June 30, 1997 12:00 PM

>Rappers on TV

CHILLIN’ WITH ICE-T AND CHUCK D

HE JUST LANDED HIS OWN PRIME-TIME DRAMATIC SERIES, BUT Ice-T is playing it cool. “I think singers are actors naturally,” says the Los Angeles-based musician, 39, who’ll portray an ex-con turned crimebuster on NBC’s Players, debuting this fall. “Rappers transfer onto the screen because they don’t have a lot of inhibitions. They’re hip, they’re into what’s up today. Frank Sinatra and those cats were the rappers of their day.”

Ice-T isn’t the first hip-hopper to leap onto network TV. L.L. Cool J (In the House), Queen Latifah (Living Single) and, most notably, Will Smith (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) have all stretched their talents—and broadened their audience—by starring in sitcoms. Others, such as Tone Loc (NewsRadio), have done guest shots, but Ice-T is the first to star in a prime-time network drama.

Making another seismic leap—into TV news—is Chuck D, 36, Public Enemy’s lead voice. “I always looked at news as being the last frontier of racism on television,” says Chuck D, who earned great reviews last December when he appeared as a guest on Fox News Sunday. “He was debating [conservative] Robert Bork on rap lyrics,” recalls Fox News Channel vice president John Moody. “He was incisive, funny, cutting. We were bowled over.” So much so that in May, Fox hired the rapper as a wide-ranging commentator on everything from politics to entertainment. “It’s not going to be sensational,” he says, “more like a Larry King Live for gen X.”

But don’t expect any TV rapper to go too mainstream. “I’m not going to do anything that isn’t me,” says Players’ Ice-T. After all, he says, “I gotta still go back to my neighborhood.”

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