1992 was an interesting year. On the West Coast, the dichotomy between the intensity of Seattle’s grunge scene and Los Angeles’ growing racial tension (thanks to the highly publicized beating of Rodney King and the following riot) made for some interesting times. White kids were rebelling against conformity and black folks were rebelling in the name of social justice. While Body Count was first formed in 1990, 1992 sparked not only the occasion of Nirvana’s Nevermind hitting No 1 on the Billboard charts, but also the self-titled release of rapper Ice-T’s metal band, Body Count. Black and white folks were enraged at the single “Cop Killer,” not only for the fact that due to the social climate, the suggestions of revenge against authorities was not appropriate, but that a black dude who had a successful solo rap career started a metal band (listen to Body Count’s “There Goes the Neighborhood” for a refresher).
Since then Body Count, continued to tour and release albums, and the frontman became an actor on the small screen, playing a (gasp!) police detective for 14 seasons on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. With Manslaughter, Body Count’s fifth album and their best to date, be prepared for Ice-T’s trademark vitriol – more concise than ever - but also a more streamlined, yet visceral collection of excellently produced tracks.
Right after the album drops on June 10, the quintet will be joining New York’s finest hardcore legends Madball at the Gramercy Theatre on the 12th, and then embark on the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival tour in July and August. Ice-T took a few minutes to chat with the Deciblog about his need to get back into the studio. “I’m just trying to put some balls back into the game, that’s all.”
Manslaughter is undoubtedly the most cohesive Body Count album to date, despite the various challenges the band has faced, including the deaths of three founding members and the regular demands of your day job.
Over the years, Body Count has suffered some great tragedies in the losses of [drummer] Beatmaster V from leukemia in 2004, Mooseman [bassist Lloyd Roberts, from a drive-by shooting in 2001] and D-Roc the Executioner [guitarist, died from lymphoma in 2004]. So, Ernie C and I are the only original members, but the new guys are hungry, they want to live up to the Body Count expectation, and it’s really given the band a new energy and excitement. The new members are drummer Ill Will and Vincent [Price], the bass player, but he’s been with us for quite a few years, and the new kid is [guitarist] Juan of the Dead [Garcia]. When you have a band like Body Count, there are always people "around" it, waiting on a shot, and Vince suggested Will - he’s from the DC / Maryland punk scene, and Juan was playing in a group called the Evil Dead and other bands.
The album is surprisingly tight and crisp, and has a lot of lyrical and musical variety. What newish bands were you listening to when you recorded it?
Nah, my influences tend to be from the old school. I’m a Slayer fan, Megadeth, and all that kind of stuff. When I listen to bands, I pick up on the energy, I make up riffs in my head – we tend to keep Body Count kind of dark, so its always going to have a [Black] Sabbath vibe to it, as they are our biggest influence, but I don’t want it to sound like the other stuff – I don’t want it to be "metal" or "hardcore" or "punk" – I just want it to be Body Count. It has to come out of my head.
What makes this album different is that I wrote with all of the guys. Last summer in Las Vegas, we jammed for a month and a half and recorded it on a cassette player until we thought we had some good tunes. No vocals, just ideas. Then they took the music to L.A., tracked it [with] the producer Will Putney [Asking Alexandria, Impending Doom, the Acadia Strain], and then they took the tracks and sent them to me in New York, and I lived with the tracks for a minute, and then write the vocals and then went into the studio with Will, recorded it, and then they mixed it.
It sounds so good because of the producer. A lot of bands can make great records, but they lose it in the studio. You gotta have a real good producer to make the shit sound right in the computer world with Pro Tools and all that shit. A lot of times, records can end up sounding thin, and you turn the record up and it starts to hurt your ears, and I realized that this is really an art form, and Will is just very good at it, and he made the record sound really good, and that’s all on him.
Back in the day, Body Count was categorized as “rap metal” or “nu metal.” Manslaughter sounds like just a straight-up metal album, without the hip-hop tropes that -- because of your background (and ethnicity) -- the band was initially categorized by.
I think they did that because they didn’t know what to do with Body Count, because there was no category. You have to remember that when Body Count came out, the first band we took out on tour was Rage Against the Machine. So there wasn’t anything similar to us, so what do you call it? We were more lyrical than other bands at the time, and the way that I was delivering the lyrics were close to that rap/hip-hop flow, so people were just trying to figure out what I was doing. But the thing of it is, is that we didn’t really care "what" it was. It was embraced by all the bands we admired; I was doing work with Slayer, I was on tour with Metallica, Guns N' Roses, Henry Rollins loved us, Bad Brains were sending us love - so it was just a sound that we tried to create and we still say to this day, put it into whatever category you want to put it in - we just want to rock. And it is rock.
But in my book, rap is rock. If you listen to an MC, we rock the house, we rock the mic. It’s rock – we don’t "r&b" the mic! So, rock is – whether you are doing it on piano like Jerry Lee Lewis, or on guitar – an attitude. So, when I hear [Public Enemy’s] “Welcome to the Terrordome,” I think that shit’s rock!
Tru dat. When Body Count was initially released, what meant more to me as a young, black metal fan than even the album was seeing a group of black men playing music that I had thought we would never be "allowed" to play...
[He interrupts, laughing] I got a song for you: [Manslaughter’s] “Bitch in the Pit”
Right! I was going to ask you ask you about that! Over the years, have you had any black metal fans talk to you about how important it is for you as an African-American man to be fronting a metal band as a representative, or an "allowance,"signifying it is okay for black fans to listen and to participate as musicians within the scene?
