“I’m Considering the Outcome of What I Do Before I Do it”: An Interview with ICECOLDBISHOP

Steven Louis talks with the Los Angeles rapper about escaping a “bubble” mentality in the city, recording his debut album while experiencing homelessness, a monkish CD slinger and more.
By    March 29, 2023

All photos via ICE COLD ENTERTAINMENT / Epic Records

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Steven Louis bought the clean version.

It’s admittedly not as easy on the ears as “one of Los Angeles’ best rappers out,” but in another run of the simulation, ICECOLDBISHOP is blogging for this very site, filing a 20th-anniversary essay on Ludacris’ Chicken n’ Beer and ranking all of the Sqad Up mixtapes. His lightning-strike charisma lends itself to unspooled, hilarious storytelling that would probably be better for hosting Project Blowed or DJing on KDAY. But his preternatural memory of release dates, timelines and collaboration histories will make even the most austere nerds double-check the AllMusic database. The 29-year-old artist’s love for all things 21st-century hip-hop culture seeps through our 90-minute conversation, so much so that we take multiple breaks to rap old verses and debate the G-Unit hierarchy of emcees. Bishop evidently loves this shit with an almost childlike reverence, and it gets harder to believe this is the same guy who’s been holding his debut album for almost half a decade.

Born in South Central, Bishop explains that he was in his mother’s womb while she was in the streets during the 1992 uprisings. His father died two years later, cruelly hastening the process of maturation for an inward-looking only child. He worshiped hyper-localities like Ice-T and Ice Cube to the point that it inspired his artist name, but was equally drawn to the alien neo-soul of Jill Scott, D’Angelo and Erykah Badu. The early results gave a raw, West Coast documentarian who was wholly unafraid of vocal modulations and pitch swings. He battle rapped in McDonalds parking lots and apartment complexes, staying with relatives and laying his head on a rotation of different cold wood floors. He was never a gangbanger but slipped in and out of trouble nevertheless, to the point where his mother relocated him from L.A. to Victorville in San Bernardino County as a high-school time-split.

The world learned Bishop’s name in 2017 through “Porch,” a cornea-flipping ode to the hood, its beat reeking like crack smoke in the fetid sunshine. A year later came his true breakout, “IRATE,” a squawking bulldozer of a banger that earned a COLORS session and caught the attention of producers Alchemist and Kenny Beats. Epic Records gave him his own imprint, ICE COLD ENTERTAINMENT. But aside from a few song-stealing verses with The Cool Kids, Boldy James, AG Club and Mick Jenkins, respectively, the output has been remarkably hushed.

Bishop’s been writing and scheming his debut project since before the pandemic hit. He was functionally unhoused for much of its creative inception, but swears he didn’t feel compelled to smooth over the uglier parts with label resources or mainstream features, nor retcon the mood given his more comfortable current life. On GENERATIONAL CURSE, he raps as if there’s a lump in his throat and that lump is about to implode. The music is claustrophobic and paranoid, yet exceedingly fun to bump and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. “Candle Light” tightropes from swinging at fed-friendly snitches over the clicking of a tapped phone, to sing-song taunts in the key of “Cutie Pie.”

On “Out the Window,” he fashions Take A Daytrip’s beat into a full-on revenge tour ride-along for a slain cousin; in the single “D.A.R.E.,” he ranges from George Clinton-esque bellows from the unknown realm to a burnt-styrofoam, amphetamine-juiced flow like young RBX on speed. The Kenny Beats-laced “Dickies Suit” hooks with a Zion Williamson reference that truly matches the room-shaking production, and invokes both Suga Free and Polow da Don in the same breathless second verse. Funky yet thrilling, loaded with whispers and modulated voices, GENERATIONAL CURSE is a truly unhinged release in the most flattering sense.

“I don’t feel like my energy has been tainted. I come with open arms in all capacities,” ICECOLDBISOP explains. “I like artists that mold themselves, and know themselves as actual artists. People who are willing to do everything for their music, but at the same time never feel like they’re doing too much.”

(This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.)

These days, stuff drops so quickly and frequently, content just churned out to match the algorithms. But you broke out several years ago and still don’t have much music publicly available. With the debut album coming, how have you stayed patient with your output?

