By 1996 Ice-T had five gold selling albums under his belt and was quickly establishing himself as a Hollywood presence and soon to be Television star. Even though the godfather of gangsta rap’s legacy in hip-hop was sealed and his acting career was blossoming, he still had the rap bug in him. He would return in ‘96 to release his sixth album, VI: Return Of The Real.
Absent from VI are the production contributions from longtime Ice-T collaborators, DJ Aladdin and Afrika Islam. Instead, the production liner notes are flooded with a bunch of names that I’m unfamiliar with and cameos from strange names as well. Upon its release, VI would receive less than flattering reviews from the critics and it would be the first Ice-T album to not earn the perm-haired South Central based rapper a gold certification.
If we’re willing to have an honest conversation and with all due respect for his pioneering work, wasn’t nobody checking for new material from Ice-T the rapper in 1996. That’s why I don’t feel bad for not knowing about the album’s existence until I bumped into a used cd copy of VI at one of the record stores that I frequent a few years back (might I add that the matte black disc with the embedded shimmering camouflaged pic of Ice-T is super dope). I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but once again, this will be my first time listening to VI since I bought it. So, let’s find out if Ice-T’s return to the game was real-ly worth the wait.
Yeah, that was pretty bad, but like they say: you miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take, so whatever.
Pimp Anthem – VI begins with a sinister organ loop placed over hard drums, accompanied by a devious bass line that Ice-T uses to spit his pimpology, boasting that his game is so potent that he deserves a “pimpin’ patent”: “So damn smooth that every woman wants to touch me, so much sexuality that nuns wanna fuck me…lot of niggas talk it, but they can’t hold a hooker, Ice took her, she was too long a looker.” Ice’s hook was clearly inspired by the hook from Junior Mafia’s “Player Anthem,” and it works. So do his bars, as he sounds comfortable and confident putting a lyrical smack down on this dope San-Man produced beat.
Where The Shit Goes Down – CMT & E-A Ski hook up a traditional mid-nineties smooth yet funky instrumental that finds Ice-T bragging about living the “hustler’s dream”, selling death (in the form of drugs) and committing cold blooded homicide in beautiful South Central L.A. Ice doesn’t cover any new territory with this one, but he still manages to make it a mildly entertaining record.
Bouncin’ Down The Strezeet – Ice invites his first guests of the evening, as he’s joined by Mr. Wesside, Powerlord Jell (pronounced as “Jay-L”) and Hot Dolla on this west coast gangsta cipher session. The instrumental sounds like someone’s sprinkling fairy dust over the eerie synth chords and drab drums, and Ice and his guests’ subpar performances don’t make matters any better. But more troubling is Mr. Wesside’s cringe worthy hook that might be the worst hook in the history of hip-hop. Yes, it’s that bad.
Return Of The Real – Our host uses the title track to call out studio gangstas and the fictitious lives they live in the booth. I’m not sure how I feel about the twangy semi-dark loop used in DJ Ace’s backdrop, and Ice never seems to find a pocket over this beat. And much like the previous track, Ice’s wordy hook sounds terrible.
I Must Stand – This was the lead single from VI. Ice recalls his rough child (which left him without both parents by the age of eleven), his introduction to the street life and all the stress and trouble it brings, before closing the song by sharing his decision to make a change for the better and encourages any streets hustlers listening to do the same. The quiet storm voice and cadence that Ice adapts for this song is kind of corny, but I appreciate the message and his sentiment.
Alotta Niggas – This interlude features Ice-T’s Body Count bredrin, Sean E Sean (which has to be a candidate for worst moniker of the year) asking Ice his thoughts on the critics that question his street cred since branching out into Hollywood and forming a rock band. I can appreciate Ice’s response, although the Diablo piece was kind of a head scratcher.
Rap Game’s Hijacked – SLEJ Da Ruff Edge (who put in a lot of work on Ice-T’s last two albums) hooks up this rugged east coast-flavored banger that Ice uses to address how the white man, I mean, corporate America, took over hip-hop and pimped the shit out of it. Ice shares some useful history on the game and gives some interesting business lessons from a seasoned o.g.’s perspective, and the “white engineer, minimum wage” comment at the end of the song is worthy of a chuckle.
How Does It Feel – Ice puts on his bedroom voice and invites his homie, Big Rich to join him, as the duo take turns trying to convince the female listenership that sex is better when you’re “making love with a G.” Speaking of G, that’s also the alias of the gentleman who drops by to adlib on the hook, while Ice and Rich attempt to sing on it, borrowing the harmony form Bootsy Collins’ classic joint, “I’d Rather Be With You”, which Big Rich and Mad Rome also interpolate into the instrumental. The instrumental is decent, but Ice and Rich’s rhymes sound cheesy. Then again, I’m not the targeted demographic for this song, so who cares.
