If you were born after 1991, chances are you know Ice-T under a different name: Detective Fin Tutuola, resident badass on NBC’s Law and Order: SVU. It’s a persona ultimately steeped in irony, considering how the man born Tracy Lauren Marrow rose to fame through musical notoriety – first as a rapper (his debut LP, 1987’s Rhyme Pays, was one of the first albums to bear the infamous “Parental Advisory” sticker) and later as the frontman of the heavy metal band Body Count. Their 1992 protest single “Cop Killer” sparked an unprecedented cultural firestorm, drawing ire from the entire political establishment — everyone from Tipper Gore to then-president George H. W. Bush; the controversy was so intense that the band ultimately had to yank the single from Body Count’s eponymous debut after their label received death threats.
Politicians and the police have regarded Body Count as troublemakers, but music fans saw things differently. Body Count went gold despite “Cop Killer”’s omission, and Ice-T and company went on to release four more albums over the ensuing decades, a period also marked by intermittent tragedy and the deaths of three of its original members. Still, they persevered.
Later this month, Body Count will return with their sixth album, Bloodlust. Largely inspired by the 2016 election, the fury-laden record features guest appearances from some of metal’s biggest names, including Megadeth guitarist Dave Mustaine, Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe, and Sepultura co-founder Max Cavalera. We caught up with Ice-T during a break in SVU filming to discuss Bloodlust, heavy metal, politics – even Ben Carson. It was an interesting chat, to say the least.
I want to start by asking about “Civil War” because our country isn’t engaged in a literal civil war, but it sure as hell feels like it. How did that song come together, and how does it connect with the album as a whole?
This album was made during the election. During the past year or two, I’ve just noticed that if there ever was a divide in the United States, it’s become very obvious in the last couple of years, like during this whole election. We like to say the country is divided, but during the election you really saw it. Now, Twitter is like a battlefield. People say one thing, and they just attack. And it’s crazy. I pretend like, What if this shit really happens? What if people went at each other? It’s kind of like a cautionary tale. OK, this can be happen. If I can make it sound really real, like it really has happened, it might wake people up and say, “Hey, this is what we’re on the verge of.”
In a way, it’s like when I did “Cop Killer”. I was like “Yo, police, if y’all keep tripping, somebody may come after you. This can happen.” That’s more what it is. I wanted to set the tone and bring in the beginning of this record to where we are. We’re at this point where any infraction between the people can turn into some all-out war. And it might just happen in a small city. It could happen anywhere. So, that should get your mind right for the rest of the album. [Megadeth guitarist] Dave Mustaine is the first voice you hear on the record; he does the announcement.
What’s your take on our current political situation?
Right now, the big thing is Ben Carson. Ben Carson came out and said some dumb shit. Everybody took off on him. And then they said, “Well, Obama said the same shit” – but Obama is not a dumb fuck. This dude [Carson]’s been saying dumb shit for a long time. I saw him say some dumb shit during the election, where he referred to the Mexicans coming here and working for free. And I was like, that’s crazy, dude. What the fuck? There’s that feeling that black people are gonna vote for anybody black. No. No. No. All black people don’t like me. We want the best out of life and whoever’s gonna bring it to us. And that’s just like anybody else.
So, now everyone’s talking about him. But really they’re not talking about Trump, who’s over here, waist deep in shit over this election scandal. And he’s just, like, out of control. This motherfucker won’t even move to the White House! It’s like me becoming president and saying, “I just wanna stay in my crib. I like my Xbox, and I wanna go to All-Star weekend, and keep doing what I do – but i’m president!”
So, the world’s out of control. There’s a lot of bait and switch going on. “Watch this, while we do this.” And I’m singing at the top of my lungs, but everybody won’t buy this record. What I always hoped for is I wish I could really energize my old Body Count fans, ‘cuz we sold a couple million records back in the day. Just buy the record for nostalgia purposes! [Laughs]
In press releases, you’ve identified violence as a major theme of this record. “The Ski Mask Way” and “This Is Why We Ride” detail robberies and drive-bys.
It’s me saying, “Yo, this is who I really am.” I’m really familiar with the Ski Mask Way. That song is me saying, you motherfuckers are out here on social media — that’s more a song about social media. You’re flaunting … you know what happened to home girl in Paris. You’re showing it off. There are wolves out here. The bloodlust runs deep. And these cats, you’re giving everybody all this information to come rob you. I put myself in the hands of the robber, and his mentality is “I got no plans on you.” And that’s one of the elements of humanity. It’s always fun to play the bad guy.
“This Is Why We Ride” is me explaining the madness of the streets. It looks stupid [to the outside world], but this is revenge. You may have never had somebody kill your kid; you may have never had to watch your best friend bleed out; you DO want to go after them – and they do do it. As bad as that is, there’s a method to that madness. There’s a madness to the streets, but there’s a reason for it. And I think I’m one of the only people that can explain it. And I think that’s my duty.