ICECOLDBISHOP: Bro, I’ve been working on my debut for such a long time. Moving at a very steady and organic pace, which I appreciate. I pretty much finished this album in 2018, going on 2019. But from there, I’ve sat with it, lived with it. I’ve added some horns and transitions and made it a complete body of work. Vocally, this has all been in place since 2019. Back then, the inspiration was completely different. I was fresh off being homeless, like, I was actually still homeless when I first started working on this project. I was back in my neighborhood again, seeing my environment and being closer to home. You hear more stories and you lose more people.

So you’ve been sitting on this album for four, five years?

ICECOLDBISHOP: Yeah, it’s crazy. A lot of my music is self-reflection, and if it’s not self-reflective then it’s pure reflection. I’m looking at things from different lenses. You can get confused as a listener, because I go from talking about me in one sense, to somebody else in another sense, and then approaching both as a dual situation. This was the inspiration and backdrop for this album: I didn’t have a lot of money, I was bouncing around living situations and then staying with a relative. I’m comfortable in my area because I’m from over there, but I’m not gang affiliated. I’m still living, going for my morning jog, getting food. It’s good to reflect from a distance sometimes, but my situation almost felt Godsent, like I had to be in the thick of it here to make the best album I could.

As your living situation and career outlook improve in real time, have you been tempted to smooth out some of the music’s edges or re-do any stuff?

ICECOLDBISHOP: Approaching the art, I don’t think I’ve given it that much thought. Like, when I start overthinking the creation of art, it takes away from the rawness. If I think, should I really be saying this?, I end up not saying nothing. Even with a song like “The Govt Gave Us Guns,” I’m not speaking for the world or anyone but myself and my situation. It has nothing to do with the N.R.A. or any politician, I don’t want to get it confused. This is me speaking to my peer group. This shit is about the weapons in my community, how and why they got there. I’m from this environment but I’m an outsider still, you know what I mean? The hood endorses me, per say, but I’m not from a hood family. I just had to survive in the areas I was placed in. When I was younger, there was a gang war in my neighborhood, and I was f*cking up. Fighting, bullshit, disrespecting my mom. So we moved, and I spent like four days a week with mom and three days in the city. That really helped my perspective, because I had to understand humanity first, understand how to respect people and myself. Once I understood that, I was moving differently. You go from being sympathetic to empathetic.

I dig that.

ICECOLDBISHOP: I don’t feel like my energy has been tainted. I come with open arms in all capacities. Take that however you want to take it. But for real, I’m about respect and love. I don’t even want to make things gang-specific, because if you take the gang element away, motherf*ckers are just battling each other. This is a bubble, there’s a glass over this environment, you know what I mean? People from my environment have never been to the beach before, and it’s literally five or six miles away. This is a bubble.

I heard you were in your mother’s womb while she was out in the streets during the uprisings of ‘92. Needless to say, the same shit is still happening in ‘23, the same demands and the same circumstances. How do you feel, watching police brutality and poverty play out now on cell phones for everyone to see?

ICECOLDBISHOP: It’s always been the same shit, I do agree. But at the same time, there’s a lot of positives too. For me, I’m addressing what I’m addressing, but I’m not going to dwell on the negative my whole career, you know? I don’t want to be the artist that’s preaching, straining to talk to you. I’m just the CNN type, ain’t nothing else but that. I’m not literally CNN but I’m talking about what I’m supposed to be talking about, based on my life experiences.

That’s fair. On the positive vibe, you showing out on “B.B.T.” is maybe the most fun I had listening to music all of last year.

ICECOLDBISHOP: Yeah, see, I can come on either side with it. Shoutout to Chuck. That was crazy. Chuck took me into the studio that day, with Alc and Boldy. That’s how my “Hot Water Tank” verse came about.

That must have been a dope day.

ICECOLDBISHOP: Bro, it was the day of the Monica vs. Brandy Verzuz, remember that shit? It was crazy. There were two studios, Boldy was the only one in there and I went into the other booth and wrote that verse. I didn’t know at first, like, man I’m rapping too hard. There was something in my voice, I felt like I could’ve executed better. But Al was with it, and I saw Boldy listening from the window in the other stu. We were supposed to work on more music too, we gotta run that back, that would be a crazy session.

