- Story by J. Bennett
Legendary rapper and longtime metal advocate moves on with the Body Count
Ice-T introduced his all-black metal band, Body Count, on 1991’s O.G.Original Gangster, arguably the best rap album in the history of forever that wasn’t put out by Public Enemy. The next year, Body Count’s self-titled debut full-length hit the racks, scaring the piss out of Tipper Gore, L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates, and suburban white folks everywhere with “Cop Killer.” After famously appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone in a police uniform, Ice pulled the track from the album and Body Count hysteria disappeared overnight. The band was soon dropped by Warner Bros., but soldiered on with 1994’s Born Dead [Priority] and 1997’s Violent Demise: The Last Days [Virgin]. Meanwhile, the name Body Count became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as drummer Beatmaster V died from leukemia in 1996, bassist Mooseman was killed in a drive-by in 2000, and guitarist D-Roc died from lymphoma in the summer of 2004. After collaborating with Slayer (on the Judgment Night soundtrack), Motörhead (on the Airheads soundtrack), and Six Feet Under (on “One Bullet Left” from 2001’s True Carnage) and assuming the role of Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Ice has returned with Murder 4 Hire, the first Body Count album in nine years. En route to Vegas with his wife, Nicole “Coco” Austin, our man put Decibel on speakerphone.
On the cover of Murder 4 Hire, there’s a cartoon of Uncle Sam holding a sign that says “Will Kill for Money.” It’s not a blind indictment of the US military, though—you were actually in the army at one point.
Yeah, I was in the army. I was a Ranger for a while. Up until this last conflict that just happened with Israel, the United States would just jump in any fuckin’ thing, you know? It’s kinda like we’re not so much an army as a bunch of mercenaries, like, “Oh, there’s a problem? OK, we’re in there.” And honestly, if we wasn’t so strung out right now between North Korea and the shit we got going in Iraq, we’d be in Israel right now trying to wile out. So I kinda don’t even look at it like an army anymore. It’s murder for hire—they’re hitmen, more or less.
Did you feel that way when you were in the service?
Well, you know, I got into the army because I had a kid and the army was an equal-opportunity employer. I was in trouble, fuckin’ around out here, and a lot of times people like that end up at a recruiter’s office, tryin’ to get their shit straight. So I went in there and I tried to roll with it, and it was kinda hard for me, you know, the guns and all that shit, but I was in during the first Iranian crisis. It got kinda ill when you started to think about the logic behind it: I’m just gonna go kill whoever you say because of politics. So it brings you 20/20, and I got outta there. If I’ma kill somebody, I’ma do it because they did something personally to me. I’m not buying into the politics. And now it’s religion, which is even worse.
Shit was pretty tense between the US and Iran in the late ’70s and early ’80s, especially during the Ayatollah’s takeover (1979) and the hostage crisis at the American embassy in Tehran (Nov. 1979–Jan. 1981). Did you think there was a chance you might get shipped over?
I trained, but I never actually went over. I went to Johnson’s Island, I went to sniper school; I’m a jungle expert, I’m a cold weather expert, I’ve jumped wing—so I’ve done all the shit, but fortunately, I never had to go to war. Thank God, ’cause I don’t know that I’m really that gung-ho that I’ma go blast some people just ’cause you say so.
It seems like the same thing is happening today: Kids enlist in the armed forces because maybe they’ve got money problems, maybe they’ve got a baby to support, and maybe they don’t know any better.
Right—or they saw one of them [recruitment] commercials. Those commercials look real good with the rock music playing and all that shit. I tell people, you know, “That music isn’t playing once you get there.” That’s a fuckin’ music video they made. It looks cool with all the Navy SEALS coming up outta the mud, but it’s a different game once you get there. I don’t have any disrespect for anybody in the military, though. I feel for ’em. They’re kids.
They’re being manipulated.
Yeah, we ain’t lookin’ for bin Laden, right? He set it off, and we kinda left him out in the cold. We already know the politics of the Taliban at the end of the day, but bin Laden got off. I mean, we’re allowed to fight back. If you bomb us, we’re allowed to fuck with you, but they ain’t even lookin’ for bin Laden. And he’s like, “Fuck you”—still. [Laughs] He’s in, like, a Puffy video right now or some shit.
Wherever he is, he’s a hero to the people who are hiding him.
Exactly. In the meantime, we’re trying to play some PlayStation and have a life, but Bush and Cheney and all these motherfuckers got foreign policy issues that quite possibly could… You know what the fucking thing is? Right now is the only time in my life where we’re really in a position where we could all die. Vietnam wasn’t it, but right now, with North Korea and all these motherfuckers, this is real shit. A nuke could go off within the next three years real easy. And now that the Middle East is buck wile, the United States doesn’t even know what the fuck to do. They can’t even clean up New Orleans, man.
