Body Count: Killing In The Game

Despite the fact that the world seems to be hurtling inexorably towards destruction, the vast majority of contemporary musicians seem to have absolutely fuck-all to say. Characters, eccentrics and inveterate gobshites are few and far between, as new bands appear to compete

Speaking out is something that Ice-T has been spectacularly good at during his three-decade career as both a hip hop superstar and a hardcore frontman. Shortly after the band were first introduced to the world on Ice’s 1991 rap masterpiece, O.G. Original Gangster, Body Count struck fear into the hearts of the self-appointed ‘moral majority’ in the US upon the release of their self-titled 1992 album, which featured the thrillingly offensive revenge fantasy anthem, Cop Killer. During the 80s, South Central Los Angeles had increasingly become a hotbed of gang violence and crime and despite the obvious fact that Cop Killer was merely an exercise in turning the storytelling tables, the powers-that-be regarded its pointed references to the police that had famously been caught on camera beating black motorist Rodney King in March 1991 as nothing less than incitement to yet more violence. Shortly after Body Count’s debut record hit the streets, those same police were acquitted in court and riots broke out across South Central, prompting yet more fears that the band and that song were feeding the fires of social discontent.

As a result, Ice’s record label at the time removed the song from the album. Admirably, Ice then demanded to be freed from his label contract. Aside from being a fantastic song, the whole Cop Killer shitstorm made it perfectly plain that despite his huge mainstream success as an unusually edgy hip hop artist, Ice-T genuinely doesn’t give a fuck and refuses to be silenced by other people’s stupidity.

And so to Manslaughter: the fifth Body Count album, their best album by a mile and a very welcome return to heavy music by one of the most endlessly entertaining figures our world has ever embraced.

“Body Count is very grindhouse. It’s really over the top. It’s so aggressive that it can’t be taken totally seriously!” laughs Ice. “But this shit is just how we feel! A guy is talking shit on the internet, and you want to reach through the fuckin’ phone and grab his ass… but you can’t! Well, Body Count can. We kinda cross that threshold of reality and people that get it, just get it!”

A true force of nature, Ice-T exists in a way that makes most of us seem about as animated and forthright as items of furniture. One listen to Manslaughter should provide all the evidence we need that the world needs him more than ever. Hilarious, obnoxious, angry and driven along by some of the most gloriously dumb and brutish metal and hardcore riffs you’ll hear this year, Manslaughter is yet another milestone in the career of a man who simply refuses to shut up, grow up or slot into line with mainstream values. Body Count is in the motherfucking house, people.

“With Body Count, when I make records, I try to think off the stage,” a wonderfully enthused Tracy Lauren Marrow (Ice’s real name, fact fans!) tells Hammer. “I think of the people I’ll be in front of, and the shit that bothers them. I’m not a hater but I hate shit! Certain things really get under my skin, like people who don’t have jobs but always have money for weed, and people that think because they’ve got money they can look down on other people, and bullies who think they got away with it. All these people and issues, I lash out at ’em, Ice-T style!”

It may seem like an eternity since Ice-T last made a Body Count album – the band’s last, Murder 4 Hire, came out in 2006 – but when you look at the simply extraordinary work rate that he has exhibited over the last 30 years, it is even more surprising that he has time to take a shit, let alone spend time in a studio. In fact, you may find yourself wondering exactly what Ice hasn’t done. This is a man who has spent four years in the army and a fair amount of time in prison, not to mention impressive stints as gangster, pimp and bank robber amid the fraught chaos of South Central LA during the late 70s and early 80s.

Since renouncing a life of crime and hurling himself into the world of entertainment, Ice has conquered hip hop, hijacked heavy metal and, perhaps most impressively, built up an extraordinarily successful career as an actor that began with bit parts in 80s rap movies Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, hit a first peak with 1991’s brilliant gangster flick New Jack City and, in more recent times, has enabled Ice to become a household name via mainstream TV with a regular role as Detective Odafin Tutuola in long-running NBC cop drama, Law And Order: Special Victims Unit.

Along the way, of course, Body Count has always been simmering away in the background. Tragically, three of the band’s original members have lost their lives over the last 20 years – two through illness and one due to a drive-by shooting – but Ice-T and his guitarist compadre Ernie C have remained resolute and Manslaughter marks a loud, proud and defiant comeback from a band that, more than most, can lay claim to thrusting the idea of a rap-rock crossover into our faces.