Were you a fan of The Cool Kids coming up?

ICECOLDBISHOP: Yes bro, it’s crazy. L.A. is way different than Detroit, and this is just my opinion, I’m not speaking for nobody but me, but L.A. and Detroit are on the same shit sometimes. We’re both on some fly shit, fashion-wise. The crazy SBs, how they were dressing. We thought, if we had money, this is how we would dress. Mikey was putting on a Polo and Nautica and rapping. They did a lot. Fish Ride Bicycles and Bake Sale, the art was crazy, N.E.R.D.-inspired shit, not too gangster but not too soft, we were the perfect age for it at that time. “Black Mag” still goes crazy.

What else were you listening to around that time, high school, when you were figuring out what kind of person you were?

ICECOLDBISHOP: It was me and my man Majay, who has a clothing line now, we were just kicking it at school at screen printing class. It wasn’t about girls, or being tough, none of that shit. It was about being fly. Because after my mom relocated us, I didn’t want to be doing the same shit, running around on what got me moved in the first place. Look, the family decision to move wasn’t solely on me, but I was definitely one of the main factors. If I was going crazy in sports or academics, I don’t think my family would’ve felt the need to move. Anyway, when I was there, I just wanted to bump music, no bullshit.. We had a music crew, like 10 of us, Black dudes and white dudes and Mexican homies. Everyone brought something different, I felt like I got a diverse perspective on music. High school was from 2007-2011, and it was all Wayne. “I’m a pill poppin’ animal, syrup sippin’ n****!” Look, I had a secret DVD man. Everyone from LA got a DVD man or a CD man. Them things are like 20 a pop, I couldn’t afford to buy all the music I wanted. Christmas, birthdays, shit, all I wanted were CDs.

Damn, we’re the same age then! I can picture you just filling up those portable disc cases.

ICECOLDBISHOP: Man, I had every deluxe version. I had The New Breed, which was the DVD that came with Get Rich or Die Trying. I had Beg for Mercy, Word of Mouf, Chicken n’ Beer, Nellyville. Look, it doesn’t feel like it feels today, because it was 20 years ago, but the two biggest artists smashing shit were Ludacris and Nelly. Listen to Country Grammar again, he’s really rapping. N**** in the hood were f*cking with it. He was talking about some cool shit, but it wasn’t, I’mma thug and I’mma shoot you in the face! You know what I mean? Real gangsters giving you this music didn’t have to, like, spell it out, because we know you’re about that for real. I’m not some dinosaur, I’m young as a motherf*cker, I still listen to Rob49 everyday. A lot of my favorite rappers have passed away, unfortunately. Lil Loaded and Trouble are two of my favorites. I love them. But I’m just old school, and I’m trying to protect that style of music because I’m not that far from it. But I apologize, I’m digressing.

No apologies necessary, I drove home bumping Lloyd Banks’ The Hunger For More literally yesterday.

ICECOLDBISHOP: Funny you say that, I was at the Lakers game last night, I damn near wore my 20th anniversary Hunger for More shirt.

Sheesh, I was at the Clippers game the day before that. I’m trying to get that Lakers money, one day.

ICECOLDBISHOP: Hey, man, I’m a rapper, I didn’t pay one dollar, I got invited!

Fair enough.

ICECOLDBISHOP: Shit, Steve, when things look up we might have to go tap in on one of them motherf*ckers. We’ll talk ball later, but yeah, to this day, I’m still listening to all that. Let’s see, The Documentary. Gucci starting around ‘01, ‘02. Jeezy had us wearing the Snowman shirt without knowing what that meant. Remy Ma’s There’s Something About Remy. Da Drought series. All the Sqad Up mixtapes. I was passing those out in my school before anyone knew what Sqad Up was. Then Dedication dropped in early ‘05, right? Because Tha Carter II dropped in late ‘05 and then Da Droughts began in ‘06. We were listening to “Fireman” all Christmas that year, slapping that shit.

You seem to have a damn-near encyclopedic knowledge of this era. In another life, you were probably a 106 & Park host or a great hip-hop blogger.

