Ice-T: How "Cop Killer" Rapper Became 'Law & Order: SVU' Star

Law & Order: SVU: Ice-T "Cop Killer" To SVU Star
September 12, 2020 - 23:00 / Lucas Anderson

Law & Order: SVU fans know Ice-T as the reliable yet guarded "Det. Odafin 'Fin' Tutuola." But the actor's SVU role may have come as a surprise to some, given his background as a rapper — notorious for his band Body Count's 1992 track "Cop Killer." Here's how Ice-T's journey from "Cop Killer" rapper to SVU star came to be.

Today, Ice-T is most recognizable for his long-running work on Law & Order: SVU. But decades earlier, the actor and rapper seemed an unlikely match for a police drama series. Here's how the musician who once released a track titled "Cop Killer" made the transition to his role as "Det. Fin Tutuola" on SVU.

Ice-T: Rapper at the centre of "Cop Killer" controversy

In the 1980s, Ice-T rose to fame as an underground rapper who achieved mainstream success. He made his major label debut in 1987 and had a successful run of releases, with hits including "I'm Your Pusher," "High Rollers," and "Lethal Weapon."

But in the early '90s, Ice-T made headlines with controversial track "Cop Killer," a song released on his band Body Count's self-titled 1992 album. He performed vocals on the rap-metal track, for which he also penned the lyrics.

Ice-T performs with Body Count in 1993.

With a chorus that goes — "I'm a cop killer, better you than me / Cop killer, f**k police brutality! / Cop killer, I know your momma's grieving, (f**k her!) / Cop killer, but tonight we get even, yeah!" — the track was at the centre of controversy upon its release.

President George H. W. Bush and PMRC co-founder Tipper Gore were among the figures to criticize the track. Ice-T defended it as a "protest record," as it calls out police brutality and references the beating of Rodney King. Warner Bros. Records faced pressure to drop the track, and Ice-T eventually permitted them to do so, and it was instead released as a free single.

Ice-T's movies and TV roles

While Ice-T and Body Count faced critics of "Cop Killer," the rapper had also been establishing an on-screen persona in films and TV series in the 1980s and throughout the '90s. One of his first major roles was as a drug dealer on Dick Wolf's New York Undercover, which earned him acclaim and initiated a run of collaborations with the Law & Order universe mastermind.

He also acted in Wolf's Players and Exiled: A Law & Order Movie in the '90s, before landing the role of "Det. Odafin 'Fin' Tutuola" on SVU in the show's second season. At the time, Ice-T was quoted as saying he was glad to be "on board such a cool show." 

Since joining SVU in 2000, Ice-T has served as the show's second-longest-running cast member, behind only Mariska Hargitay—who's been with SVU since season 1. "Fin" is now a sergeant with the unit as SVU heads into season 22.

Mariska Hargitay and Ice-T attend Law & Order: SVU event in 2018.

Reflecting on his lengthy stay on SVU — and the irony of his musical background — Ice-T in 2017 told Seth Meyers: "If you're 20 years old, you were 1-year old when I started SVU. So you have no reference point to anything as far as music or anything I did prior to that.

"So it's very interesting to meet people on the street and they go, 'you're a cop,' and I'm like, 'I'm as far as you can get from a cop'."