Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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O.G. ORIGINAL GANGSTER (1991)

****

With Ice-T.
Directed by Ice-T.
(Warner-Reprise Video, color and black-and-white, 70 mins., $19.98.)

By Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell

Though Ice-T is best-known for his portrayal of a narcotics cop in New Jack City, rap fans have watched him evolve from a purveyor of singsong crime rhymes into a moral force. Never preaching because he knows it won't play with the hardcore audience--and also because he has no taste for moralization himself--he's found a tone rich and bitter enough to do justice to his South Central L.A. neighborhood, which one of his songs tags "The Killing Fields."

Ice-T's earlier Iceberg Video combined solid concert footage with the artist's typically pointed commentary. But like the audio album it follows cut-for-cut, O.G. takes his vision to another level. Avoiding sex but not obscenity, exercising his wicked sense of humor, depicting crime grimly without bowdlerizing its glamour, and driving his insistent equation of words and weapons beyond metaphor, O.G. is as powerful a rendering of the rapper's gang-permeated world as Boys N the Hood.

Ice-T's delivery is as quick and clear as any in hip-hop, and he's got sharp visual instincts as well. The supperreal sense of place provided by the quick-cut background of alleys, boulevards, train tracks, cyclone fences, stucco roofs, dusty lawns and stoops, dour homeboys, and especially parked cars is rendered even more hectic and dreamlike by consistently skewed camera angles. This isn't cinematographic genius--just the canny exploitation of the simple techniques and materials at his disposal. Like the best rap, O.G. proves how potent such techniques and materials can be.

Video Review, Jan. 1992