There goes the neighborhood … again.
More than 20 years ago, Ice-T was frightening people nationwide as frontman of his metal band Body Count. Combining the doom-laden power of Black Sabbath, speed of Slayer, and profane lyrics, Body Count’s groundbreaking 1992 debut album was meant to show that music had no boundaries, but many felt Ice-T crossed some with controversial single “Cop Killer,” landing him in hot water with politicians, law enforcement and the pro-censorship crowd.
Body Count made a few follow-up albums to moderate fanfare, and Ice-T focused on his role as Detective Odafin Tutuola on TV series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. But after an eight-year hiatus—due, in part, to the tragic loss of several band members—Body Count are back with a vengeance. New record Manslaughter, released in June, is a savage, uncompromising metal assault that would put most newer bands to shame; a triumphant return that proves the band is no mere footnote in rock history. This time, Ice-T’s famously blunt lyrics skewer clueless bloggers (“Talk Shit, Get Shot”) and the current state of hip-hop (“Pop Bubble”). Manslaughter features a guest spot from Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta, as well as a revamped version of “99 Problems”—a song originally done by Ice-T in 1993, with a chorus more famously co-opted by Jay-Z.
For the first Body Count tour in ages, the band signed on to the Rockstar Mayhem Festival this summer. I reached Ice-T by phone as Body Count rehearsed on the West Coast for the start of the festival. In a lengthy chat, the man discussed his new record, love of female moshers, the fallout from “Cop Killer,” and why he’s full of Garden State pride.
How’s it going, Ice?
What’s up, Gregg? Oh, man, I can’t complain. Just getting ready for this tour. We’ve had a couple warm-up shows. We’re psyched up.
It’ll be great to see you guys on a full U.S. tour again.
I’m really glad we’re coming back through New Jersey, because I live in Edgewater. All my friends out there are always asking me, “When are you going to play another show in the area?” Now I can tell them, “We’re gonna come through there like a tornado. Be ready.” We actually had a nice show in Manhattan at Gramercy Theatre in June. We killed it, and got all good reviews. That was a long show. These shows on Mayhem are shorter sets, about 30 minutes.
It must be challenging to make up a setlist then, when your time on stage is limited.
It does take work. We’ve got a few albums’ worth of material and we’re used to longer sets. Trying to crunch brand new material in with older stuff isn’t easy. If we don’t play “KKK Bitch,” “There Goes The Neighborhood,” and “Cop Killer,” there’s gonna be a problem. So we’ve got to squeeze the new songs in with the classics and rock out. Sometimes you’ve got to do a medley to make more songs fit. But we’ll do it, and it’ll be bad-ass.
How do you enjoy playing those types of outdoor festivals? For many fans, their first introduction to Body Count was though Lollapalooza.
I dig ’em. Body Count at Lollapalooza was unexpected. Perry Farrell gave me an hour set to do Ice-T material, and I chose to split it down the middle and do a Body Count set for half of it, and it caught everybody off guard. I had this speech where I said, “Now I’m going to prove that music has nothing to do with color. Rock and roll is a state of mind.” And then we flipped it to Body Count and we just fried people’s fucking heads. People were like, “What the fuck?”
I like the outdoor festivals. We took the Mayhem Festival for one reason—to get in front of a lot of new fans. We know a lot of people have never seen Body Count. We’re just hoping that the new ears listen and dig it. I hope I can inspire a new band out there. Just one person to start a band and who was inspired by how Body Count does it, the way we were influenced by Black Sabbath.
What type of fans are you seeing at the recent Body Count shows? Are they a lot of the older fans who were into the first album, or mostly younger fans?
I’ve seen a nice crossbreed. My favorite fans to see are the sons at the shows with their fathers. The dads have got the old Suicidal Tendencies t-shirt on, he’s bringing his kid, punching him in the chest. And the kids looking at him like, “Dad, you really are cool! Ice-T is a bad motherfucker and I didn’t know that about you!” (Laughs)
You’re giving sons new respect for their fathers! They know their dad rocks if he’s at a Body Count show.
Absolutely! Even if his dad’s wearing a suit now. You’d be amazed at how many people I meet that look totally square but they’re at the show, or parents that tell me, “My kids don’t know I’m here.” It’s wild.
