With the exciting and unexpected news that a new Body Count album called Manslaughter would be dropping (June 10, 2014, Sumerian Records), once again I find myself in a retro type of mood. For the new generation of rock and metal fans, the band Body Count—led by gangsta-rapper-turned-actor Ice-T—is all but unknown. Ice-T, you say? The same Ice-T that plays a detective on NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit? The same Ice-T who’s been a star of reality television? Yes, that Ice-T. As unexpected as this may sound as I write about it today, just think about how surprising or even shocking this was more than 20 years ago as I attempt to recount my memory of Body Count’s 1992 self-titled debut album and the chain of events that followed.
Back in high school, circa 1992, my crew and I were fans of all types of music. I was the metal guy, but we had mostly hip-hop fans and a few alternative music fans. Because of this mix of different tastes, on any given day, you never knew what we’d be playing as we carpooled to school. Yes, we were badasses. Why a carpool? Because at the time, I think only one of us had a car and/or actually drove. So while I preferred Megadeth and Sepultura or definitely Soundgarden at the time, the playlist (or I should say “cassette”) usually dabbled in mostly hip-hop, from Beastie Boys (Check Your Head), L.L. Cool J., The Geto Boys and 2 Live Crew to A Tribe Called Quest, N.W.A., Ice Cube (The Predator) and, of course, House of Pain. And then there was Ice-T, O.G. Original Gangster, and later Home Invasion in 1993. We listened to all these “tapes” to and from the high school parking lot in our only means of transportation, a circa-1986 Ford Escort Wagon, decked out with a stereo system and subwoofers. Yes, like I said, we were badass.
As middle class white kids, we were fans of those Ice-T records and other gangsta rap. I think it was because of the same reasons most others got into it—it was so outside our world and so rebellious at its onset. We were also fans of Ice-T’s first few films, Ricochet (1991) and in particular, New Jack City (1991, in which he received MTV’s Movie Award for Best Breakthrough Performance). I don’t know how we heard about it originally, but when we got the news that Ice-T had a metal band called Body Count and was releasing an album, we were stoked. Remember, this was before the days of Rage Against the Machine, Limp Bizkit or Linkin Park. The Beastie Boys and Run DMC were the only rap-rock collaborations that we knew existed.
Born in Los Angeles, Calif., in 1990, the band—vocalist Ice-T, guitarist Ernie C., drummer Beatmaster V, bassist Mooseman and rhythm guitarist D-Roc the Executioner—released the self-titled Body Count album March 10, 1992, and I think I some how got a hold of the record the day of release. To my surprise, this wasn’t a rap or even a rap-rock album at all. It certainly had the “don’t give a fuck” street vibe of gangsta-rap, but this was a legitimate hardcore metal record, with no real rapping whatsoever. Ice-T shouted his political lyrics over hardcore metal and punk. He spoke about drugs and sang funny NC-17-rated tales about women and their privates. This was nothing anyone expected, but it was the shit. For the first time since the hardcore movement in the early ’80s, Ice-T had taken metal back to the street. There was no Dungeons & Dragons here.
I was a fan of the entire record, from the only real “hit” it contained, “”There Goes the Neighborhood,” to the anthem “”Body Count’s in the House,” the controversial “KKK Bitch,” to the hilarious “Evil Dick,” and of course, one of the most notorious metal songs ever recorded, “Cop Killer.” Just like Megadeth’s Rust in Peace (1990), I played this relentlessly on my bedroom speakers, and yes, in the high school parking lot. Body Count was embedded in the tape player in that old grey Ford Escort (more on that later).
The music aside, not to mention the huge crossover breakthrough that the music industry had on its hands here, the focus of the Body Count record quickly turned to the controversial title and lyrics of “Cop Killer” and the song’s intentions. What did the song stand for? Ice-T has said it “is a warning, not a threat to authority” and is “sung in the first person as a character who is fed up with police brutality.” The album originally was to be titled Cop Killer, but that was scrapped amid concerns from Warner Bros. Records and Ice-T before release. Those lyrics and Ice T’s explanation probably would be fine today (wait until you see Body Count’s new video below), but in 1992, the government got involved. Vice President Dan Quayle branded “Cop Killer” as being “obscene,” and President George H.W. Bush publicly denounced any record company that would release such a product. Can you imagine with all the other problems in the world today that President Barrack Obama and the White House would get so heavily involved in a music album that he would single out a particular song it included? No, I can’t either. Times have changed. Tipper Gore was also outspoken condemning the song, but no surprise there. Ice-T continued to defend the song and fans cited the First Amendment and Freedom of Speech. But feeling like the situation was overshadowing the music itself, Ice T himself eventually pulled the song off the record on future pressings, saying, “I didn’t want my band to get pigeon-holed as that’s the only reason that record sold. It just got outta hand, and I was just tired of hearing it. I said, ‘fuck it,’ I mean they’re saying we did it for money, and we didn’t. I’d gave the record away, ya know, let’s move on, let’s get back to real issues, not a record but the cops that are out there killing people.” The song “Freedom of Speech” now appears in its place.
