolly always had respect for each other because it’s the truth. It is what it is. We were both breaking new ground with our forms of music, but I never got a chance to kick it with Schoolly D. Schoolly’s out of Philly and he went off the grid for a while. He was working with Abel Ferrara doing a lot of scoring for movies. He actually scored a movie I was in called R ‘Xmas and I was working with Abel Ferrara.
And then a lot of my friends were like, “Yo, man, I’m friends with Schoolly. Blah blah blah. I’m talking to this person, I was just with Schoolly,” but we just never met up for some weird, unknown reasons. Recently, they got at me and they said Schoolly’s working on a record and he would love you to come rap on it. Of course, that was a no-brainer. I said, “Yeah!”
Next thing I know, I did the track, and Schoolly’s sitting in my house. Me and him finally got to kick it, talk about it. But certain people carry a kind of a mystique that goes along with them and when you’re in their zone, it’s like you’re in their zone. So, I respect Schoolly. It’s the same like meeting Snoop Dogg or somebody. They got their own energy and you kind of get kind of swallowed up in it. So anyway, me and him sat and talked for about three hours. To me, the track wasn’t even as important as actually just getting to chop it up with Schoolly D. We motivated each other and stuff, so I can see more work coming from me and him. I just think this was just the first step.
HipHopDX: Man, I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation. Did you talk about the whole origin of the things, like “6 in The Morning?” or “P.S.K. (What Does It Mean)?”
Ice-T: You got to remember, when you’re starting something, you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re just trying something different. Talking about gangs and violence, that wasn’t the key to getting on radio. That wasn’t the key to doing anything as far as if you were going to be a musician. You’re really making underground music. You’re making music for a certain clientele of people that like that shit, right? Now, the fact that it would actually explode? That wasn’t the intention. I think now you’ll have artists that will see, “Oh, this is the path of,”… I mean, look at this boy Tekashi. You want to act like you’re in a gang and it’s marketable now but when we did it, it wasn’t really marketable.
HipHopDX: Right. In fact, it was a way not to get your music on the radio.
Ice-T: It was more about getting street respect amongst your friends. It was just underground, really intentionally hardcore, or almost punk — like, I’m just going to break the rules for the sake of breaking the rules because I hang around people that enjoy breaking the rules, you know? And that’s what it’s all about. But you’re making the most raunchy records and to one day be a critically acclaimed? That’s not what you intend to do. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t expect my music to become big.
HipHopDX: Did you talk about the impact you both made?
Ice-T: Anytime I get with somebody from my generation, it’s definitely weird because we’re all older now and we got gray hair. It’s funny because Hip Hop was a youth movement. We were all kids. People were young and a lot of people were living in their parents’ house. It was a very youth-based movement. And it’s the same way now with the new Hip Hop. These kids are 15 and 16. I mean, that’s really where it happens, you know?
But to be grown men now, sitting around reminiscing about Hip Hop, it’s like we should be… that’s what my pops used to do about jazz and the blues. Here we are, “Oh, man, it ain’t like that good ol’ Hip Hop.” I think it’s very odd. Stretch [Armstrong] told me one day Hip Hop and music is the Fountain of Youth, and I really believe it is because when you sing a song or you perform a song … like when I perform “Colors,” I’m fucking 18 years old.
HipHopDX: Catapults you back to that time.
Ice-T: You’ve got to go to that time to sing it correctly, to put your mind in the mindset of a gang banger, to think like that. So, with R&B singers who sing about being in love, they actually might believe it. That’s how you embody the track and sing it. And also the listener, when they hear that song, they remember where they were.
HipHopDX: Oh, of course! I can listen to so many songs, so many albums and they takes me right back to a specific time.
Ice-T: Right. When I perform “I’m Your Pusher” onstage, I’m like, “Did you have a car when this record came out? Where were you?” Because it’s important. That’s one of the beauties of music. It takes you back. So, I think it is the Fountain of Youth. I mean, you look at Mick Jagger at 72 years old, still rocking. It’s like, if you part of it, you gonna do it for the rest of the way out. Like Ozzy Osbourne — you just do it forever.
HipHopDX: Paul McCartney. I think he’s 75 and still going hard.
Ice-T: Yeah and it’s a magical thing. Music is magical in that sense.
