Over the last two decades, hardcore gangster rapper Ice-T parlayed his music career into a successful acting career. But as the latter grew, his iconic status as a threat to society quickly diminished. Now that he’s mostly known as a detective on the procedural Law & Order: SVU, and as a minor reality-TV star, it makes sense that he’d look to reestablish himself as a gangster, albeit a cultured one. He achieves that with his debut novel, Kings Of Vice, wherein he and coauthor Mal Radcliff tell the familiar story of an aged gangster fresh out of prison and looking for revenge.
Kings opens with its hero, Marcus “Crush” Casey, waxing philosophical about how different, and yet how similar, the outside world seems to him after 20 years in prison. It’s a familiar, played-out scene, but he has a reason for blabbing in sound bytes. Ice-T quickly elevates his story above the typical revenge tale by empowering his protagonist with knowledge, and a solid plan for inner peace. Casey has a vision of a Corporate Gangsta utopia where low-level players all receive a normalized salary, and thus stop capping each other for promotions. Conveniently, the only thing standing in the way of his plan is Rono—the man who betrayed him and sent him to prison in the first place.
As entertaining as it is to follow Casey—a man equally influenced by Plato and “Henry muthafuckin’ Ford”—the narrative wears thin as it becomes increasingly clear that the plot is leading toward the confrontation with Rono, not the creation of the Corporate Gangsta utopia. Kings ends shortly after Casey takes his inevitable revenge on Rono, and the ending involves a generic love interest rather than the master plan. What initially sets Kings apart from its genre trappings is quickly tossed aside in the name of ultraviolent chase scenes that ultimately lead toward nothing.
But even though it works against itself in such fundamental ways, it’s hard to dislike Kings too much. Ice-T’s memoir established him as a compelling storyteller, and in Kings, the prose works particularly well in part because the third-person narrator’s voice can be so easily equated with Ice-T’s familiar lisp. It also helps that the book is tightly plotted and is regularly littered with over-the-top lines like “He sauntered to the bar, edging around two busty, drunk women whooping and rubbing their breasts together.” Kings is Ice-T’s celebrity genre novel, after all, not a work of high fiction. (It’s no coincidence that it was released side-by-side with Angel, a supernatural romance novel co-written by his wife, Nicole “Coco” Marrow.) This is breezy reading at its most tolerable.