This was one of the biggest music stories of the year and beyond. It seemed like “Cop Killer” was the subject of an MTV News update, different story or event every weeke. Despite the controversy, Body Count went on to have a decent amount of success—probably more than anyone could have predicted with rapper Ice-T fronting a metal band. From 1993 to 2008, in between Ice-T’s other projects, the band released Born Dead, Violent Demise and Murder 4 Hire. The band would forever be recognizable, but nothing ever matched the success and controversy of Body Count. Of course, Ice-T went on to become a mega-star. Isn’t it still strange for those of us who grew up with him to see him play a detective on primetime television now? I would describe it as awkward every time I walk by the TV and see him talking with someone, about to kick ass at the precinct.
But how did our 1992 year of high school end? We continued on day after day, like I said, with Body Count embedded in the cassette deck. Eventually, it was removed and we moved back into more of a hip-hop rock direction before eventually switching back to mostly rock sometime later. After all, the alternative explosion was beginning and 1994 saw some of the best rock and metal records ever released.
Our small town and high school were largely devoid of crime. My friends and I had no gang affiliation and didn’t hang with any known criminals (at least not ones committing any felonies). So what happened next, sent shockwaves through our little high school. Sometime earlier in 1992, there had been a rash of car break-ins during school hours in the school parking lot. Everything from backpacks, to Air Jordans to mainly stereo systems were being stolen out of vehicles of all types. Despite added security during these daily times, it continued to happen for weeks. What was the other solution? To keep our doors locked.
Keep in mind that this was back in the day when stereo systems were hot. Any classroom you went in, there was a Crutchfield magazine on a desk someone had left, picturing the newest speakers, woofers, tweeters, CD players and components, and it dominated hallway and lunchtime discussion. It was basically a competition for the loudest, most expensive and high-tech car stereo system. It was ridiculous. With the introduction of the iPod and mobile technology, does this type of thing still go on today? I’m not sure, but at least not at the height of its extreme popularity in 1992.
One by one, we watched and heard about our friends’ or classmates’ cars being broken into and the estimated cost of what was stolen—sometimes numbering in the thousands. What the hell kind of operation was this anyway and what were they doing with this shit? Selling it? I don’t believe anyone ever found out. But I do know what they were listening to at some point during this criminal spree—Body Count. You always think, “That won’t happen to me.” But our car eventually was broken into, the tape deck removed from the console and gone forever, along with Body Count’s debut album—now a rare and out of print item since it still contained the “Cop Killer” track—which once again had become embedded in our stereo system. But I remember at the time that it was probably fitting, and it still is. For an album whose lyrics were anti-everything, based on a criminal lifestyle and as controversial as it was, getting stolen as part of a youth crime spree always made perfect sense. At the time, I was devastated. I never recovered it, and to this day I haven’t listened to “Cop Killer” since, although it’s surely readily available now.
Speaking of now, Body Count will drop its new album, Manslaughter, on June 10. Work started on the album in the first half of 2013, and the band signed with Sumerian Records, but with a new lineup. In fact, the only band member other than Ice-T who’s still alive from the original lineup is its co-founder and lead guitarist, Ernie C. Drummer Beatmaster V died in 1997, bassist Mooseman in 2001 and rhythm guitarist D-Roc in 2004. As recent as 2006, it was unknown if Body Count would continue. I’m not sure how the ever recovered from such tragedies (Mooseman was killed in a drive-by for Christ’s sake), but the band eventually found replacements in Ill Will (drums), Vincent Price (bassist) and Juan of the Dead (rhythm guitarist). Sean E Sean provides backup vocals and samples.
Not only is there a new lineup and album, but the band is confirmed for the 2014 Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, this year featuring four stages, playing with death metal legends Cannibal Corpse, nu-metal freaks Mushroomhead, Suicide Silence (with new vocalist Eddie Hermida), Trivium, Asking Alexandria, Miss May I, Emmure, and more, all headlined by Avenged Sevenfold and Korn. If Body Count’s inclusion on this bill isn’t enough to make you go, then keep your ass at home. The band also will play the Heavy Montreal festival and even appear on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon (Friday, June 13). (How is this happening?) The hype may not be at the same level as in 1992, but there’s a lot of buzz surrounding Body Count right now.
Ice-T has described the new record as “brutal,” while Sumerian Records has this to say about Body Count and the release of Manslaughter:
“Supercharged with the same spirit as when the band first assembled over two decades ago, Body Count is back to reclaim the crown for vicious trash metal/hardcore crossover, arriving just as circle pits and denim vests make a return to the underground. The Big 4 has been celebrated, legendary thrash bands like Testament and Exodus are making some of the best work. The time is now for Body Count to reenter the fray!”
Judging by the first two songs released—”Talk Shit, Get Shot” and “There’s a Bitch in the Pit”— via YouTube, it’s gonna be one hell of a drive-by, bitches.
And to the pussy that took my Body Count cassette, maybe we’ll get the privilege to hook up with none other than the man himself, Ice-T, at Mayhem, where we’ll adopt a new phrase, “Take Shit, Get Shot.” Oh yeah, and we want our tape deck back, too.
1. Talk Shit, Get Shot
2. Pray for Death
3. 99 Problems BC
4. Back to Rehab
6. Get a Job
7. Institutionalized 2014
8. Pop Bubble
9. Enter the Dark Side
10. Bitch in the Pit
11. Black Voodoo Sex
12. Wanna Be a Gangsta
13. I Will Always Love You