With his Kangol hat, black sunglasses, long dreadlocks, and inimitable swagger, Ice T was immortalized as maverick Detective Scotty Appleton in the 1991 cult classic film, New Jack City.
The story revolves around the megalomaniacal Cash Money Brothers—Nicholas “Nino” Brown (Wesley Snipes) and Gerald “G-Money” Wells (Allen Payne)—and their fleeting reign as crack dealing New York City crime lords. Detective Appleton and partner Nick Peretti (Judd Nelson) vow to take down their ring of drugs and violence with the help of crack addict Benny “Pookie” Robinson (Chris Rock), who tries to get straight to become a police informant.
Featuring a cameo from Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav and an explosive soundtrack with songs by Queen Latifah, Doug E. Fresh and The Get Fresh Crew, Color Me Badd and Ice T, the film encapsulates an era when classic hip-hop, R&B and gangsta rap intersected.
Considering Ice T was a pioneering gangsta rapper, a founding member of the rock-n-rap group Body Count, and the man responsible for tracks like “Original Gangster” and “Cop Killer,” his role as a New York City detective seemed counterintuitive to his natural way of being. In fact, in his autobiography, Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption—From South Central to Hollywood, he writes, “I started to survey all the people around me, people whose opinions I trusted the most. ‘Yo, I got offered this movie role,’ I said over and over. ‘But here’s the thing: they want me to be The Man.’ I thought my old crime partners might start laughing. Or snap my head off.”
Director Mario Van Peebles wasn’t deterred. He saw something exceptional in the Los Angeles transplant and plucked him out of a nightclub bathroom to star in his directorial debut.
“I was doing my Ice T thing, talking shit in the bathroom,” Ice explains. “I said something like, ‘If you could take a microscope and find one molecule in my body that gave a fuck, then they’d have a chance.’ Someone said, ‘Whoever said that needs to be in my movie,’ and Mario stepped out of the stall and here’s Ice T talking shit to people.”
Van Peebles approached him in the club later that night and told Ice he wanted him to be in his movie, but Ice was skeptical. He thought the aspiring filmmaker was trying to show off in front of the girls Ice was hanging around.