Now y’all may know me as a suave, immaculately attired, gentleman reviewer, peruser of the finer, more cultured things in life, decanting my expertise and good taste to you gratis from my country estate here on the internet, but it may shock you to know that it wasn’t always thus. There was a time when I was coming up when I was quite simply the baddest motherfucka in Llanfinhangel-Uwch-Gwili*, many have laid claim to that title, but I owned it.
No one fucked with me. I drove the biggest cars, ran with the stackedest chicks and toted the most cash. Anyone came up against me, stopped me trying to move my shit – they got capped. Those woods? my turf. That idyllic-looking stream? my turf. That grass? my, umm, turf. I came up hard, you couldn’t think twice where I came from, you had to act. Anybody stepped, I got all agricultural on their ass.
Out my face, fool I’m the illest,
Bulletproof, I die harder than Bruce Willis.
Got my crew in effect, I bought em new Jags,
So much cash, gotta keep it in Hefty bags.
Luckily for me Ice-T wrote me a theme tune to save me the trouble of transcribing all my experiences myself, New Jack Hustler (Nino’s Theme) 12″ was released in 1991, coincidentally which was when I left my old ‘hood.
I genuinely can’t remember when I bought this one, the sticker’s missing but it would have been around ’94 after my friend Ads had introduced me to Ice-T’s genius O.G album**. After applying my appalling sexism filter, to weed out a couple of tracks I loved it unreservedly – brilliant samples, articulate lyrics teamed with a great, varied delivery and no little wit, as well as that most elusive quality, in gangster rap circles, a little compassion.
When asked about the braggadocio and body count*^ and the social responsibility of pushing such tales, Ice-T took the line that what he was pushing was essentially urban horror stories and that most sane people dipped in and out of them with no ill-effects. That’s fine and I can grok that, but there’s a certain relish behind all these lowlife tales too. You draw your own moral lines. I have always treated these tracks just as Mr T advised.
Here I come, so you better break North,
As I stride, my gold chains glide back and forth.
I care nothing bout you, and that’s evident.
All I love’s my dope and dead presidents.
Me to a, umm, T. From the soundtrack to a film I’ve never seen, ‘New Jack Hustler (Nino’s Theme)’, gives the story of the film’s drug-dealing baddie, Nino. The propulsive, driving beat, fashioned from very cleverly chosen Sly & The Family Stone and James Brown samples, really gives this track a bit of poke. I’m also a total sucker for any record that features proper old-skool scratching, there’s just something about that sound that makes my blood pump faster. DJ Aladdin produced this track and really has to be credited with arriving at a sound that is quite close to techno in places – check out the piano sample halfway through, we could be in Ibiza in ’91.
So the musical setting is superb and I’m happy to report it brings out the best in Ice. His delivery is flawless, revved up and simultaneously relaxed, which is no mean feat. I like some Ice Cube too, but I always far preferred Ice-T because he just comes across as far brighter and more articulate.
The 12″ mix is called the ‘Cold Mix’ and there’s also the ‘Sax Mix’, which gives us the beat and a load more of the sax heard at the end of the normal version – fabulous if you want all the breathy post-coital ambience of Kenny G, but want to hide the fact behind something a little more street^*. On the flip side they throw in two of Ice-T’s (and by extension, hip-hop’s) best ever tracks, a ‘Gangster’ remix of ‘Lifestyles Of The Rich & Infamous’, a great wry look at life as a performer and touring artist, the remix isn’t as good as the original of course.
Best of all is the ‘LP edit’^ of ‘The Tower’ Ice-T’s sobering, surprisingly compassionate tale of life in prison. Music doesn’t come a whole lot better as far as I’m concerned. Really. Truly. The matter of fact delivery over a brilliant sampling of John Carpenter’s ‘Theme from Halloween’ is just masterful. If one track can justify a whole genre of lesser tracks, then this is gangster rap’s saving grace.
I saw a brother kill another
Cause he said he was gay
But that’s the way it is
It been that way for years
and when his body hit the ground
I heard a couple of cheers
It kind of hurt me inside
That they were glad he died
The rest is silence. Get the hefty bags out.
*pronounced Llanfinhangel-Uwch-Gwili, for all you non-Welsh speakers out there – hope that helps. It means ‘the church of St Michael on the (river) Gwili’. It’s a hamlet of around 10 houses and farms, with a church and a smithy which got knocked down in the 80’s. Word.
**the vinyl version of which is utter shite – they tried to cram it all on a single disc, so its cut very quietly and then to make it fit they lopped off three of my favourite tracks – I bought and sold it again within a week. The next sentence will make me die a little inside. Buy the CD!
*^no capital letters yet, Body Count, hadn’t surfaced as a separate entity yet just as a track on O.G.
^*Been the ruin of many a poor boy, that and lord knows I’m one.
^WTF? so basically, the album version? Hmm. Except they’ve censored the swearing especially for the 12″? lost bonus points there.