As a young man, Ice-T had a penchant for rock 'n' roll. And while his path led him into the hardcore hip-hop world, he never lost that passion for music of the heavier, guitar-driven variety. It wasn’t until the early '90s until he began to explore the type of music he could make in that genre. Before Rage Against the Machine, Linkin Park, and Limp Bizkit, there was Body Count, Ice-T’s own brand of raw heavy metal combined with hip hop attitude. With their '93 debut, Ice-T established that he was capable of being successful in two different musical channels. And regardless of the attitude and the fact that Ice-T was a renowned rapper, Body Count’s formula never included rapping. What it did include was fast double bass, growls, thrash-y shredding, and a heavy dose of knowledge lent to the song writing that presented a very different reality for heavy metal listeners. Think Suicidal Tendencies meets Slayer.
Body Count released their fifth album Manslaughter in summer 2014, and the response was overwhelming. The band’s presence on the Mayhem Festival, a tour mostly comprised of rock and metal acts, confirmed that there was an appetite out there for this energetic yet hardcore blend of music and storytelling.
Now in Arizona working on their sixth album, Bloodlust, Body Count is touring before settling in to record their new album this fall.
New Times talked with Ice-T about heavy metal themes that are his reality; Trump, Cannibal Corpse, and Prince; and the most important thing to him when it comes to music.
Body Count is scheduled to perform at Marquee Theatre in Tempe on Friday, June 17.
New Times: Ice-T, I have to say I loved that cover you did with Upon a Burning Body of “Turn Down for What.” Honestly, I hated that song, until I heard that cover.
That was a great time! We met with Upon A Burning Body on Mayhem tour, and just hit it off.
So you are currently writing the sixth Body Count album here in Arizona?
I’m on my way to the studio as we speak in Mesa! We’re gonna be out here til we do the show. It’s a cool underground studio. … hold on.. . I’m driving. I’m trying to get to the 101. You know, these Arizona freeways f***ing drive me batshit crazy! Okay. So the new album is titled Bloodlust. We’re trying to outdo Manslaughter. And with Manslaughter we were just trying to see if people still had an appetite for Body Count. So we did Mayhem Fest and toured all over the world with that. We saw there obviously was. So we changed over to a new label [to be announced soon]. But when you’re trying to outdo your last record it’s always a trip. But we have five songs already and they are very good.
After three decades of writing, how has your process changed?
Well, we’ve done different kinds of records. We’ve done some where I’ve been more involved in writing with the music, other ones where I’m not. This time I’m writing most the music with the group. We do the music first , then transfer over to writing the lyrics. I write the lyrics second. First we get the music together and we’re doing really well right now. It’s coming together nicely.
As a pioneer in the metal-meets-hip hop arena, what are your thoughts on the current landscape of the genre?
I really don’t pay attention to other people’s stuff. I just like, go in and vibe off of different music. Like you, said with the Upon a Burning Body stuff, we became good friends on Mayhem Fest and they actually co-wrote a song with us on the new album. So, I’m just picking it up… I think people keep trying to connect us to rap because I used to be a rapper, but that has never been our formula. Our formula is to just go in and make a metal record.
Why is heavy metal such a different outlet for you than hip-hop?
Well, hip-hop is funky, you know? You snap your fingers to hip-hop, you bob your head to hip-hop, whereas metal is more straight, raw, energy. So, it’s a different vibe. A lot of times when I’m writing songs, that connects better with rap than it will with rock. Or sometimes I’ll write a song that’s too hard for my rap shit, so that’s a Body Count song. Metal is raw energy, much more aggressive for me. With hip-hop you can hold a drink and bob your head.
I think your concept of focusing on reality-based themes including gang life is interesting, since most metal bands have lyrics based on horror, fantasy or mythology, religion, etc. What themes do you feel like you focus on currently?
I mean, I fuck with horror, I just think that different music lends itself to different topics. And I’m a big fan of classic death metal, like Cannibal Corpse and stuff like that. I just think when you’re in the rock arena, you have the ability to go so many different directions because rock has already done that. You’re not limited.
The whole concept with Body Count out the gate was to substitute reality for fantasy. If you asked a white kid to draw something hardcore on their book bag, they draw a skull. If you ask a black kid, he’ll draw a gun. So … it’s kinda like, let’s deal with the devil that’s alive, you know? The guy you might bump into in an alley. And now we got people like, Hitler — I mean Trump, running for President, and it gives us a lot of area to talk about shit. We’re in a very serious place right now. I wrote a record called Civil War, which is based on the direction I see this country going if we don’t figure this out quick.
I was actually speaking with Jamey Jasta last week about Hatebreed’s new album, and the important responsibility of musicians to stand up for what they know is right an address those problems happening in the world. He mentioned that he has learned so much from you about the entertainment industry.
Jamey’s a real dude and we became friends back when he sued to be running Headbanger’s Ball, but you’re going to find kindred spirits out there in the music. You run into real people, and people full of bullshit. We’re also really cool with Randy [Blythe] from Lamb of God; it’s those people can you relate to and agree with on different issues. Our job is to really, musically, create a backdrop so we can say what we need to say. And also move the crowds. Body Count being an aggressive band, we want to keep that mosh pit moving. At the end of the day this is entertainment. Artists can get real prolific and make it seem like their doing something special, but really we’re just trying to entertain the audience. Body Count brought a lot of call and response that you hear in metal now; chants and everything. That’s a focal point of our music. You sing along with Body Count records; that’s important.
You have years of touring and collaboration under your belt. Who would you love to have over for dinner?
Oh my God — oh shit! Motherfuckers driving crazy out here! You see that? What’s the rush?!
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Okay. Sorry. It would probably be just me and Prince, man. There’s so much I’d like to talk about with that guy. He left too soon! You know? I-I-I- as an artist you know there’s very few people that are so different but so dope at the same time. He definitely was one of my idols as far as being original. When you idolize people you might not want to emulate them just want to understand that they are saying, this is me and fuck all y’all. This is what I’m doing. I’m Prince wearing the lace blouse, and knocking the bitches too. Let’s figure that out! Prince was so gangster; he was just real. But yeah; I’d like to sit down with Prince and chop it up. You know, we would probably have David Bowie sitting there too honestly! He’s on the same channel you know!
One more thing – for those going to the show, we’ve got some surprises. New music!
Correction, 6-14-16, 1:18 p.m.: The new Body Count album will not released on Sumerian Records. Rather, it will be released on a label to be announced later.