Let me take you back to the day: we were all listening to rock and metal, as frustrated small town teenagers tend to do. Except this one guy, Shannon, who was bobbing his beenie hat to something else entirely. He passed us a few copies of the tape (yes, tape!), it was Ice-T’s Home Invasion.
It went on to become one of my favourite albums of all time, a brooding gangster rap masterpiece in which you could never tell whether the tracks were autobiographical or totally made up. And above it all, that scathing rebuke in Ice M.F. T “and every fucking thing I write is gonna be analysed by somebody white.” At the time, Ice-T was trying his own rock cross-over project with Body Count, which may be why he found his way onto our stereos.
The album came at a time when the media was saturated with gang culture, New Jack Cityand our part of the world was suddenly waking up to drive-by shootings, police brutality (via Rodney King) and the seedy underbelly of South Central LA. For me Home Invasion brought all of this to life with the added bonus of excellent beats and samples. The looming basslines that run through the tracks give a real sense of danger and on raps like Addicted To Danger, Ice talks in a low voice like it’s just you and him in the room.
Without a doubt, the first half of the album is the strongest. Just after the midway point, the quality of the music falls apart a little. It’s listenable, but not as vital as the earlier tracks. In fact a guest appearance by Brandi Younger on Funky Gripsta is frankly laughable as the fledgling rapper yells her way through the track. Also good for a laugh is Daddy Nitro’s collaboration on Depths Of Hell – his accent is just hilarious, even worse when he uses the phrase “serious entertainers” to describe himself and Ice-T.
Still, those are the negatives and even those are great tracks. The true highlights are Ice and Brother Marquis rapping on 99 Problems, the funnest and filthiest rap you’ll ever hear. The title track Home Invasion sees Ice going to town on parents who blame rap for corrupting their kids. Ice finds his groove on Gangster Style, a trumpeting triumph and the previously mentioned Addicted To Danger is a gripping cops and robbers story with Ice as the protagonist who ends up with a bullet in his chest.
Critics apparently derided this album for being ‘less policital’ than Ice-T’s previous work. That’s OK if you’re familiar with albums like Power and OG: Original Gangster, but our crowd weren’t. For us, Home Invasion was fresh and exciting, dark and cinematic. Putting this record on was like entering a dangerous new world, with Ice as the tour guide. I remember being fascinated by this guy – a talented narrator with a dark history telling us about this alien world he inhabited where corporations and government agents were trying to crush his freedom of speech. And who cared if it was half-true, half typical rapper swagger?
I think the first time I heard this album, it was 1993 or 1994. I had it on tape for years afterwards and eventually went out and bought the CD. It never gets old. Even though arguably Ice-T has lost a fair bit of credibility over the years, this album still gets regular plays, even more so than the debut Body Count album.
Classic Albums: Every now and then I’ll review an album that was important to me in the past. If you want to share an album that’s been important to you, put “Classic album review” in the title and also in the tags for your post!