HipHopDX: I believe so, too. My father’s a musician. He still plays in a band until this day and he’s like a little kid when he listens to music or he plays music. It’s like he’s 16 again, and I see it.
Ice-T: Absolutely. What I’ve found out with musicians and real artists … real artists never change. James Brown was James Brown until he died. If you talked to George Clinton, George Clinton is still the wild muthafucka. He just doesn’t care. Ozzy Osborne is still Ozzy. If you were real, if it was truly who you were, then you never truly change. Now some people transform; like you’ll meet them later and you go, “Wow, you’re different.” You believed in an image. That wasn’t really the person. I was with Redd Foxx the night before he passed, and it’s like. .. authentic people stay authentic. They never change. Willie Nelson? They never change.
HipHopDX: Snoop Dogg.
Ice-T: Never change. Snoop is going to be 80 years old talking shit, smoking weed. He’s not going to change.
HipHopDX: I can picture it now. I’ve actually met his uncle, and I feel like he’s going to be the incarnation of his uncle.
Ice-T: Yeah, yeah. I know his uncle, too. Looks just like him! I know his aunt.
HipHopDX: It’s crazy how similar they are.
Ice-T: He gets out on the stage and dances and wilds out with Snoop.
HipHopDX: That’s Snoop’s future (laughs).
Ice-T: What it is, yeah.
HipHopDX: When Tekashi took the stand a couple of weeks ago, he actually admitted that once he saw the gang stuff was selling, he realized he’d found a formula, and so he decided he was just going to keep going with that image.
Ice-T: It’s not only that. It’s that people without all balls — a little guy like that — have the power of a gang behind them. It’s dangerous. I’m not trying to compare them together, but in a way, that’s kind of what happened to Tupac [Shakur]. Pac was a 1000 percent more real than Tekashi. We’re not going to compare them in any sense. But having that gang behind him kind of gave him superpowers.
HipHopDX: It almost make you feel invincible in a way. You probably get drunk with power.
Ice-T: Absolutely — until it becomes dangerous. Having a group of people behind you that you feel will do anything, it gets crazy. So I think Tekashi liked that, too. He’s testifying right now, so he’s trying to clean his shit up. He’s snitching his ass off. That muthafucka’s saying names. I ain’t never heard nobody snitch like that. I mean, he’s naming people they didn’t even ask about.
HipHopDX: Right, Jim Jones, Cardi B …
Ice-T: They ain’t got nothing on her. She ain’t no Blood really. She’s a girl. She hang around Bloods, but yeah, she ain’t no Blood. But they got Jim Jones on the phone, so that’s conspiracy. He’s got to lawyer up. That’s a bad look, you know? So he’s just running off names. I’m surprised. I’m glad I never laid eyes on that kid so he can say, “That day, I was talking to Ice-T.” I’ll tell you his problem though. His problem is one day when he does surface, he got a national bounty on him because the street can’t let that go. Even people that aren’t involved in that, they just like, “Nah, we can’t let this be OK.”
Ice-T: If I had an organization, I don’t care where I am. Let’s say I’m in Texas, I got an organization and we running on no snitch policy. If I got soldiers seeing this allowed, it’s a bad look. My daddy used to tell me, “Don’t step in no shit you can’t get off your shoe.” He stepped in some shit that he ain’t going to be able to get off his shoe. It’s not going to go away.
HipHopDX: He’s only 23 years old. At 23, you’re still so naive and you have this invincible attitude already, and then coupled with the gang stuff, he’s so arrogant that he feels like he can just get out, get back to his rap career like nothing happened. I just feel like we’re going to have a very tragic end to that story.
Ice-T: Yeah. I hate to say that, too. I don’t even think he’d be able to get security. I don’t think anybody in they right mind wants to be his security.
HipHopDX: No, because security would be in danger, too.
Ice-T: It’s a lesson for people. Anybody that really comes from that knew that it wasn’t going to end well; just challenging the streets. If you challenged the police… John Gotti did it… once you challenge them, like say, “Oh, you can’t take me down,” or you tell the street, “I can’t be touched,” it’s going to happen. You can’t do that.
HipHopDX: That’s where that arrogance is going to get him in deep shit. Clearly it already has.
Ice-T: Let me tell you, it’s not much deeper shit you can get in than dealing with the fucking feds. I’ll tell you like that. That’s about it — other than being actually dead.
Check back for Part II of the HipHopDX interview with Ice-T next week.