You’ve always had an appreciation for hardcore and metal music—what heavy bands did you grow up listening to?
I got caught up in rock early because my cousin thought he was Jimi Hendrix. I had to listen to his radio, and he only listened to the two rock stations in L.A. So I knew everything from Edgar Winter to Mott The Hoople to Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Def Leppard. I started to like the heavier stuff. I leaned toward Sabbath, and then got into punk like Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys. I think my next real metal band was Slayer. I got into them because Rick Rubin produced them, and he was a hip-hop producer. It just became inevitable that I would make my own band.
From the very first chords of “Talk Shit, Get Shot,” the new record signals that you’re taking no prisoners—it’s music that’s as heavy as anything out there.
That song goes back to Sabbath, in that you can make things sound heavier with fewer notes. “Talk Shit, Get Shot” has got about two notes, but if you do it right, it rocks. One of the best things about this record is our producer, Will Putney. He gets a lot of credit because he made Body Count sound really good. He knows what he’s doing, and he took us to another level.
Ice, why was now the time to make a new Body Count record?
I have no great answer for that. The band wanted to play. Anybody who knows about Body Count knows that we suffered tremendous tragedy. We lost three members. First we lost [drummer] Beatmaster V to leukemia, then [former bassist] Mooseman got killed in his own neighborhood in a shooting, then [rhythm guitarist] D-Roc died of cancer. Every time that happens, it takes the air out of a band’s tire, man. Are we done? What are we going to do?
Then we put a new band together and had a reunion for one show on the Warped Tour. But I didn’t want to do anything further unless we had a label behind us. And Sumerian Records stepped up. Ash [Avildsen, founder of Sumerian Records] was a fan and he said, “I want Body Count on my roster.” He gave us what we needed to make an album, and gave us space and a year later you get the end result.
We need people that understand our philosophy. Body Count is grindhouse. We’re ultra-violent, ultra-graphic sexually, but to the point of humor. It’s so far to the left, that you can’t take us seriously. And Ash, he got it. When he said “Talk Shit, Get Shot” needed to be the first single, I knew he really got us!
Well, it’s a great album. You should be really proud of it.
Thank you. I’m an album artist. I’m from the old school where you made albums that are cohesive. It has to flow to make it easy to listen to. I think that’s what we were able to do with this record. If you don’t like the first song, then you’re gonna hate the record. If you enjoy it, you’re going to love the record. And that’s the best way to make albums. It’s like, “Here we are, I’m gonna polarize you right off the bat, and let’s go.”
Female moshers haven’t gotten much recognition over the years, but you’ve given them their anthem with “Bitch In The Pit.”
Totally! And it works, dog! We’ve played it at shows already and people love it. I make music for the stage; I don’t make music for the radio. So every time I’m singing a song, I’m thinking about being on stage and how I’m going to introduce the song.
And I always see females in the mosh pit. Every night, there’s one there, God bless ’em. And I’ll be like, “I wrote this song for you.” The last show we did in New York, there were like 10 chicks in the pit. Maybe we can get an all-girl mosh pit going someplace, who knows?
What was your inspiration to revisit “99 Problems” on this record? Many people don’t realize that it was originally your song, not Jay-Z’s.
When we’d rehearse, everybody in the band would tease me and play Jay-Z’s record and sing, “99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one.” Well, I guess my one problem was “99 Problems.” (Laughs) It kept haunting me, because after Jay-Z remade it, people would say, “That’s really your record!”
We were playing around with the song, and I figured we’d drop it in the record and catch people off guard, like a booby trap. It starts a capella so you don’t know where it’s going, and then the song hits, and then one of your friends says, “Ice remade Jay-Z’s song!” Then you can smack them in the face and say, “You idiot, that’s Ice’s song!” (Laughs) I made that record 11 years before Jay-Z.
Looking back on all the controversy surrounding “Cop Killer,” what are your thoughts? As you prepared to release that song, did you have any idea that you would cause so much commotion?
Absolutely not. I thought the cops were fair game, Gregg, because I grew up listening to Black Flag—and I actually owned a t-shirt from the punk band Millions Of Dead Cops. If you can name a band called Millions Of Dead Cops, I didn’t see why you couldn’t do a song called “Cop Killer.”
