Body Count’s Ice-T Talks Police Brutality, The Power Of ‘Hardcore’ Music & Our Shared Desire For Justice

Ice-T (aka Tracy Marrow) looms as one of hip hop’s most contentious figures. A gangsta rap pioneer, he led the way for NWA and 2Pac. Today the New Jersey native may be regarded in the scene as an elder statesman, but he’s lost none of his potency.

Ice initiated his rap career in Los Angeles. His 1987 debut, Rhyme Pays, provided the template for (West Coast) gangsta rap. But, ironically, Ice’s greatest controversy came with a heavy metal record – Body Count‘s infamous ‘Cop Killer’.

In 1990 Ice devised Body Count as a hybrid punk/thrash metal/hip-hop group with guitarist Ernie C (Cunnigan) – an old high school buddy. He introduced the posse on his hip hop album OG Original Gangster. Body Count premiered with 1992’s self-titled album on the Warner-affiliated Sire Records. As frontman, Ice railed against racism and inequality. He cut ‘Cop Killer’ to protest the police brutality routinely encountered by Black Americans. But, narrated from an urban vigilante’s viewpoint, it caused a furore. American police organisations campaigned Warner to pull the album – and even President George Bush Senior condemned it. ‘Cop Killer’ prompted debates about freedom of speech. Still, Ice eventually removed ‘Cop Killer’ from the album.

Nonetheless, Body Count attracted a significant alt-rock audience. Soundgarden covered ‘Cop Killer’ live – Ice sharing a video of the cover on Twitter to mark singer Chris Cornell’s recent passing. And Ice collaborated with a Who’s Who of hard rock – including Motörhead on ‘Born To Raise Hell’.

A charismatic – and shrewd – Ice hustled for gritty Hollywood roles. Even before ‘Cop Killer’, he’d portrayed a cop in the movie New Jack City. He’s now played NYPD investigator Odafin “Fin” Tutuola in the TV show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for 17 years. Ice revealed a sentimental side in the reality hit Ice Loves Coco, co-starring with his glamour model wife, Nicole “Coco” Austin.

However, Ice-T, the OG of OGs, ain’t gone soft. This March, following the single ‘No Lives Matter’, Body Count dropped an appropriately dystopian sixth album, Bloodlust. Demonstrating Body Count’s status in metaldom, they’re joined by elite guests – Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine, Sepultura co-founder Max Cavalera, and Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe. Ice talks of the musicians’ “mutual respect”. “When someone gets on your record, they’re not only playing, they’re also co-signing you – and that’s very important. So there’s a lotta love that goes on there.” What’s more, Body Count recast Slayer’s classic ‘Raining In Blood’.

Bloodlust has been particularly successful in Australia, charting at #12. Now Body Count are rewarding Aussie fans by launching their album tour here – representing the band’s first visit in over two decades.

Music Feeds: You’re coming back to Australia with Body Count. I can’t believe it’s been over 20 years. That just seems staggering – especially when you have such a huge fanbase down here.

Ice-T: I love Australia, but it ain’t down the street – it’s a little bit of a ride!

MF: You’ve got a really good support on this tour in AB Original. I wondered if you’d actually heard any of their music?

Ice-T: Who’s that – Briggs? Yeah, I’m hip to him. I like his videos and stuff. We talk to each other on Twitter… I’m very happy that he can be on the show with me – I get to meet him face-to-face.

MF: You guys are going to get on.

Ice-T: That’s good, that’s good. I mean, when you come to play this far away, it’s always good to have local bands, the hot people – give them a chance to give their fans a chance to see them in a nice venue and just have a full night. It’s exciting, you know?

MF: Bloodlust is so ‘now’ – it really captures the zeitgeist. Obviously, it’s done well in Australia. But what has the response been in the States?

Ice-T: I think people love the record. It’s just one of those things where everybody who listens to it, loves it. But you’re still kind of pushing metal and metal is difficult to sell – it’s harder to sell than rap. A lotta people might resist it, then they go, “Oh, wow, I really dug it – it was something different than I expected.” So we’ve kinda regained our fans back. Our early records, we were selling millions of records – nobody’s selling millions of records anymore. But we’re just bombarding them with videos. We just put up an animated video for ‘The Ski Mask Way’. We’re just doing what we can to get this record out there. But it’s very rare that you get a record with no bad reviews – everybody who listens to it loves it.

MF: I still tend to see people describe Body Count as a ‘hip hop/heavy metal’ band. But I’ve noticed in interviews, you stress the metal. Is the distinction important to you?

Ice-T: Not really. I mean, I know it’s not hip hop because hip hop, you’re using a different beat, it’s more funky – it has another vibe to it. This is definitely more of a rock thing. You can call it ‘metal’, you could call it ‘hardcore music’ – because it’s kinda like Biohazard, kinda like New York hardcore. You know, it’s just because I’m such a well-known MC, and a rapper, of course, it’s gonna be ‘metal/hip hop’ – ’cause the lead singer is a rapper. But I don’t really care about the titles – that doesn’t matter to me at all. I don’t care. My thing is just, “Do you like the record?” I think these titles and these lanes they put on music – that hurts the music.

