Remember When Ice-T's "Body Count" Was the Most Dangerous Band in the World?
(Sire Records, 1992)
From the mean streets of South Central L.A., Body Count was the brainchild of rapper/actor Ice-T, who wanted to create a project that melded his favorite musical genres—hardcore hip-hop and thrash metal. Assembling a band consisting mostly of his old high school friends (lead guitarist Ernie C., bassist Mooseman, drummer Beatmaster V, and rhythm guitarist D-Roc), Ice dubbed the new crew "Body Count" and took them on the road with him for 1991's Lollapalooza festival tour. Each night, Ice-T would perform a solo rap set and then bring the band out to finish with a 20-minute Body Count set. Their intense live performances quickly created a buzz and soon Body Count was being hailed as one of the "must see" acts of the festival. By the end of the tour, Body Count had secured a deal with Sire Records and they went straight to work recording their debut album.
Gaining a Rep...
Body Count's debut was an instant hit as soon as the single "There Goes the Neighborhood" premiered on MTV's "Headbanger's Ball" in March of 1992. Their mix of furiously crushing music and foul-mouthed, streetwise attitude instantly appealed to headbangers, punk rockers and alternative music fans alike. However, Body Count quickly garnered a different kind of attention outside of the hard rock world due to the album's last track - a sensitive ode to the L.A.P.D. entitled "Cop Killer."
"Cop Killer" caused the kind of mass hysteria that hadn't been seen in the metal community since Tipper Gore's PMRC witch hunts of the mid '80s. Police organizations protested in front of Time-Warner (Sire Records' corporate parent) offices, and the company was chastised by their stockholders and public figures like then-Vice President Dan Quayle and Hollywood legend Charlton Heston, who accused Time-Warner of advocating violence against law enforcement. (An unintentionally-funny video clip of Heston reading the lyrics to "Cop Killer" for news cameras remains a YouTube favorite to this day.)
Time Warner initially stood by Ice-T and the band, citing their right to freedom of speech, but the pressures on both parties eventually became too great. In mid-1992, Ice-T voluntarily removed "Cop Killer" from future pressings of Body Count, and the "Cop Killer" tattoo was removed from the chest of the gangster on the album cover. The song was replaced by a new version of "Freedom of Speech," a track from Ice's 1989 album The Iceberg, featuring Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys fame.
When the smoke cleared, Body Count had sold over a half million copies, Ice-T was a household name, and BC was the most feared band in America
Charlton Heston's "Cop Killer"
More than 25 years after its release, Body Count remains a hot button topic, and original pressings of the album with "Cop Killer" on them are sought-after collectors' items. However, modern day listeners might wonder why the Censorship Brigade singled out "Cop Killer" as the most offensive track on this record, because EVERY SONG is just as profane, obscene, and inflammatory. In short, this is an album that was made for angry teenagers to crank up as loud as possible, for the express purpose of pissing off their parents, teachers, and neighbors.
The most skilled instrumentalist in the band was definitely lead guitarist Ernie C., whose fluid shredding gives even the most goofball songs on this album (of which there are many) a touch of class. (Useless trivia: Ernie plays left handed, just like his idol, Jimi Hendrix.) The rest of Body Count's musicians were capable players who got the job done, but Ernie and Ice-T are the real stars here.
Most of Body Count sounds like a streetwise mix of Slayer, Motorhead and Suicidal Tendencies. Out of the 18 (!) tracks on the album, six are spoken-word "intros," two are simplistic crowd shout-alongs meant to get mosh pits started ("Body Count's In The House" and "Body Count Anthem"), and several are simple, dirty-joke songs that showcase the band's juvenile sense of humor ("Evil D*ck" and hilariously over-the-top "KKK B*tch").
Ice-T may never be considered one of metal's great vocalists, but his authoritative bark fits this material perfectly, spitting out lyrics like bullets from a machine gun. Despite the heavy amount of throw-away tracks, several tunes from Body Count have held up very well over the years, particularly the vicious "There Goes the Neighborhood," the cautionary prison story "Bowels of the Devil," the anti-crack power ballad (!) "The Winner Loses," and yes, even the infamous "Cop Killer." While on tour for this album Body Count shared concert stages with speed metal and hardcore bands like D.R.I., Megadeth and Exodus, and by all accounts, they held their own, proving that Body Count was the real deal, not just a vanity project from a bored rap star.
"Body Count's in the House"
Body Count never quite recaptured the lightning-in-a-bottle effect of their first album. In 1994 they released a belated follow-up disc, Born Dead, the title of which more or less describes its half-baked contents. Two further efforts (1997's Violent Demise: The Last Days and 2006's Murder 4 Hire) went unnoticed as Ice-T shifted his focus to his career as a television and film actor. Ironically, the man who became infamous for singing "Cop Killer" has been playing a cop on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit since 2000!
Sadly, three of the original Body Count band members have passed away since the release of the debut. Drummer Beatmaster V. succumbed to leukemia in 1997, bassist Mooseman was killed in a drive-by shooting in 2001, and rhythm guitarist D-Roc died from complications of lymphoma in 2004. Ice-T and Ernie C. soldiered on with new players, releasing the well received Manslaughter in 2014 and 2018's Bloodlust (which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Metal Perfomance). The next Body Count album, Carnivore, is expected in 2020.
© 2011 Keith Abt