ICECOLDBISHOP: I was obsessed, bro. Still am. Limewire and the DVD man. Ride with me: Exposition & Crenshaw, the Ralph’s parking lot. My n**** D Mack serving the city, going crazy as a young dude. I bought all my music from him for probably five years straight. Get some groceries for my momma and get myself some CDs. We’re talking about illegal downloading and shit, but like I said, my mom was paying $20 per CD. Now, you get a whole streaming service for $20. I’d see D, and I’m looking at all the goddamn CDs like, I want this, I want this, I want this, going from the front to the back of the booklet. D says, look though, I got this new artist from L.A. named G.A.G.E. Boom, D has me on this underground dude that Dr. Dre signed to Aftermath. His album never even came out! I had the Papoose tape with “Alphabetical Slaughter.” The early Rich Boy tape, the one before “Throw Some Ds.” The CD man was how I stayed 10 steps ahead at that age.

Did you see anything other than music in your future? It sounds like you’ve wanted to do this your whole life.

ICECOLDBISHOP: Maybe basketball? I don’t know, it’s crazy. I knew that whatever I was gonna do, I was gonna get some money. I knew I wasn’t gonna be broke. I thought about a career more than a dream job as a kid. Realistically, I argue a lot, but I wasn’t thinking I would be a damn lawyer. I cultivated conversations with adults at like 9, 10 years old. And before the conversation was finished, I knew what they did, how much money they made, and I learned where I didn’t want to work. I mean, maybe I was thinking about fashion, but by middle school we had to wear a uniform and shit. I was getting in trouble in middle school, so much so that I didn’t even get to walk the stage at graduation. And then getting sent to different schools meant I had to walk between three different hoods every day. That’s how I met a lot of my gangbangin’ homies.

What were those walks to school like? What did the hood look like, sound like, smell like back then?

ICECOLDBISHOP: Folks wouldn’t even recognize it today. It’s the same shit in some ways, violent people going crazy around this motherf*cker. But specifically, you couldn’t even walk around in white T-shirts. There was a lot of racial tension where I lived, but I didn’t kick it where I lived at, because the gangs by me didn’t like my particular race so to speak. So not even being a gang member, just being Black, I was getting my head knocked off. My mom worked in nursing, so she was gone most of the day, you know? I just started staying with my boy, like, I’m going to your crib bro, I’m tired of walking to school by myself in this treacherous shit.

My mom wanted me to take the long way to school, but I’d have to wake up an extra hour early. She wanted me looked out for on the main streets, but I was a knucklehead just trying to cut through. My mom is very savvy so, you know, she was gonna figure it out and make sure her son got to school. She went to Mount Vernon Junior High and then she went to Crenshaw High. She had homies in the shit, she didn’t want her kid going through what she went through. She was a woman getting in fights, a n**** snatched her chain on the bus! Back in the day, n***** snatched girls’ chains because they thought they could. And he ran like a b**** so she couldn’t chase him! The way it was told to me, it was like a movie, dude ran with her chain and got away onto a train right as the doors closed.

So your mom was trying to give you a safe childhood, but I know you said on “The Govt Gave Us Guns” that you “ain’t got no homies cuz of mass incarceration.” While you were navigating gang territory and school fights, were you also thinking about jail? What was that like?

ICECOLDBISHOP: I got a lot of homies that are locked up. I got a lot of homies on the street still. That song in particular, I was thinking about one of my closest homies in the feds. What’s weird is that I was with him the whole day before he went down. I told him to watch his back and be cool, because it was already hot out here. I ain’t seen my boy in two years. A bunch of homies and big brothers out. But I have a lot of homies who are out free now, and they plan on keeping it that way. Just to be clear, this is what we go through out here. I don’t believe any of these stories are that unique. The details obviously can be unique, and nothing is exactly word-for-word, but overall, we all from L.A. you know?

Hmm, yeah.

ICECOLDBISHOP: I was a regular kid here, regular fights, regular suspensions, crushes and enemies and all that. I’m a huge fan of Nickelodeon to this day, I’m wearing Rugrats socks right now. A regular kid. I ain’t never been to jail in my life, like ever. A lot of motherf*ckers think that’s lame, like I ain’t no street n****. But to me, I was just forward thinking. Like, I’ve always moved in a way where I’m considering the outcome of what I do before I do it. So I could live with whatever and accept all outcomes, because I had thought about it. Like, ain’t even nothing to surprise me with.