MF: ‘No Lives Matter’ is really provoking – it dissects the #BlackLivesMatter vs the #AllLivesMatter idea, but it puts a whole different perspective on that. What was the impetus behind it?

Ice-T: I heard the big argument with #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter and I was like, “nobody’s really explaining it”. Everyone is kinda confused. When #BlackLivesMatter came out, white people were like, “Well, all lives matter!” But they didn’t really understand that #BlackLivesMatter wasn’t a statement of power, it was a statement of distress – like despair. Like, “C’mon! You can’t just kill us and think it’s nothing.” So I wanted to explain that. But, then, of course, Ice-T’s gonna take it one step further and say, “When it gets between you and money, then nobody’s lives matter!” If you’re rich, of course your life matters more than the poor person’s. So, instead of just using race, I used the class issue.

MF: Today ‘Cop Killer’ is more relevant than ever. The irony is you’ve actually played a cop in a long-running TV show and you’ve probably had a lot of exchanges with ‘good’ cops. What needs to happen in the US police system to make it more ethical?

Ice-T: I think the only way you’re gonna ever get it right is [if] everyone has to be held accountable. The good cops gotta stand up against the bad cops and make them accountable for their actions. If you’re a good cop, and you know somebody bad is doing something bad and you cover for them, well, then you’re bad. That’s how they treat us as citizens: If I know you’re breaking the law and I help you, well, I’m aiding and abetting – and that’s a crime also. So I think all people want is [for] everyone to be held accountable for what they do. It shouldn’t be like, “Hey, because I have a badge, I can get away with murder, I can get away with a lotta shit.” But now, with all these video cameras, a lotta this stuff is being brought to the light – because prior to this, I’m singing about it, or speaking on it, and people are like, “Well, you’re making this up” or “You’re exaggerating.” And obviously, I’m not!

MF: Do you think Americans realise just how much of a global impact this issue is having? Because these videos are going around the world – they’re on the news in Australia.

Ice-T: Well, now you’re on the world wide web – everything you said happens anywhere in the world, everybody gets to see, so there is a lotta transparency that’s going on. Of course, it may not be as bad in Australia, but you probably got similar issues. So it’s one of those things [where] people just have to speak out about injustice and it’s gonna be heard… My record wouldn’t be able to sell in Australia if there weren’t some of the same conditions going on in Australia.

MF: One thing that intrigued me is that in another interview you expressed an interest in EDM. Are you seriously pursuing that?

Ice-T: Yeah, we actually started a label called Electronic Beat Empire. The guy that produced my first record, Afrika Islam, he’s actually been in Europe spinning EDM for the past 13 years. He’s getting ready to come and hit… He’s an incredible DJ. He’s originally a hip-hop DJ, but he spins EDM like hip-hop – and it’s incredible. He’s working under the name Mr X now… But we’re gonna do some EDM records. Why not? I don’t have any problems with music. I don’t say, “Oh, this music is good and this music is bad.” I just say, “Hey, let’s delve into all of it – let’s have some fun.”

MF: Have you ever heard Detroit techno – maybe Underground Resistance?

Ice-T: I don’t know about Detroit techno. I’ve heard a lotta different stuff, all the different kinds of techno… I couldn’t name a Detroit techno record, no, nah.

MF: Body Count has had incredible longevity – but you’ve also experienced a lot of tragedy within the band. What is it about this group that has kept you going? And how has the dynamic changed over time?

Ice-T: The band was originally invented so that Ernie C, the lead guitar player, could play. We lost our drummer [Beatmaster V] first. Then we ended up losing our bass player [Mooseman] – he got killed in his own neighbourhood, just going back home. He was in a driveway and some guys came up shooting and he died. And then we lost our other guitar player [D-Roc] to cancer. So, when that happens, it takes a while to find the right people that fit the whole attitude of Body Count, the ideology – like they’re ready to go in. We got the best players now. We got [Ill] Will on drums – he started playing in punk bands outta [Washington] DC. We got Vincent Price, who used to work in our rehearsal hall and now he’s playing bass. We got a new guy, a Cuban guy, Juan Of The Dead, on our second guitar. The band’s at full power – and the record shows, the band is at full power again.

MF: I didn’t know that you worked with Motörhead. How did you get on with Lemmy? Because he was a real character.

Ice-T: Sure. Hardcore people appreciate other hardcore people. Lemmy knew I was a badass, so he was like, “Okay”. We just had a good time. Most hardcore people are no-nonsense – they don’t like to get bullshitted. They have fun. They’re really cool people, but they’re serious about certain things. So I did ‘Born To Raise Hell’ with Lemmy… I’ve worked with some of the greats from all genres of music, so I’ve been very fortunate.

‘Bloodlust’ is out now. Body Count’s Australian tour kicks off this week. See details here.

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