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‘I Need a Million Dollars Up Front’: Here’s How Ice-T Says He Used His Clout to Negotiate His Virgin Records Deal In the ’90s

Rapper Ice-T ensured that his boisterous beats and on-mic cockiness in the studio translated to negotiating big checks in the boardroom.

Now more known for his TV acting role as a detective on “Law & Order:SVU,” Ice-T’s music career paved the way for other politically charged rappers.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 17: Ice-T attends the ceremony to honor him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 17, 2023 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ice-T emerged as a prominent artist at Sire Records, a record label under global entertainment giant Time Warner. His music, often classified as gangsta rap, challenged societal norms and shed light on the harsh realities of inner-city life. While unapologetically talking about topics such as police brutality, racism, and social inequality, his rhymes didn’t come without political backlash.

Controversial Rhymes

As Time Warner’s top rapper, Ice-T’s influence extended beyond music. He leveraged his platform to address societal issues and challenge the status quo, leading to the release of his controversial track “Cop Killer” which sparked widespread debate about freedom of expression and censorship after its release just months before the 1992 L.A. riots in protest of the acquittal of the cops who beat Rodney King.

The company decided to offload a $115 million stake in rap artists in 1995. Groups like NWA and rap heavyweights Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre were all released from the label, causing critics to allege that the decision was due to anti-rap campaigns from politicians and pressure from shareholders, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“All the edgy groups left Warner Brothers left at that time. They explained to me, like, ‘It’s bigger than you,'” he told entrepreneur Daymond John of “Shark Tank” in a podcast interview for “That Moment.”

The Art of the Deal

The Los Angeles-bred rapper and actor revealed how after leaving Time Warner in 1992 he found himself in a tough spot to get another record label to sign him.

“It was nerve-wracking because I was red hot. I wasn’t on a downstroke but people were afraid to touch me,” Ice-T said.

Eventually, British label Virgin Records signed on with the rap phenom In 1993. Ice-T said using the success of his previous gold and platinum albums as leverage got him the most lucrative deal since launching his career.

“I said, ‘I need a million dollars upfront.’ I said give me the equivalent of the album going platinum upfront and if you don’t think the record is going to go platinum, I asked ‘Why are we here?'” Ice-T explained of his negotiation tactic.

“‘Don’t offer me $300,000, I have a watch that costs that much,'” Ice-T said he told the music execs.

Back in the early 1990s, getting a $1 million advance was a rarity for a hip-hop star. His new deal was quite a contrast to his previous one, Ice-T explained.

“My Warner deal was always in slow increments because I signed a long-term contract,” Ice-T added.

Under Time Warner, Ice-T released several critically acclaimed albums that pushed the boundaries of rap music. His 1989 album, “The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech…Just Watch What You Say!” was yet another bold and politically charged project. One of the rapper-turned-actor’s most notable tracks released under the label was “Colors,” which became the theme song for the film of the same name.

Ice-T’s talent and entrepreneurial spirit have manifested into a net worth of roughly $60 million, according to various sources. He has amassed his wealth through a multitude of ventures, including music sales, syndication royalties, acting roles, and other business investments.

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