Motherf*ckers not understanding, like, for research purposes, you should probably Google what each crime is defined as and how many years it comes with. If you rob a motherf*cker at the ATM, that’s federal grounds and a federal crime. Can’t do nothing you’re not prepared for. I was mischievous, I was an only child until I was 12, so whether it was video games or fighting, I was by myself. I didn’t know how to be around people like that. I didn’t trust kids, except for the few that are still my friends to this day. I ain’t trust every kid to not tell their mom when we got in trouble at the movies, I ain’t trust every kid to hold water when shit hit the fan. I’ve said this in multiple songs, but if a n**** was snitching back then, he’s probably snitching now.

I wonder what kind of teammate you were considering you didn’t trust most kids, hah.

ICECOLDBISHOP: I liked players like Kobe, Baron Davis, Tracy McGrady. The thing was, I couldn’t shoot. I was like a driving guard, and back then you didn’t have to shoot on the middle school circuit the way it is now. I was stronger so I would just drive and make my free throws. But when I started playing high school, motherf*ckers were 6-foot-something, like DAMN! I lost my love for the game because coaches f*cked that shit up, but I do think that with the right person and the right attention to detail, I could’ve played Division II or III. And really put up some points, not just to be there. Maybe 10 points, 7 assists and 2 steals kinda dude.

But I’m only 5’9”, that’s where my problems would’ve come in. At least my height helps me play defense. I may not be big, but I know how to time the dribble, the science of stealing the ball. Honestly, man, I was like Andre Miller but way more smooth and pretty with it. Lotta people don’t know this, but I’mma tell you: in sixth and seventh grade, our whole team did literally nothing but play basketball, every day. So by eighth grade, all of us were dunking on 10-foot rims. Hey, there’s footage that will probably come out one day, and I can’t wait for that. Actually, it was crazy, one of those videos did come out but it cut off before my part. But we was all in a line, dunking on 10-foot rims, really hooping like nothing else mattered.

As GENERATIONAL CURSE finally comes out, what are you looking forward to next? Sounds like you’ve spent so much time and effort on this album.

ICECOLDBISHOP: Even though the music sounds heavy, it don’t be feeling like that to me, because it’s just experiences at this point. So I’m giddy. I want to let people know going forward that I’m not that hard to find. Let’s work. I’m pretty available, I be caught up, but if it’s a great record I’m always down to do some shit. There’s a lot of folks I want to work with. G Perico is one of my favorites from the city, he’s going so crazy. G is one of those dudes, so f*cking hard. That song “Keep Killin’,” I be slapping that shit. “You can’t help me if you can’t help yoself!”

“…I’m at the penthouse plottin’ on my next 10 steps!”

ICECOLDBISHOP: I like artists that mold themselves, and know themselves as actual artists. People who are willing to do everything for their music, but at the same time never feel like they’re doing too much. That’s confidence in your sound. I want to work with Travis Scott, we would make some crazy shit. I wanna make some shit with Future too, we’re all at the same label too. But there’s also just a lot of people I wanna work with again, you know? I wanna work with SBTRKT and Clams Casino and Alchemist more, we’ll make some cold ass shit. I wanna work with WondaGurl, we’ve linked in the past and we’re cool. Me and Kenny Beats gotta get back at it. And I’ve been slapping Rosalia’s shit crazy. Aye, I really wanna work with Battlecat, DJ Quik, Hi-Tek, Swizz. And I wanna rap with Pusha, and all of Griselda. I ain’t never come out of a studio session with a dub. I’m ready to go, man.

So if the young ICECOLDBISHOP pulled up to D Mack’s spot, and saw this GENERATIONAL CURSE CD, what would he think? Be D Mack for a second and sell this CD.

ICECOLDBISHOP: Aye, look. THIS SHIT RIGHT HERE?! You already know I don’t give you no bullshit, I don’t vouch for bullshit. Sit with this right here, listen to these vibes, it’s damn near inspired by all the other CDs you like! But look, bro, don’t tell me how you feel until you dive into it more than once. Oooh, you’re gonna love this.

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