Part of punk music was talking shit about whatever you felt like. But leave it to me to touch a fucking nerve. It was like running into an electric fucking fence. I guess you can say “fuck the police” but not “kill the police.” Even though I wasn’t really advocating the killing of cops. I was singing about a character, like Jason Voorhees, who went after them. But a lot of times, people don’t get the art.
Even on this new album, I have people looking for controversy with a fine-toothed comb. They ask, “How do feminists feel about ‘Bitch In The Pit?'” or tell me that the “Talk Shit, Get Shot” video only shows me killing white people. I’m not trying to kill white people. I’m against racism. That song is me ranting about internet bloggers.
Why do you think that people tend to be so offended by Body Count’s songs? Like you said before, what you do involves a lot of humor. Why do you think people can’t get that?
They don’t want to get it. If you don’t like Andrew Dice Clay, then nothing he says will be funny to you. If you don’t like Ice-T, then nothing I say will be funny to you. If you believe I killed a cop, then you also believe that I dismembered my mother with a Ginsu knife over the fact that she didn’t like my girlfriend [“Mama’s Gotta Die Tonight,” off Body Count’s self-titled debut record].
This is for people with a certain degree of intelligence. I can’t help the other people who just want to find problems. My father always told me when he was alive, “If you go looking for trouble, you’ll find it.” If you decide to take apart my work and look for trouble, you’ll find it. Because that’s what you’re looking for. If what I do makes you happy, that’s great. If it doesn’t there’s other people you can listen to. You shouldn’t labor on me if I’m bothering you. There are people out there who enjoy what I do, and those are the ones I’m making happy.
How has Ice-T changed from when Body Count first started? Do the same things still motivate you? Piss you off?
No, it’s different now because I’m older. One guy told me, “Ice, you sound like my father! You’re telling me all the things I need to hear right now!” (Laughs) But I have to write from my true perspective. I have to make sure that every song is always coming from my heart, and that’s where you hear the progression of Ice-T. I try to make my music mature as I do. If you listen to “Wanna Be A Gangster” off the new album, that’s an O.G. telling you you’re a dumb motherfucker if you think this is something cool. That’s who I am today, and that’s the song I have to make.
You’re a multifaceted artist—actor, rapper, singer, reality TV star. Is there any business venture you’d love to tackle, but haven’t been able to yet?
Yeah, I want to eventually get into feature films like Rob Zombie did. I want to be able to produce or direct a feature film. I’ve done two documentaries, but I want to be able to put something together with music and images, a full visual event. Right now, I’m dealing with some animators. I want to animate some ill shit and put music to it.
Something you would do the soundtrack for?
Yeah, definitely. Put a little rap, a little rock, some strange shit, and maybe even some EDM in the motherfucker. I’m the kind of person who’s going to do whatever I feel like doing.
Our magazine is based in New Jersey. You mentioned that you live there all the time now, but I didn’t know until recently that you were also born there.
Yeah, I was born in Newark, and raised in Summit. My mother passed when I was in third grade, and my father died when I was in seventh grade and then I moved to Los Angeles. I went to Brayton Elementary and Summit Junior High School.
What do you like most about being in New Jersey?
I love being back. I’ve been back now almost 15 years. When I first came back to the area, I was living in Manhattan and I said, “Man, they’ve got a better view on the other side of the river!” I moved to Edgewater, and we’re building a house over there now. I decided to make that my main base of operations. I just love it. I love being very close to New York City, just because there’s nothing like NYC, the Rubik’s Cube of the world. But, living in the city is a piece of work. It’s intense.
But I like Jersey. The people are wonderful. Those that know I’m from there, I’m kind of like a little hero. They’re proud of me. I listen to the rock radio station out of Seton Hall University to keep up with new metal bands. I don’t like the cold weather, though; I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that. Last winter kicked my ass. We film Law & Order right out in the snow; we don’t stop. But Jersey is a great place.
Ice, thank you so much for your time! Good luck on the tour.
Thanks for the support. I hope I see you at Mayhem Festival.
Body Count can be seen at the Rockstar Mayhem Festival on Aug. 1 at Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, NJ, and on Aug. 2 at Toyota Pavilion in Scranton, PA. The band’s latest record, Manslaughter, is out now on Sumerian Records. For more information, go to facebook.com/bodycountofficial.