Q&A: Ice-T Returns With Body Count to Call Out Pop Stars and Scare ‘SVU’ Fans
The trash-metal band's 'Manslaughter' finds the rapper/actor/singer at his threateningly hilarious best
It’s been 22 years since Ice-T released the highly controversial “Cop Killer” with his thrash-metal band Body Count, and though the pioneering rapper has been busier playing a cop on TV since 2000, he hasn’t given up on making more in-your-face, scary-yet-funny music. Today the group returns with its fifth album, Manslaughter, the follow-up to 2006’s Murder 4 Hire, and the 14-track release shows that Ice hasn’t lost any of that rage and twisted humor. There’s the the grindhouse video for the critic-threatening “Talk Shit, Get Shot,” which features Ice and his band murdering anyone who Tweets bad things about him. There’s also the ode to metal ladies “Bitch in the Pit” and the hip-hop-star skewering, Kardashian-referencing “Pop Bubble,” which features Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta growling over the chorus and Ice T instructing “so-called hardcore motherfuckers” to eat a dick. He also brings the jokes on “99 Problems BC,” the nasty lady-loving anthem he penned in 1993, well before Jay Z took the hook and made it his own — singing lines like “I got a bitch with hair, a bitch with none / A bitch with a knife, a bitch with a gun” over an axe-grinding version of Jay and Rick Rubin’s beat.
As he prepped for the release and a summer tour, SPIN recently caught up with Ice-T over the phone to talk about the LP, the legacy of “Cop Killer,” his Law & Order: SVU fans, and “putting balls back in the game.”
“Bitch in the Pit” is all about the women who can handle themselves in the craziest of mosh circles. I’ve been in plenty of pits and I always respect it when I see them in there, mixing it up.
They’re crazy! I think they’re suicidal, honestly. We started with that fast drum-roll and then it went into this punk-speed shit and I said, “OK, this is a pit record, an old-school pit record.” I started thinking about it and imagined the pit, like what do you see, and I said, “There’s always a girl out there. Let’s make an homage to the chicks that are out there, up top.” I think those girls deserve a record [laughs].
It’ll be interesting to see how it comes across at shows.
Oh, it works already. When we did the [“Talk Shit, Get Shot”] video, we had the album there and played it to the crowd, and when that record came on, the girls went crazy. They felt that it was their record. We’re gonna perform it this summer and it’ll be real easy to pick out a girl in the pit and say, “Hey, baby. This is dedicated to you. Nail it.”
It’s an interesting contrast to the title track where you scream “Manhood is dead!” What was your intention with that?
“Manslaughter” is me going against the pussification of men right now. It has nothing to do with gay men, it’s just “men” men. Their political correctness has just gone into them being soft about every fucking thing. I missed the old days when men fucking stood for something. Now, being a man has nothing to do with being a woman, you see what I’m saying? Even on “Bitch in the Pit” I say, “She doesn’t give a fuck, she’s harder than men / In the chaos, song after song / She’s not afraid to bleed, she begs for more speed.” I’m just trying to put balls back in the game, whether it’s female balls or men balls [laughs].
When I heard “Manslaughter,” I could picture bloggers writing about as a misogynistic song.
Slightly. Slightly misogynistic. I think that men need to have a little bit of manism. You have feminism. I don’t have a problem with that. The thing about making music in rock and rap, you can’t give a fuck about what people say. You gotta state your opinion and let the chips fall where they man. We did the “Talk Shit, Get Shot,” and somebody asked me, “Why are you only killing white people?” Because the video director only brought white people to shoot! I didn’t give a fuck. We’re shooting bloggers, we’re shooting Internet idiots. We’re doing what people wish they could do. If you believe we really shot people, you also believe I can stick my hand through a phone and snatch a guy. Body Count is very grindhouse, over-the-top, hyper-violent, hyper-sexual to the point where there’s humor but you get the point.
Yeah, it’s not like, “Ice-T said this, so this is what he would do in real life.”
No, no, no. That’s when you jump the shark. When you believe that on “Smoked Pork” I really shot a cop, or if you really believe that I fucked a KKK bitch, or you believe in “Momma’s Gotta Die Tonight” that I cut my momma up with a Ginsu carving knife that we only use on bullshit holidays like Thanksgiving — stay away from my music [laughs]. You gotta get the joke. If you don’t get the joke, this shit is gonna scare the shit out of you.
At the start of Body Count, people did seem to be really scared. Do you still feel that fear is still around?
We want to scare you. When we come onstage, we’re using Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. It’s supposed to have that ominous Black Sabbath darkness to it. The riffs are supposed to be doom, heavy shit. But you’re supposed to have fun, because it’s entertainment. It’s not like I’m a death metal band that wants you to believe I really want to kill God.
You’re not like that guy from Burzum who burned churches and killed someone.
