What really happened between Ice-T and Time Warner? Did his label, Warner Bros., truly dump him when it announced on Jan. 26 that it would not be releasing his new album, Home Invasion? Or did the rapper do Warner Bros. a favor by leaving? The answer may be both-even though neither side is talking about Warner's bombshell announcement.
The confirmed story so far: Insiders say Home Invasion, slated for release in late February, has been the source of company turmoil for months. Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin had strongly defended Ice-T last summer when police organizations threatened to boycott the parent company unless the song ''Cop Killer'' was withdrawn from the rapper's rock album, Body Count. Apparently, though, this brush with the law made Time Warner wary. As a result, says a source, Warner Bros. scrutinized ''every word'' of Home Invasion, which Ice-T finished in September, delaying the album's release until after the presidential election.
During all this, Ice-T stayed ''flexible,'' says a high-ranking Warner Bros. employee. ''He was nothing less than a mensch about our demands.'' A hard-core rap insider agrees, saying Ice-T ''was always defending, sticking up for Warner Bros.'' One song on Home Invasion even praised Time Warner, saying it was ''telling the truth to the youth.''
Initial reports said the final break came over the cover art for Home Invasion depicting a white teenager listening to rap on headphones and fantasizing lurid cartoons of black culture invading a white household, including sex between a black man and a white woman. But a source close to the rapper reports Ice-T had readily agreed to substitute a plain, solid-color design. And he agreed to all of Warner Bros.' requested changes, ending up with an album that sounded less provocative than anything he had recorded before.
So why the break? One theory says the rapper himself orchestrated the split, to go to an independent record company that, without the overhead of a major, could give him a bigger share of the record's gross. But no insider believes that possibility, since even in private Ice-T maintained his loyalty to the label, saying it had stood by him even after its president had gotten death threats.
The truth, sources say, may well be that the split was mutual, negotiated to make life bearable for both sides. That's what a sympathetic Warner Bros. executive maintains. ''There's so much scrutiny of Ice-T's record that life gets difficult at every level,'' he says. ''At a certain point we felt queasy about making these demands on him. Now he comes off with his street credibility, and the corporation, which can afford it, has a little less cash flow.''
Ice-T (now ''elated,'' says an insider) will release an uncensored Invasion on an indie label either Scarface (Paris' company), Priority (home of Ice Cube and N.W.A), or a company he may start himself. He also is said to have received a six-figure offer from Def Jam, a rap label affiliated with Columbia.
Time Warner, meanwhile, will breathe easier. The company's lobbyists say they found Ice-T an embarrassment when they campaigned against last year's cable-regulation bill. ''We should have split with Ice-T last summer,'' says a Warner Bros. executive, ''and saved everyone this aggravation.''