Then there’s “Here I Go Again”, where you get inside the head of a serial killer. You’ve seen a lot of this happen on the street, but you’re also a dad and husband, and certainly not a serial killer. Is it ever difficult to write from that perspective?
No. I’m a weirdo; I’m a horror fan. This stuff is all around us. And, you know, I tell people, that’s my Stephen King side. How does fucking Stephen King write book after book after book of this shit? One of ‘em is OK. But this dude, he keeps coming with this shit. What’s he thinking about? I’m friends with Chris Barnes, who does Six Feet Under. I listened to one of his death metal records. I’m like, “Chris, it’s over. I don’t think you can spend the night at my house anymore. Like, the fuck?” I don’t know. On SVU, all these girls write all this crazy stuff; I look at them crazy, too. I’m like, “Yeah, OK.” Maybe I should be more like Rob Zombie and write some horror movies.
Where do you do most of your writing?
Well, when I do a Body Count album, first we write the music, and we write 15-20 instrumentals that could play without words. So, the songwriting is done with no words. Then they mix that into a two-track, and then it’s kind of like making a rap album. Cuz I have the track, and I sit up with a pad, and sometimes I do the hook. I do writing in my living room. I put the headphones on, and sometimes I get the hook first. This might sound like artist shit, even though I guess I am an artist — people hate it when you say it — but the music kind of tells me what the song is about. When you hear “Here I Go Again”, those licks, your brain goes, This is a horror movie. And it’s kind of a Crowbar-ish song; it’s really chunky. And when Max, from Soulfly and Sepultura, helped us do “All Love Is Lost” — that’s such a brutal record — you can’t really sing about I love my mother on it. It’s like, you’re mad. It lended to a song about someone who’s betrayed you. And I wrote an outline for a crazy video for that, too.
How did your collaborations with Mustaine, Blythe, and Cavalera come about? Have you been friends with them for a while?
Well, David [Mustaine] is the most interesting one. Way back in the day, I fucked with Megadeth, but I didn’t know David Mustaine by name. And he did an interview with some magazine in LA and asked for his five favorite albums. And he said “O.G., O.G., OG., O.G…” He named my record five times! And I met him, and he’s a cool guy; I learned his story, and we’ve just been friends. When we get ready to make these albums, everyone we’ve met in metal – whether it’s Henry Rollins or Duff [McKagan] from Guns N’ Roses, or all these different people that we’ve become friends with – say, “Hey, if you’re going in the studio, call us. Let us know. Come to a track.” And we never do it.
So, this year I said, “Fuck it. Call the motherfuckers! Let’s see what’s up.” We sent David “Civil War”. He came up with the idea to do the announcement. He did the craziest guitar solo on that record. Max [Cavalera], we bumped into him on the road — we opened up for Sepultura back in the day, when they played with Ministry – and he jumped on the record and actually brought some music to the sessions. And then Randy [Blythe] and [Body Count guitarist] Ernie C were in a program in LA and became friends. We rocked with Lamb of God in Montreal, and all these people really stood by their word. When we called them, they were like, “Whatever, send me the track.”
Fortunately, nowadays, you don’t have to be in the same place. You send the track, and they lay the track. So, we didn’t record physically in the same room. But it doesn’t matter, because with people like that, they’re on your record. They’re not only helping the record. They’re co-signing to their fans. And we’re co-signing them to our fans. People might say, “Oh, I don’t think they’re cool. Oh, they fuck with Body Count? Alright, cool, cool.” When we worked with Slayer, a lot of people thought Slayer was racist. And they shut that down by having a song with me, right?
You mentioned Crowbar earlier. What’ve you been listening to lately, on the metal side?
I listen to a radio metal station out here, Seton Hall University Radio Station. Don’t take this wrong, but when I’m making a record, I don’t listen to other records; I don’t want to listen to a record on the radio and then try to make a record like that. It kind of contaminates my thought process. Me, myself, I like classic hardcore shit. I’m listening to shit like Wisdom in Chains, Screwball, and Madball and Biohazard – similar stuff to what I do. And then I listen to old, classic shit, like Led Zeppelin and all kinds of weird shit. And at home, I don’t listen to anything hard. I listened to ambient spa music.
What about your one-year-old daughter, Chanel? Is she a metalhead in the making?
She’s heard Bloodlust maybe 58 billion fucking times. Her grandma was singing “Beauty and the Beast” to her and she wouldn’t react; she started going [imitates a death growl] “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.” She put her hands up. She likes it hard; she’s crazy with it. In my household, I can’t listen to that shit – because when you enter my house, you just walk into a spa. I got aquariums and water running; everyone talks really slow. You can’t live in that environment all the time. It’ll give you a headache.
Bloodlust can be pre-ordered via iTunes here.