Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ice-T -- "6 in the Mornin'" (1986)

Six in the morning, police at my door
Fresh Adidas squeak across the bathroom floor
Out the back window I make a escape
Don't even get a chance to grab my old school tape
Mad with no music, but happy 'cause I'm free
And the streets to a player is the place to be
Gotta knot in my pocket weighin' at least a grand
Gold on my neck, my pistols close at hand
I'm a self-made monster of the city streets
Remotely controlled by hard hip-hop beats
But just livin' in the city is a serious task
Didn't know what the cops wanted, didn't have the time to ask

It's time to leave New York City -- the birthplace of hip-hop -- and head to Los Angeles, where "gangsta" rap was invented.

Ice-T was not the best of the first generation of gangsta rappers, but his "6 in the Mornin'" was the first big gangsta rap hit.  And the album it appeared on -- Rhyme Pays -- was the first hip-hop album to carry a "Parental Advisory" warning label.

Ice-T was born Tracy Morrow.  His family lived in an affluent New Jersey suburb, but both his parents died of heart attacks when he was still a child.  So he moved to Los Angeles to live with an aunt.

Morrow graduated from Crenshaw High School, a poor, predominantly African-American high school.  Last year, according to the school district website, Crenshaw was about 2/3 black and 1/3 Hispanic.  It was 0.5% Asian and 0.2% white -- that means of its more than 1800 students, only about 10 were Asian and 4 were white.  

After high school, Morrow served in the U. S. Army for 4 years.  After his discharge, he was involved in a number of music-related projects.  For example, he wrote the "raps" for Mr. T's motivational video, Be Somebody . . . or Be Somebody's Fool!  Here's an excerpt from this video.

Ice-T eventually got a record deal and released Rhyme Pays in 1987.  "6 in the Mornin'" was released as a B side, but it is the only song that most people remember from this album.

The song is over 7 minutes long and consists of 32 4-line verses, the first 3 of which are quoted above.  Like many early rap songs, the song's basic building block is the rhyming couplet -- which means each pair of consecutive lines rhymes (AABBCCDD, etc.).

Rhyming couplets are one of the oldest and simplest rhyme schemes in poetry.  The Canterbury Tales are written in rhyming couplets.

The rhymes in rhyming couplets are often predictable, and poetry written in this form often sounds sing-songy.  "6 in the Mornin'" sounds like something my kids could have written when they were 12 years old or so.  

Rappers talk about "flow," which is the hip-hop equivalent of what jazz musicians mean when they talk about "swing."  Rap that flows (like jazz that swings) has a rhythmic momentum that is natural and irresistible.  Modern-day hip-hop tends to be much more complex and unpredictable than old-school rap, but it still can have flow.  

"6 in the Mornin'" does not have flow.  One reason for that is that every so often Ice-T tries to force way too many syllables into a line in order to complete a rhyme.  Most of the lines quoted above, for example, have 10 or 11 syllables.  A couple of them have 13 syllables, which pushes things pretty hard.  But the last line has 15 syllables, which is too many.

This song covers a lot of ground.  It begins with the singer hopping out the back window and escaping from the police who are knocking on his door.  He then hangs out on the corner, shooting dice and chatting up the fly girls.  

An Uzi
While cruising the streets later that day with a friend, the narrator is pulled over by the cops, who find a pistol, an Uzi, and a hand grenade in the car.  That lands him in the county jail, where he stabs another inmate in the eye and ends up spending 7 years in prison.

When he's released, his homeboys front some cash to him and he buys a Mercedes and starts pimping whores.  Here's perhaps the worst verse in the whole song:
I bought a Benz with the money, the rest went to clothes
Went to the strip, started pimpin' the hoes
My hair had grew long on my seven-year stay
And when I got it done, on my shoulders it lay
The worst part about this verse is the clumsy and artificial-sounding inversion of the natural sentence order in the last line.  "And when I got it done, on my shoulders it lay" -- are you kiddin' me?  Who talks like that?  That is right out of some lame 19th-century poem that your old-maid English teacher made you read in 1962.  (Alfred Lord Tennyson had better flow.)

Later, the narrator is involved in a shootout with rival gang members -- "Six punks hit, two punks died/All casualties applied to their side."  He then escapes from a SWAT team raid on his house, eludes the police in a high-speed chase, has a zesty session with his girlfriend ("She ran her tongue over each and every part of me/Then she rocked my amadeus as I watched TV"), and finally hops on a flight to New York City with a bail-jumping pal of his.

I'm exhausted and all I did was listen to "6 in the Mornin'."

Ice-T later became the poster boy for everything that parents and other authority figures hated about rap music when he released the song "Cop Killer," which is told from the point of view of a criminal plotting revenge against some racist cops.  We'll save that story for a future "Hip Hop 101" lecture.

Ice-T's first major motion-picture role was as one of the good guys in New Jack City, a film about a crack kingpin that co-starred Wesley Snipes, Mario Van Peebles, and a very young Chris Rock.  He's been a regular on Law & Order since 2000.

Here's the cover of Gangsta Rap, the only album he's released in the last decade.  That's his wife, Nicole "Coco" Austin, with him on the cover:

Ice-T was arrested in New York City in 2010 for not wearing a seatbelt while driving his bulldog to the veterinarian for knee surgery.  I don't know about you, but I'm a little disappointed this original gangsta rapper didn't pull out an Uzi and shoot it out with the cops, or at least lead them on a high-speed chase through the streets of New York.  

Here's "6 in the Mornin'":

Here's a link you can use to order an abridged version of the song from iTunes:

6 'N the Mornin' - Rhyme Pays

Here's a link you can use to order it from Amazon:

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