The Lane – Ice sticks with his gangsta themes, this time giving detailed commentary on the ups and downs and pros and cons of life in the fast lane. He, DJ Ace and SLEJ are credited for the dope backdrop that complements our host’s content very well.
Rap Is Fake – This short interlude finds Ice-T denying to a reporter that he and The Syndicate have any “underworld connections”. I guess this is supposed to set up the next song.
Make The Loot Loop – Over a dark slow-rolling backdrop, Ice-T lets the listener know that he no longer wants to be called a gangsta (even though he spends most of VI posturing like one), but instead, be addressed as a hustler. Then he spends the rest of the song bragging about his material possessions. Except for the mention of his now beautiful ex-queen, Darlene Ortiz (who you might remember for wonderfully gracing the album covers of his first two albums…you know, the ones LL Cool J took home to the bathroom), this joint was pretty forgettable.
Syndicate 4 Ever – This one begins with some Syndicate naysayers naysaying, followed by screeching tires and gun fire, presumably coming from the nay recipients. Ice-T sits this one out and lets his Syndicate bredrin, L.P., Powerlord Jell and Hot Dolla “hoo-ride” all over this poor man’s Dr. Dre knock off instrumental. Keep it moving, nothing to see here, folks.
The 5th – Ice uses this one to paint his Syndicate crew as a mafia-type criminal organization, and if you join the crew and speak of the organization’s existence, your own existence is in jeopardy. This is mid-grade gangsta filler that Ice-T even sounds disinterested in as he delivers his rhymes.
It’s Goin’ Down – This interlude starts with Ice on the receiving end of some mind-tingling head (it sounds like the young lady is nibbling on a Slim Jim instead of suckin’ a dick), while his record, “How Does It Feel”, fittingly, plays in the background. His moment of ecstasy is suddenly interrupted when his homeboy calls to let him know that the drama is back on, which leaves our host so peeved that he hi-lariousy, commands the nibbling Nancy to “stop bitch!” This bleeds right into the next song…
They Want Me Back In – Ice-T plays an o.g. who’s trying to get out of the game but is quickly drawn back in when his homie calls to let him know that some of their crosstown rivals think that Ice is responsible for killing one of their own. Ice does a great job of playing the disgruntled old gangsta and Big Rich (who the liner notes fail to credit) does a solid job of playing the husky-voiced message deliverer and “down to ride” homie. DJ Ace provides a bangin’ backdrop and the ill Method Man vocal loop on the hook is the cherry on top of this gangsta treat.
Inside Of A Gangsta – Ice-T slips his bedroom voice back on as he attempts to appeal to the ladies by showing a more tender side of a gangsta, using cheesy verbiage about gangstas having “barricades around their hearts,” and asks the ladies to “walk through the darkened halls of his mind” as they “stroll through his soul.” Powerlord Jell makes yet another appearance on VI, and his elementary rhymes sound even cornier than Ice’s. Adding insult to injury, the Big Rich/Mad Rome produced instrumental is horrible, and when you factor in the embarrassingly horrid hook (sung by some dude named Teddy), this record ends up being a laughably bad train wreck.
Forced To Do Dirt – Ice continues to rehash more of the same gangsta rhetoric that he’s spewed for most of the night, but at least the smooth laidback instrumental was refreshing and enjoyable.
Haters – Hmmm…this interlude sounds a lot like the skit at the beginning of “Syndicate 4 Ever”. Regardless, it only exists to set up the next song…
Cramp Your Style – Ice-T names off a plethora of weaponry in his personal collection that he threatens to use on his haters if they’re brave enough to step to him. Trails of Flowalistics hooks up a jazzy swing backdrop that includes a dope Sticky Fingaz vocal snippet on the hook. I like the instrumental, but it sounds too happy and playful to be paired with Ice’s content.
Real – Our host takes some time out to explain his interpretation of what “real” means, and his explanation gets kind of lengthy and random.
Dear Homie – The final song of the night features a synthy somber instrumental (credited to long time Syndicate member, Hen-Gee and Little Dre), as Ice-T plays a dead gangsta talking to his homie from heaven, while the same homeboy (played by Godfather from Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. (rip)) raps back to his friend from the land of the living. This was a decent enough way to conclude VI, I guess.
One of the glaring issues I have with VI is the track sequencing. The first four tracks find Ice-T pimpin’, hustlin’ or gangsterin’ before he recognizes the error in his ways and reforms on track five (“I Must Stand”). But instead of building on his reform with positive messages and themes of change, he uses the bulk of the remaining sixteen tracks to pimp, hustle and get his gangsta on. He could have at least got his “street life/gangsta” records off first and then closed the album with “I Must Stand” and “Dear Homie”, which would have given the album some much needed order. But even if Ice-T did change the track sequencing, there are still issues with the inconsistent production, a bunch of subpar guest appearances, corny and redundant song ideas, and then there’s our host himself, who was way past his emcee prime by ’96. There are some solid records on VI, but even the best records on the album aren’t that memorable.