Absolutely! And someone’s gotta do it first. That’s what’s called being a pioneer. It takes somebody who doesn’t give a fuck about what people think about them. And if you’re that black kid and you’re walking around with that metal T-shirt on, you gotta have some balls – whether you’re a man or a woman. You gotta stand on it, and Ice-T has always been about that. I’m gonna do what the fuck I’m gonna do; I’m only here for a short time, so fuck you! I can’t be concerned… I wouldn’t be married to Coco [his wife, who is white] if I were concerned what people think. I wouldn’t be playing a cop on TV If I gave a fuck what people think.
I think that at this point of my life I’ve proven myself that ... I don’t allow people to set these barriers for me. And when I was coming up from hip-hop, I heard a lot of "Well, what are the other rappers going to say?" I was like, "I don’t give a fuck about the rappers." I don’t give a fuck. I’m gonna do me, and if you don’t like it, I don’t give a fuck. You really have to have that attitude to live your life freely, as you can’t be concerned with people’s opinions. Who are they any fucking way? The only problem that I can see in metal is if you end up with a boyfriend who hates it and you live together… that could be a problem. But now they have headphones!
Have you seen an increase of black kids at shows over the years? In terms of extreme metal, outside of God Forbid, there haven’t really been very many all-black underground metal bands that have emerged.
Oh, of course. There are always a couple of black guys at shows, but now we are seeing bands come at us. Guys are telling us about where their bands [are] and where they are from. But it is kind of odd how we’ve been gone for almost 10 years and no band has filled our spot. But that is kind of good, as it means we are doing something different and unique. I’m 100 percent about being unique. The biggest dis about this album would be that we sounded like somebody else, and no one has said that. We just want to sound like ourselves, but better.
You know what it takes? And I’m not saying this to pat myself on the back – it takes a charismatic frontman, like Angelo [Moore] from Fishbone. It takes a character that can really grab an audience. I could put five guys up there and they can just stare at their instruments and play the most incredible metal, but it is the words that jump off the stage; the words grab people’s attention and makes them believe in that band. And without that person, it’s really hard to get past that hump. And if it’s a black girl, she’s got to come out real hard and she’s got to say some shit. Even when we put out our video [“Talk Shit, Get Shot” from Manslaughter], people cried, "You’re shooting white people. Why are you shooting white people?" Because that’s what the video people casted… I didn’t give a fuck. You gotta have a really rock attitude to do this shit. If you are worried about offending people, stay the fuck out of this game. Or you are going to be Macklemore – and that’s the polar opposite of metal.
So, about “Bitch in the Pit": What inspired you to write that song?
I write all of my music for the stage. When I write a record, I think about what would be good to perform at a concert. And I always try to sing for the audience, about the audience, or to the audience. I try not to think about me – it’s all about them, and I can position myself in the crowd. For that song, it started off with that punk riff, and it was real fast, it sounded like a pit. So, the first verse is about the pit, but then I thought, "Every damn show, there is one girl in the pit." We haven’t really done a song about women in the scene, outside of “Black Voodoo Sex” which is one of Ice-T’s legendary stories [laughs], and Coco is featured on that as the Voodoo woman... She went off on that [laughs even harder]… but I started writing after thinking that it’s one of the most honest songs on the album because every single show we do, there are always just one or maybe two women in the middle of the pit with the guys… I don’t know why… But they want it faster, they want it harder, and I just made a homage to the chicks in the pit. And in the end it’s like, “Who the fuck is that bitch?"
The thing with Body Count… and this is very important: It’s the humor. Body Count is over the top. It’s hyper-violent. It’s hyper-ridiculous, but it's honest in that way ... It’s not as serious as what a lot of rock bands try to make themselves. It’s more… I call it "grindhouse." You wish you could grab a motherfucker through his phone when he’s talking shit – we can [see the video for “Talk Shit, Get Shot”]. It’s that fantasy you want to do.
Speaking about fantasy… one of the best tracks on Manslaughter is “Manhood.” You are talking about how "masculine" men "were" – referring to your dad as an example – versus the seemingly emasculated version of how men are currently presented. I was thinking about the recent killings of women in California by Elliot Rodger, and how he took what he thought of as being "masculine" to a whole 'nother level.
That kid was a fucking idiot. He was a fucking pussy, the farthest you can get from a man. Honestly? I watched [the news reports] on that dude, and that was one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen… a guy that’s going to kill girls because you can’t get any pussy? You got enough money to buy a gun, but you couldn’t buy some pussy? What the fuck? That guy was a weirdo, and that’s not what we are talking about on this song. I’m just saying that we got the "pussification" of the male species where men are not willing to stand for anything, men that are too concerned with being politically correct, that they have gotten really soft – and I’m not talking about gay men at all. Even with hip-hop – men are wearing really skinny jeans and tight shirts, and I’m like, "What the fuck happened?" But that doesn’t mean abusing women; I'm talking about taking care of your kids. Man has to be about something. Man has to be buck up, power through it – man just can’t give up. What am I saying wrong there? A man is sharpened steel. And at the end of that track, I talk about going to a foreign country and getting your head cut off. Those people ain’t playing. So, if the men in the United States are getting soft, they need to figure that shit out.
What bands on the Mayhem Fest lineup are you looking forward to meeting this summer?
I’m an old school Cannibal Corpse fan, so I’m excited to play with them, and we just did a show in Arizona where we played with Asking Alexandria. I’m just excited to play Mayhem to be in front of a lot of people that might have never heard of Body Count, because you have to remember, [the band is] 20 years old. I didn’t want to go out on a Body Count tour where only the fans would show up. I want to get new fans and play in the afternoon amongst all newer bands, and try to build a new fan base of young kids. We know that when we perform, motherfuckers will connect. We know what the fuck we’re doing.
Manslaughter (Sumerian Records) will be released on June 10. New Yorkers can catch Body Count with Madball at the Gramercy Theatre on June 12 and at the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival at dates across North America in July and August.