That’s black metal. I’ve hung out with those motherfuckers. They think they’re vikings and shit. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re doing some rock, some fun, some serious shit. You either get it or you don’t.
Straight off the bat, the first couple songs on Manslaughter don’t let up, like they go right into the next. Were they written with that in mind?
No, not at all. Once we put the songs together, we found out that the album sounded good no matter how we sequenced it. We put “Talk Shit, Get Shot” first so that’d be the single, and let’s get that past the people first. And then we did “Pray for Death,” which is a crazy record, now you’re at “99 Problems,” which slows the record down. In hip-hop, we do skits. It’s kind of supposed to be a skit that I call the booby trap on the album. It’s supposed to be “Ice-T re-did Jay Z’s record” and then somebody can come smack the shit out of them. So it’s a booby trap, and then after you get fucked up over the booby trap, you shut the fuck up and listen to the rest of the album.
Mood-wise, it’s hard, it’s hard, and then it’s funny.
I like having fun. When you see us in concert, we come out and we scare the shit out of you and then I tell some fucking jokes. When you take yourself too seriously, especially with music, you gotta walk around like that. I’m not fitting to paint my fingernails black and walk around like I got meat hooks in my house.
And you’re taking Jay’s version about the problems facing a black man in society and flipping it to the funny stuff.
No, no. See, you get the bozo prize. My record was done 11 years before Jay Z’s. You’re hearing the original lyrics to the song. Jay Z took my record and made it. Those are the original lyrics to “99 Problems.” Jay Z took the hook and changed it. It was on the Home Invasion album. So what you’re hearing now is the original words with the Jay Z music. He decided to make it about some black man shit. “99 Problems” is all about bitches [laughs].
What sparked to you write “Pop Bubble”?
Fuck, what didn’t? Right now, if you listen to pop music, everybody’s riding a Rolls-Royce drinking champagne, popping bottles, but the truth is people are losing their cribs, life is fucked up. I can’t do an album and not address rap, so I let them know how the fuck I feel. I think the clever rhyme on there is, “You want me to mention some names / I’m too seasoned in this game / That’ll just give you pop fame.” If I come out with a name, they’ll just be like, “Why’d you dis me?” and then they’ll make it into a big thing. And then I gotta sit up and argue with these fucking idiots. It’s pretty self-explanatory. Then [Hatebreed’s] Jamey Jasta jumped on the record, and he just growls and screams and makes it even harder.
You did mention the Kardashians.
It’s not so much dissing the Kardashians, it’s the condition that as people, we all went from “Fight the Power!” to “What does Kim have on today?” It’s like, ‘What the fuck is going on right now? We’re living in a bubble full of bullshit.’ It’s not what’s happening. Obama’s been in office eight years — love it or hate it — and you’re singing about bottles and clubs and half your fans can’t even pay rent. Let’s pop the bubble. It’s an illusion. With this Body Count album, I’m talking about things. Maybe, hopefully I’ll inspire people to talk about things. When Body Count first came out, our opening act was Rage Against the Machine. That was a climate when people wanted, I don’t like saying political, but topic-based music. That’s gone right now and it’s shallow. Right now even in the black community, you say “Who’s a black leader?” They don’t know. Nobody’s saying shit.
Going back to “Cop Killer,” what reception does that get now that when you play it versus when it was so controversial?
Nothing, really. Music is very much a part of a moment. In 1992, LAPD was totally out of control. It wasn’t documented by me, it was documented by the Rodney King situation, by a lot of shit, so we made a song about it. Would I make that song today? Not really. Because I’m not in that place. But it’s a great record from my catalog and it’s a historic album. Making this record, it was very important that I rapped and sung from my perspective now as a grown man, my perspective now financially, versus me attempting to act like I was back then. “Enter the Dark Side,” I talk about the rich people I’m hanging around with, kind of like those Republicans that think they’re better because they have money. I’m like, “One motherfucking mistake, you’ll be on the other side too. Don’t get it fucked up.”
People can smell bullshit.
Always have. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve never been charged with that. I think I was charged with that when Ice-T first came out in England. They were like, “He’s rapping about gang members?” and they had only seen David Lee Roth “California Girls.” They thought L.A. was palm trees. I was quickly vindicated. They all of a sudden realized that L.A. is one of the most violent places in the country. But since then, nobody’s really challenged my shit. I make an effort to keep it as real as I possibly can. It’s not like you can listen to this album and be like, “Ice, how can you feel like that? You’re on television!” There’s no place on the record where you can feel like I’m bullshitting. Everything is coming from an honest place.
With the shows you’ve played, do you notice people coming to see “the guy from SVU’s band”?
Nah. I scare away SVU people. They don’t know how to handle me [laughs]. Those ladies are so… no, they don’t know. I don’t really have that problem.