Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis already know how I feel about Ice-T’s debut album Rhyme Pays, but for those who don’t:I thought it pretty much sucked. Despite the amateur rhymes and lackluster beats, Rhyme Pays was a commercial success (it earned a gold plaque), which helped Sire to believe in Tracy, and gave him a chance to redeem himself on his sophomore effort Power.
Power would use the same formula as its predecessor: Afrika Islam on the boards and Tracy on the mic spinning cautionary tales about the pros and cons of street life. But this was 88′ and Tracy was a year older (which would have made him 62 at the time), so maybe he grew wiser and tighter on the mic. Would Tracy have better success this time around? Let’s find out.
Intro – Pretty stupid intro: dude A brags about his new Ice-T tape, so dude B who he’s bragging to get jealous of dude A’s tape. But instead of just dropping $10 to buy his own copy, he does the logical thing: shoots dude A and takes his copy (both voices are Ice-T, so it sounds like he’s suffering from split personality disorder and just shot himself) – WTF? Well, at least it’s a relatively short intro.
Power – Over a funky horn sample Ice-T comes out determined to make his mark, and he sort of does a good job. I’ve always thought Ice-T had decent lyrics but his flow always sounded a bit off, and this song is no exception. He uses this title song to illustrate the different forms of power (the verse about the power that lies between woman’s legs was pretty deep). Pretty funny to hear him refer to his own songs as just okay, in the last verse. In a genre full of macho posturing, it’s unusual to hear an emcee come off that humble (for one line, at least). This was a nice start to the show.
Drama – Tracy plays the role of a thug involved in the underworld, and illustrates the consequences of the lifestyle. The beat sounds similar to EPMD’s “Get Off The Bandwagon” with a little cheesy Pac-Man sound effect that nearly ruins the song. I love the detail of the final verse:Ice-T’s character reflects on the choices he’s made and the ones he should have made to avoid the traps. Ice-T gives a shuttle message without coming off preachy. This was nice, Tracy.
Heartbreak – Why this song is called “Heartbeat”, I’m still trying to figure out. Tracy spits two solid verses over a, simple but nice, Afrika Islam beat. Even his delivery sounds fluid on this one. My only gripe is his third verse, as he gets lazy and repeats verse one. Other than that, this was pretty dope (yeah, I said it!)
The Syndicate – Tracy invites Syndicate posse members, Donald D & Hen-Gee, to the party. This was a good idea for Tracy, since compared to his guests he sounds like Rakim. Sarcasm aside, Ice-T calls LL out on a pretty clever rhyme in the middle of this song, which to my knowledge would be the earliest recorded jab (at least blatant jab) in their verbal feud. Afrika Islam’s beat has a funkadelic vibe to it, which was decent enough. Overall this was okay, thinks in large part to Ice-T’s disses.
Radio Suckers – Since all he doing is spitting reality, Tracy goes after radio programs that refuse to play his joints on the air. Ice-T (who would be on the frontlines of the freedom of speech controversy that followed a few years later) even makes a sensible suggestion: if you can bleep Dougie Fresh’s “La De Da Di” and play it on air why can’t he get a bleep on his songs? Ice-T is not the greatest rapper by any means, but you have to give him his props when it comes to paying attention to detail and delivering soild content. Over a better beat this might have been a certified classic.
I’m Your Pusher – Afrika Islam uses Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman” from the Superfly soundtrack to create the funky back drop for Tracy, who creates a metaphorical classic. Ice waxes poetical as he compares his rhymes to drugs, and does a great job bringing it all together, which shouldn’t be surprising since he “checks his lyrics close, like with a microscope”. By the way, I love the shuttle shot he takes at LL near the end. This is a bona fide classic.
Personal – Tracy’s in straight battle mode for this one. Islam brings a hot guitar sample over a hard-hitting drum beat for Ice – who sounds pissed – to spit flames on (I’m pretty sure the final verse was meant for LL). This one lives up to its title, making it one of the best songs on Power.
Girls L.G.B.N.A.F. – Tracy uses a weak Islam beat to get his “misogyny on” (that shouldn’t come as a surprise after seeing the album cover, giving a new meaning to front and back…but I’m not complaining, though). It sounds like it may have been recorded during the Rhyme Pays days. For those who are curious, the acronym is an invite to all big butt girls to get butt naked and…I’ll let you fill in the rest. Ice-T sounds like a x-rated Fresh Prince on this one. This demo should have been left on the cutting room floor, it sucked.
High Rollers – Over a slick “pimped out” Islam beat, Tracy tackles the lifestyle of those who obtain fame and fortune the illegal way. Ice-T always sounds at home over laid back tracks, where he can lay in the cut and ride the beat, bringing a conversational tone which holds the listener’s attention. Ice-T, who always does a great job with detail, does a great job of painting a vivid picture of the ups and downs of the criminal life, without sounding judgemental (he puts it best “I’m not here to tell you right or wrong, I don’t know which side of the law you belong”). He comes across as a wise sage. This was brilliant!
Grand Larceny – Tracy pulls out the metaphor idea, again. This time he compares grand larceny to his ability to steal a show. Kudos for the concept, but it’s poorly executed, thanks to Tracy’s sloppy delivery and a weak beat. Props for trying, Tracy.
Soul On Ice – Tracy tries his hand at spoken word, and spins another cautionary tale about living the fast life. This would have been a solid way to end Power…
Outro – But instead the two characters from the intro re-emerge on the outro, which is silly and pretty useless. But like the intro its short, so I can live with it.
1988 saw many important hip-hop releases, but one of the most underrated albums of 1988 has to be Ice-T’s Power (and not just for the album cover: although, Darlene’s bikini is worth the price of admission). With the exception of “L.G.B.N.A.F.”, Ice-T – as Mos Def would say – “scrutinizes his literature from the large to the miniature” – crafting witty cautionary tales while paying microscopic detail to each line. Yes, Tracy does struggle with breath control and a sloppy delivery at times (specifically over uptempo beats), but these shortcomings are forgivable, thanks to solid song ideas, lyrics, and production from Afrika Islam. Power may not be as groundbreaking as Straight Outta Compton, but pound for pound is a much better album then the latter (yeah, I said it!). Power is a solid effort from, in my opinion, one of hip-hop greatest minds. What a difference a year makes.