“This band has gone into a lot of different zones,” states Ice. “Every time we lost a member it took the air out of the tyres. You have to mourn because it’s heavy stuff and because my band was made out of childhood friends. We went to school together. That’s where the band started, but now we’re down to me and Ernie, the two original members. When we do a Body Count album, it’s not a metal album or a punk album, it’s a Body Count album. We have influences from a lot of things. We kinda created our own lane 20 years ago or more, and a lot of people fell into that lane, whether it was Rage Against The Machine or Korn or Limp Bizkit. We opened that lane up. So we are in our own zone and we try to stay there.”

And what a zone it is. You will probably have already seen the heroically bloody and snotty video for Body Count’s latest single Talk Shit, Get Shot. As brilliantly vicious as it is, it’s arguably one of the more subtle tracks on Manslaughter; an album that boasts paeans to unholy sexual activity (Black Voodoo Sex), deluded drug addicts (Back To Rehab), the vacuous fantasies of wannabe pop stars in the rap business (Pop Bubble – which features the scabrous roar of Ice’s good friend Jamey Jasta) and, most memorably, a tribute to the fearless females who mix it up in the moshpit at Body Count shows. It is called, with laudable inevitability, Bitch In The Pit.

“You know what? They call themselves bitches nowadays… ha ha ha!” Ice chuckles. “That word don’t have any weight any more. When we did our video for Talk Shit, Get Shot, we played the album in the breaks between shooting and when that song came on the girls went crazy! It’s a true story. Every night there’s one girl down there in the pit with all the dudes… and she’s crazy! I just had to pay homage to that chick, you know? Every night when we play that song, there will be a girl in the pit. It never fails!”

Another grand highlight from the new album is Body Count’s fresh interpretation of Suicidal Tendencies’ immortal hardcore classic, Institutionalized. The original version recounted ST frontman Mike Muir’s battles with parents and teachers regarding his supposed mental health issues when, in truth, “all [he] wanted was a Pepsi”. Ice-T’s version is simply hilarious, as this 56-year-old rap titan launches into a sustained and venomous tirade against the things in his life that annoy the piss out of him. Entirely improvised in the studio, it fully honours the spirit of the original while bringing it bang up to date.

“I’m good friends with Glen Friedman, who shot a lot of my early album covers, and he used to be the manager of Suicidal Tendencies and he directed their first video,” Ice explains. “I just love that track and what it was about. I wanted to do a remake of something this year and I figured we should do Institutionalized and we’ll just change the issues to be about my anger problems. I just ranted on it! None of that shit was written, only the hook. I went in and at first I said I was gonna talk about my wife fuckin’ with me when I’m trying to play my Xbox, then the next one was about fucking’ around with a fuckin’ password on the internet, and then finally some asshole standing over me when I’m trying to fuckin’ eat, giving me shit about something I don’t give a fuck about. I did all those rants in one take! Ha ha ha! My friends were dying when I was doing it, because I started getting more and more angry. Ha ha ha!”

When most famous folk form a band and try to ingratiate themselves with the rock and metal world, the results are generally hideous. We barely need to state examples at this point. And yet, Body Count have never been anything other than the real deal and a breath of fresh and foul-mouthed air in a music world that likes to iron out rough spots and sanitise everything for mainstream consumption. He may be knocking on 60, but Ice-T is on the form of his life right now and making music that consistently plants a hobnail boot up the arse of uptight assholes everywhere. If you thought all that acting work was turning him into a pussy, think again. Body Count’s still in the house and the Original Gangster hasn’t mellowed one tiny fucking bit.

“Doing a new Body Count record is vindicating for my fans that have been with me through the acting stuff,” he concludes. “They’re telling their kids, ‘Yo, Ice is crazy and you don’t even know!’ Ha ha ha! It’s always good to catch somebody out when they’re not expecting something, to shut up the hater! That’s always good. It’s very liberating for me after acting – which is more of a conservative game – to get out on tour, make some fuckin’ noise and have some fun. People will say, ‘But what are you gonna sing about?’ Man, I’ve got plenty to fuckin’ sing about, don’t worry about it. I’ve been dying to say something about this bullshit! Ha ha ha!”

Manslaughter is out now via sumerian records

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.