Saturday, February 11, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 969: Ice-T

I’m in the middle of a glorious four day weekend, where I’m mixing in liberal amounts of hanging with friends, chilling at home, and enjoying some of my favourite hobbies (including listening to a lot of music).

I’ve also been doing a lot of music purchasing, and yesterday I may have overdone it. First, I bought three albums at local record stores (new releases by P.O.S. and Mother Mother, plus an album from 1999 called Western Wall by Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris).

Then, still not sated and emboldened by some Christmas money sent from my mom, I ordered another 11 albums online. These are now winging their way to me through the magic of the internet. They are:
  • Courtney Marie Andrews “Honest Life”
  • Birds of Chicago’s self-titled debut and also their latest, “Real Midnight”
  • The Handsome Family’s “Singing Bones” and “Unseen”
  • Conor Oberst’s “Ruminations”
  • The Stray Birds self-titled debut and their latest, “Magic Fire”
  • Three Warren Zevon albums: “The Envoy”, “Mr. Bad Example” and “Mutineer”
If you don’t know these albums, do yourself a favour and check them out. Alternatively, you can wait however many years it will be until I’ve randomly rolled and reviewed each one.

Disc 969 is…Rhyme Pays
Artist: Ice-T

Year of Release: 1987

What’s up with the Cover? Ice-T and his buddy appear to be taking that nice girl to the beach.

This convertible looks a lot like the one from the cover of the Thompson Twins album I reviewed back at Disc 963. I like to think it was an eighties car share and each time the other group picked it up they were horrified to discover what had been left in the tape deck.

How I Came To Know It: I’ve known Ice-T for a while, originally through my friend Chris. “Rhyme Pays” was hard to find, and very expensive to buy online. For that reason I was pretty happy when it showed up used at my local record store at a more reasonable price a few months ago.

How It Stacks Up:  I have four Ice-T albums and I like them all, but I must reluctantly put “Rhyme Pays” as my least favourite so…fourth.

Ratings: 3 stars

Some albums are just better because of their place in music history, and “Rhyme Pays” is one of those.

While this is the weakest of the four Ice-T albums I have, it is the beginning of a sound that was a major inspiration for whole new directions in rap music. Songs like “6 ‘N the Morning” tell stories of actual people committing actual crimes, making it one of the earliest occurrences of Gangsta Rap. There is a lot of bad music in that genre, but you can’t blame Ice-T for that; his work here has stood the test of time.

Yes, the beats are basic on this record (it was 1987, after all) but that stark approach is the perfect fit for Ice’s on-the-beat, machine gun staccato rap style. Ice-T is a natural storyteller and he injects large doses of fury into his delivery style, restraining himself just enough to show while his style is aggressive, it is equally thoughtful.

The samples are inspired, “Make It Funky” samples from the James Brown song of the same name, but my favourite is the use of the classic doom-filled guitar riff from Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” on the title track. Later Ice-T would fully commit to blending rap and metal on his side project Body Count (reviewed back at Disc 665). Here the concept is still in its infancy, but Ice instinctively knows how to use it to increase the danger and ominous undertones to his rap.

Ice-T is at his best on this record when he is singing about the gangster life style like on the now classic “6 ‘N the Morning”, or just talking about the most traditional early rap topic; rapping better than his challengers. When he tries to be a bit ‘romantic’ (and I use this term loosely) on “I Love Ladies” and “Sex” I found myself wishing for some LL Cool J instead.

The CD version of the album has two problems. First, the bonus tracks take the record from 9 to 13 tracks, and add about 20 minutes of music. For the most part these bonus tracks are just remixes of songs you’ve already heard. While they might be welcome on a party mix, I didn’t think they added much and make the album feel too long.

The second problem is that late eighties CD production, where no matter how loud you turn the volume you can’t seem to get any depth of sound. It is like the songs are being playing in another room; out walking around with headphones I would miss lyrics if the wind blew a little too hard.

If you want a better appreciation of classic Ice-T rap albums like “Power” or “O.G. Original Gangster” then “Rhyme Pays” is an album that will open your eyes to how Ice-T found his sound. Even if you aren’t a music historian, this is a record with enough strong and memorable tracks that it is worth checking out purely for its own merits.

Best tracks: Rhyme Pays, 6 ‘N the Morning, Squeeze the Trigger

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