Many in the crowd had come out to see Detective 'Fin' Tutuola, the streetwise cop from the long-running TV series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
But it was Ice-T’s real life story — not his television persona — that engaged the audience of more than 800 UMass Boston students, faculty, and staff gathered in the Campus Center Ballroom on March 6.
“A lot of you, I heard you all applaud for SVU. That’s because I’ve been on SVU for 14 years. … You’re like, ‘Ice-T is a cop. … That’s all I know about this dude,’” he said. “I’m here to tell you there’s a little bit more to me.”
The acclaimed rapper/actor spoke about growing up in Los Angeles gangs — “We’d rob a bank on our way home from robbing a bank” —before serving in the Army and scoring a record deal, leaving his life of crime behind.
“Drugs and crime, that [stuff] is for suckers,” he said. “I don’t have to do that no more. I got a job. … All a player needs is his freedom and action, and he can do anything.”
Young Ice-T had to learn the art of survival quickly. Both of his parents died when he was in grade school, and he was sent to live with family in Los Angeles. There he enrolled at the notoriously violent Crenshaw High School and joined the Crips gang. At the age of 17, needing money, he signed up for the Army, which is where he became interested in rapping.
His first break came when the producers of the film Breakin' asked him to rap in the movie. He has since formed his own record label, released a string of groundbreaking West Coast rap records, scored hits like “Cop Killer,” and won a Grammy Award.
Ice-T, whose birth name is Tracy Marrow, got his stage name from an urban fiction writer he admired, Iceberg Slim.
“I knew if I wanted to go down in history, which all players really want, I needed to document the game, not just live it,” Ice-T said. “There are a lot of cats on streets that are more thorough than me but no one will ever know them. But by me documenting the game, my name will live on.”
As an artist, his reach has crossed from music into film and television, and interactive media. He currently stars on his own reality TV show, Ice Loves Coco, with his wife and two dogs, along with his role on SVU.
Ice-T also spoke about racism, saying that he’s not into “white, black, this, that.”
“If I’m racist, it’s because I don’t trust the human race. That’s the race I don’t trust,” Ice-T said. “I don’t really look at color. I don’t look at religion. I judge each person by their actions and their character.”
Ice-T encouraged the crowd to keep an open mind when looking at the world.
“Just ‘cause you don’t understand [something], doesn’t mean it’s stupid,” he said.
He also stressed the importance of being true to yourself.
“What I want to instill in you all is courage,” Ice-T said. “You don’t have to change. If you aren’t lying, you don’t have to worry about what you said. … I am the same but with different views and different perspective.”
The Student Arts and Events Council made this event possible. Their next big event is the Spring Concert on Wednesday, May 8, when rapper Kendrick Lamar will perform. Tickets go on sale March 25, and are $10 each.