Three Body Count members have died since the band’s formation. Do you ever feel like the name is a curse?
Nah, I never thought of it like that, but you could look at it that way. The reason we named it that was because the news in L.A. used to give out the number of how many people died in gang violence, so we considered ourselves a group of guys that would soon be numbered. And Moose did die from violence—he got shot. But Beatmaster V died from leukemia and D-Roc died from cancer. It’s been a rough road, man. Those were my boys. A lot of bands continue through that shit, but every time it happens, I’m ready to quit. But then everybody’s like, “Nah, nah, nah—you gotta put out another record.”
In the past, you’ve collaborated with Slayer, Motörhead and Six Feet Under. Is there anyone out there these days, metal-wise, who you’d wanna hook up with?
I just did a track with Jamey Jasta for his Icepick group—it’s called “Real Recognizes Real.” It’s pretty cool. Me myself, man, I’m down with whoever wants to fuck with me. I’d like to maybe do something with Henry Rollins one day, though. I actually did something for a Black Flag tribute album—I did “Police Story.”
Did you listen to Black Flag when you were both coming up in L.A. in the early ’80s, or were they a band you discovered later?
I knew about Black Flag because I had some friends who took me to some punk shows in L.A. back when Black Flag and Circle Jerks, all those bands used to play. I knew about Dead Kennedys, too. I liked that shit because it was crazy. I thought it was some ill shit, and I’ve always been an ill person, listening to Black Sabbath and all that shit. I used to hear the Black Flag commercials, like, “The police chief is coming for your wife! Black Flag at the Whiskey!” [As heard on “Crass Commercialism,” the final track of Everything Went Black, which compiles 17 and ½ minutes’ worth of Black Flag radio ads.] So I knew about it, but I didn’t actually get to witness Henry Rollins in full power until I went on tour with his band on Lollapalooza, which was long after that punk shit went down.
Are you straight edge?
What’s that mean?
It means you don’t drink or take drugs.
Yeah, I don’t really smoke weed or take drugs. I occasionally have a little cranberry and vodka if I’m out at the club with my girl, but I don’t have beers in the refrigerator or anything like that. I’m not into alcohol all that much, because I don’t like being off-balance. I like being on top of shit. I don’t fuck with the hard drugs, either. I have discovered the benefits of Ecstasy, though.
Yeah, that’s a sex drug right there. So sometimes, you know, me and Coco might break one in half, but only in pre-planned fucking sessions. But I don’t like being high, personally. I come from a background where you never know what’s gonna happen next, so I was always that guy who liked to stay sober.
In an interview you did years ago, you said, “I don’t compete with anybody but myself”—which is also something that Charles Bukowski used to say. He also said that whenever he felt his confidence was dwindling as a writer, he’d just read another writer and then he’d know he was OK. Do you ever feel like that?
You get motivated and inspired by people who are doing great things. I just came from Malibu Colony, and I was looking at all these 29 million dollar houses and I was thinking, “I gotta get some more fuckin’ money.” So I get motivated by people doing well, but as far as competing, I only compete with myself. If I can do 50 push-ups, I’m not worried if you can do a hundred, because I need to do 55. And if I can do 55, then I’ll try to do 60. As far as music, yeah—I listen to people’s records, records that are supposed to be hot shit, and I’ll think, “Damn! My shit is better than that!” The day you listen to other people’s shit and go, “I can’t fuck with that,” that’s the day you’ll quit.
Do you listen to much death metal these days?
When I was working with Slayer, Tom [Araya] said, “If I can’t hear what you’re saying, how can I hear what you’re saying?” And that made so much sense to me. So I like that brutal shit, but I don’t have time to decode that shit. I watch Headbangers Ball and think, “OK, you can play your guitar real fast. You motherfuckers is wile, but what the fuck are you talking about?” I really can’t figure the shit out, but I’m getting the energy. With BC, I try to make sure people know what I’m saying. I don’t know if what I’m saying is all that incredible, but at least you can hear it.
Would you ever have a white dude in Body Count?
We almost did. We had a couple white drummers down to try out when Vic [Beatmaster V] passed. But it didn’t work out—I don’t know if the white dudes felt out of place, or what. I don’t know. But you gotta think about it: If you’re a black rock musician, and Body Count is looking for a player, you’re gonna run to that fucking audition. So we had some bad motherfuckers in there, and they were like, “This is the only boat leaving.” [Laughs] Whereas the white kids would be like, “Well, I’ll just start my own group,” the black dudes were, like, breaking drums to get in there. It wasn’t set up like that, though. And I think it’d be cool to have a white dude in the band. I mean, all our roadies are white. [Laughs]