If notoriety really does translate into record sales, then Ice-T's "Home Invasion" (Rhyme Syndicate/Priority 53858, in stores Tuesday) ought to go quintuple platinum.
This is the album Ice-T promised would be more provocative than "Cop Killer" or anything on "O.G. Original Gangster," and it started raising a ruckus even before it was released. Its content provoked Warner Bros. into terminating Ice-T's contract, and its cover has generated more complaints than any album art since Guns N' Roses' "Appetite for Destruction." All told, "Home Invasion" comes on like assault in the first degree.
And in a way, that's one of the best things about the album. Because where most pop performers would try to answer complaints about bad thoughts and evil doings with heightened sensitivity and a politically corrected attitude, Ice-T just laughs. As far as he's concerned, either you get it or you don't -- and if you don't, that ain't his problem.
On the whole, Ice-T would rather be respected than liked; that's why he won't apologize for his language or back down before his critics. Likewise, he respects the intelligence of his listeners, and expects them to have sense enough to know when he's being serious, and laugh when he's messing around. (Hint: If the parade of profanities in his album-opening "Warning" doesn't crack you up, you probably aren't smart enough for this record.)
Not that every listener is going to hear the humor in these songs. "99 Problems," for example, is pretty droll as locker-room gags go, but it's hard to imagine too many women laughing along with the chorus, much less the cameo by Brother Marquis of 2 Live Crew. Nor are many parents likely to be amused by the title tune, which finds Ice-T chortling about how he and other rappers are stealing white kids' brains.
As for the police, Ice-T takes care of them in the intro to "It's On." Although the track starts with the rapper seemingly scrambling to survive, it ends with a show of determination. "From now on," he says, "if any cops get in the way. . . ." Five gunshots finish the sentence.
Cheap provocation? Sure it is. But for every such shot across the bow, there's an equal display of honesty and generosity. "That's How I'm Livin'," for example, chronicles the life of crime Ice-T led before he turned to rap, and broadens our sense of his humanity as it deflates the gangsta rap myth. Similarly, "Gotta Lotta Love" is an openly sentimental celebration of the L.A. gang truce that cuts to the heart of why the old turf wars were wrong.
As good as it is, though, "Home Invasion" does fall short in one area: the music. Not that the beats are weak, mind; from the slam-dunk repetition of "Ice M/F T" to the cooled-out piano of "That's How I'm Livin'," to the angry squall of "Racewar," the best tracks add extra momentum to Ice-T's urgent cadences. But that's all they do, and while that helps keep the focus on the rapper's wordplay, something more along the lines of Public Enemy's sonic density would have made this album kick even harder.