Body Count Rising for Ice-T

It's been slightly more than eight years since Body Count's last speed/thrash metal assault on the world's eardrums. The lengthy delay doesn't come from a lack of desire, but rather the day job that keeps founder and frontman Ice-T out of the recording studio and on the production set.

"I've been doing Law & Order," Ice-T explains during a phone interview from his East Coast home. I was supposed to do four episodes, and it's been 16 years. That's a five-day-a-week gig. My band's in L.A. I'm in New York. It threw everything into a zone."

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Yet Ice, as he frequently calls himself, decided that now was the time to again awaken the beast. He thought this as well in 2005, when Body Count went to work on Murder 4 Hire. Still reeling over the recent death of guitarist D-Roc the Executioner from leukemia (two other original band members previously passed away), founding guitarist Ernie C. fused together a band and wrote a dozen songs. Ice-T, in turn, was primarily focused on his acting career. The album lacked focus and true conviction. Ice freely admits as much.

"Body Count suffered tremendous tragedies. We lost three members, one at a time . . . I kind of mailed it in," he says with some regret in his voice. "They sent me tracks; I did vocals. We weren't even in the same room. I wasn't happy with it."

What Murder 4 Hire lacked, Manslaughter, the group's latest, more than makes up for. Sonically and lyrically, the album frequently channels the power and enraged energy of the band's 1992 eponymous debut. With songs glorifying crime, violence, and freaky sex, along with tracks fighting the establishment or slamming societal issues, Ice-T sounds as pissed off as ever 22 years later.

"Ain't that funny?" he says with a laugh. "One of the keys in doing this record is that I had to sing from a real place. I had to sing about things that bother me right now. I couldn't have anybody say, 'Ice, this isn't real to you anymore.' I had a long time to think about things that pissed me off and what I wanted to address. Every song on the record is either about something that bothers me or ticks me off. Or it's something I feel should be respected and honored, like 'Bitch in the Pit' or 'I Will Always Love You.'"

These tracks offer shout-outs to women braving the mosh pit and servicemen suffering the traumas of war to keep America safe. The latter track's gritty details are drawn from Ice-T's personal military experience, back when he was Tracy Marrow.

"I think the best music can come from somebody who's been there," he says. "I wrote this story from the eyes of the soldier. I've played that to servicemen and they broke into tears because what I'm saying and the way I'm saying it. They know I know . . . My allegiance is to the servicemen, not the politics."

Manslaughter also features "Institutionalized 2014," a full-on rage machine (based on the famous Suicidal Tendencies song) of venom denouncing phone bank outsourcing, vegetarianism, and senseless violence. And "Back to Rehab" is a searing metal send-up for a "homey . . . fazed on liquor" that Ice kicks off tour until he's clean. "Talk Shit, Get Shot" burns with ferocity at Internet bloggers and the bullshit they spew.

"I fuckin' hate Internet bloggers. I hate people who use the Internet to talk shit and disappear into anonymity. I wish I could reach through the fuckin' screen and snatch some of them," he says, his voice rising slightly.

"These songs come from real places, some more angry than others," he adds, calmer again. "I think we'll always have shit we're pissed off at in life. Music is a good release valve for some of us to let us just vent it, you know?"

Clearly, but what of the crazed funk-metal odyssey of "Black Voodoo Sex"?

"It's an Ice-T adventure because I've always loved telling stories about sex with voodoo bitches in graveyards," he says with a laugh. "Those are just outrageous songs. You've got to remember, Body Count is grindhouse. Body Count is so outrageous it can't be taken seriously. It's over-the-top violent, over-the-top sexual. Even back in the day with 'Cop Killer,' if you believed I killed a cop, you also believe that on the next song I dismembered my mother with a Ginsu carving knife.

"My buddy says, 'Ice, you've got a dark humor, and if people don't get your humor, then you'll scare the shit out of them,'" he says. "My audience, my fans, they get it and know when I'm serious. They know."

Unfortunately, too many people sadly accept the lyrical content as literally as a 7-year-old would -- as nothing startling reality. President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle raised a stink about the perceived threat of "Cop Killer" -- a song about a Jason-like character seeking revenge on cops because police brutality drove him mad. Neither probably ever heard the song. National protests erupted along with demands that Warner Brothers censor the album.

"There were more people who didn't listen to my music than did and they were easily swayed," Ice says. "So I became the villain."

Could the backlash have been foretold?

"No! Hell no!" he says emphatically. "I come from a background of listening to Black Flag, and I had a T-shirt from Millions of Dead Cops. I thought cops were fair game. I didn't know there were things you couldn't say about them. No, it blindsided me."

Ice eventually decided to drop the song from future re-issues. Not because of label demands, but to shift the focus onto Body Count the band, and not a single song.

"When the president is talking shit about you, you gotta do something," he recalls. "I had to defuse the situation or it was just going to keep going and end up ugly."

In a strange twist, given his body of work stuffed with anti-police tomes or songs glorifying crime, Ice-T's acting career has been primarily predicated on portraying cops.

"It's very ironic. The last thing I ever thought I would be doing is acting like a cop and getting paid for it," he says with a laugh. "Hell yeah! I was a career criminal. I was out there fucking up . . . Life is ironic, man. If I ever thought as a kid I be a rock star and headlining at the Mayhem Festival I'd say, 'Get the fuck out of here! I think I'd be out in the parking lot robbing people.' I've changed. Now I'm handing out advice about how to be good."

Perhaps, but listeners will have to dig deep through the rage, violence, and occasional freakiness to unlock that advice.

"On the surface [Manslaughter] looks like some brutal slasher shit, but inside, there might be some jewels that can save your life," he says in closing. "That's what Ice-T can give you. It's medicine. It just don't look like medicine."

Body Count is scheduled to perform Friday, July 11, at Ak-Chin Pavilion.

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Glenn BurnSilver
Contact: Glenn BurnSilver