Ice-T’s thrash metal band Body Count, touching off a powder keg of controversy in 1992 with the incendiary song “Cop Killer,” found themselves at the center of a cultural maelstrom, eliciting protests from politicians and conservative groups. Fans and free speech advocates rallied around them, lauding the band’s uncensored social commentary.
Looking back on the more than 20 years that have passed since Charlton Heston recited the lyrics to the song “KKK Bitch” at a Time/Warner shareholders meeting in an effort to get the corporation to drop the band, singer Ice-T remains steadfastly defiant when defending both his own artistic integrity and that of his musical peers.
“Don’t come to metal or hardcore rap looking for political correctness, go buy a Macklemore album if that’s what the fuck you want,” says Ice-T, during a phone interview from New York.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Ice-T was raised by an aunt after his parents died when he was young; there, he was exposed to the rise of gangs in South Central and an early life of crime before moving on and joining the army for several years.
After his stint in the military, Ice-T got his start in the world of underground gangsta rap in L.A. where his work help paved the way for artists such as N.W.A. and Snoop Dogg. His 1987 debut album Rhyme Pays was the first hip-hop record to garner the forerunner to the infamous “Parental Advisory” sticker—a label that has stuck with the rapper and vocalist throughout his career.
When the tsunami of media attention over “Cop Killer” hit, Ice-T was ready—in August of 1992 he appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone wearing a police uniform. Giving an in-depth interview to the magazine, he explained that the song did not condone or glorify killing cops; it was written from the perspective of a character protesting police brutality.
In the two decades that have since passed, Ice-T’s acting career has become much more prominent in mainstream pop culture, with his long-running stint on NBC’s Law and Order: Special Victims Unit—as a police detective—earning him multiple accolades. The success of that part of his artistic output has presented an interesting conundrum; many fans of his television work may not know about his music.
“I’ve been on Law and Order for 16 years, so if you’re 18, you were 2 when I went on the show,” Ice-T says. “They don’t have a reference point to me—but I just want them to see some crazy black man jumping around on stage and screaming and scaring the shit out of ‘em!”
Those youngsters will have a chance to do just that this summer, as Body Count recently released Manslaughter (Sumerian Records)—their first new album in eight years and fifth overall—and will be touring with the Mayhem Festival, returning to Shoreline on July 6.
While the group had to endure a series of hardships that would have likely derailed other acts—including the deaths of three members—Ice-T and company have returned true to form with the new collection.
“Beatmaster V, our drummer from the first record, died of Leukemia,” Ice-T says. “Mooseman, our first bass player, got killed in a drive-by shooting in his old neighborhood. D-Roc died recently from cancer. We’ve had our tragedies, and every time that would happen, that would throw the band off, the band would be in mourning, and ask, ‘Do we want to make another record? Do we want to call it a day?’”
That realm of live performance is one that Ice-T says he is glad to be returning to, for both the immediate connection with the audience and being able to use his sense of humor to push people’s buttons.
“Body Count is grindhouse, it’s hyper-violent, hyper-sexual, over the top, it’s funny,” he says. “It’s so outrageous, you gotta laugh. But it’s making a point, so we have to be intense like that. If you go to metal shows, you know that’s the world of extremities, so you’ve gotta go that hard, and the girls love it.”
And if all of the fans of his acting career don’t come along for the return to his musical side, Ice-T is perfectly fine with that.
“One guy told me, ‘I played “Talk Shit, Get Shot” for my mother, who loves you on SVU—she didn’t know if she liked it.’ I was like, ‘That’s fucking great! Your mother ain’t supposed to like this shit!’”
Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival
July 6, 1pm
Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View