Ice-T is one of the godfathers of gangsta rap, and some his albums are the crème de la crème of the genre. In 1991, a year before he released his highest-charting full-length set, the masterful “O.G. Original Gangster,” he formed Body Count, the rap/metal hybrid that ignited controversy for its 1992 single “Cop Killer,” in which Ice sings from the point of view of a cop killer.
Eight years after “Cop Killer” hit, Ice landed an intriguing role: as a detective on the NBC drama “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” This year, Ice-T is back, not only as Detective Odafin Tutuola on the 16th season of “Law & Order: SVU,” but with Body Count, which released its long-awaited comeback album, “Manslaughter.” And recently, he joined forces with San Antonio, Texas, metal-core band Upon A Burning Body for a raucous cover of “Turn Down for What,” originally performed by DJ Snake and Lil Jon. The song will appear on “Punk Goes Pop Vol. 6,” which is due out Monday. A stripper-and-booze filled video accompanies the song.
So how did an MC who pioneered gangster-rap and even sang a song about killing a cop end up portraying a cop?
“The fact that I can pull off a real legitimate detective when I’m about as far from a cop as you can f--kin' get, that’s acting,” he tells International Business Times. “And when people say, well, you did 'Cop Killer,' I'm like, I was acting there too, I haven't killed any cops. And I remember even back in the day when we were doing 'Cop Killer,' I was like, ‘you guys are taking this record a little too serious.’ If you notice on the next record, I kill my mother and dismember her over racism. This isn't real. This is the wild movies we used to see on Saturdays where the guy would go in his trunk and he'd pull out a rocket launcher, it was blowout.”
In a lengthy conversation with IBTimes, Ice-T talks about his his latest album with Body Count, released on indie label Sumerian Records (which "let us do what we do"); his experiences with the music industry; his feelings about Xbox (“Oh my God, I love f---ing Xbox. When I'm gettin’ ready to get on the tour bus, first thing I say is we gotta have a 360 on the muthaf---a.”); his thoughts about PlayStation (“I stopped playing PlayStation because Xbox started giving me free consoles -- so sorry, I sold out”); his goal of making “very ultra-violent” animated movies; and his role on “Law & Order: SVU.”
International Business Times: On one hand, you've been playing a cop on “Law & Order: SVU” for years, and on the other hand, you've been the frontman of Body Count, and even sang a song from the point of view of a cop killer. But you couldn't see the detective you portray getting up there as the singer of Body Count.
Ice-T: No. The fact that I can pull off a real legitimate detective when I'm about as far from a cop as you can f---in' get, that’s acting. And you know, in the industry, they call it casting against type. They have what they call typecasting, then they have casting against type. So what you do is you take Rob Zombie and you make him a schoolteacher. So what they can do is if you take me and put me in a movie and you have me as a thug or a gangsta, that's typecasting, but if you make me a cop, it's like, now you get a cop with an interesting dynamic. It's actually genius what they did when they did it in [the film] “New Jack City.” Tupac's played a cop, Dre's played a cop, RZA is known for playing a cop, Ice Cube has played a cop. It kinda works, as far as the fantasy of television and movies goes. And when people say, well, you did “Cop Killer,” I'm like, I was acting there too, I haven't killed any cops. And I think musicians are actors, so to speak. Like when you watch Alice Cooper, or you watch Marilyn Manson.
It happens even with musicians who make music that’s more subtle.
Well, honestly, it’s with all music. Let’s take an R&B singer. Aight, the first song is "Baby I Love You," the next one is "Baby Don't Leave Me," the next song is "It's Better Since You're Gone," the next song is "I Never Needed ... " It's like there's no way this one person could live all these particular feelings. They have to turn into different people to deal with these different emotions, or else they would sing the same song over and over again.
It's kind of like that with country music, right?
Yeah. Well, I always said country music is the closest thing you're gonna come to hip-hop because they think about their cars, they wear hats and jeans to the Grammys. Johnny cash shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die -- that sounds like ghetto boys to me. You've got the black-hat cowboys, you got the rhinestone cowboys. Garth Brooks says, “I’ve got friends in low places,” and he's proud of it. They smoke weed. They get high. They shoot at each other. Very similar.
And Johnny Cash actually did two records in a prison.
Yeah. So it's a music about a culture and a lifestyle. People who aren't from that lifestyle, don't get it. It's sung for those inside the lifestyle. So now you step outta here, to metal, right?, which is intentionally aggressive. It should be a slight bit scary, right? So how do most rock bands choose to scare you? They try to scare you with the occult, whether it's Slayer or Deicide, all these heavy groups; and Body Count chooses to scare you with the street. I think Body Count draws closest to New York City hardcore [punk] music, because of their vocal delivery, whether its Madball or Biohazard, it's aggressive. I did a song called "The Stench of Piss," with Propain. And New York hardcore tends to sing more about the New York experience, and it almost raps.
Listen to me. Ninety percent of these metal guys are rapping. If you're not the f---ing Eagles, you're rapping. The Eagles would get up there and those motherf---ers would sing in harmonies. OK. Most of these motherf---ers ain't singing in harmonies. They're barking, they're howling, they're doing the Cookie Monster; the only words you can hear is "DESTROY." It's good, it has musicality. But how many real rock motherf---ers can really sing?
While some heavy bands take that Cookie Monster approach, others actually do offer smooth, melodic singing.
You've got that other rock, like Linkin Park, where you have these beautiful vocals but then they're broken down into this hard grunge rock, and then it comes back to some guy who can really sing -- that flip-flop style of rock. I mean, [in Body Count] at least we're consistent [laughs]. I like my vocals one-dimensional. If I'm gonna listen to Cannibal Corpse, I just go with that. I've worked with Chris Barnes [formerly of Cannibal Corpse]; he’s in Six Feet Under now.
What have noticed lately about contemporary music?
I think one of the problems now with music is they try to classify it too much, but it's a big gumbo, everyone is influenced by everybody. All these groups listen to each other. Ya know, you get on the Metallica bus, they got N.W.A tapes. [Metallica lead guitarist] Kirk Hammett said "Enter Sandman" was motivated by a record I did on the “Power” album, that's where he got the riff for "Enter Sandman." And it was a track I had gotten from Heart, ya know? So everybody's listening to everybody else's stuff, looking for that new thing, that new influence, that new breakdown, ya know. When we first started doing rock back in the day, we were touring with DRI [Dirty Rotten Imbeciles]. So if you want the pit to move faster, you go uptempo, right? Now the new bands are almost going to dub step, right? Dub step moves differently. You're getting influenced by different ways it happens. I went and saw Killswitch Engage, and they was dope, but they were singing, and then they would go hard. I'm not a good enough vocalist for that, so we gotta get by with my style, which is kind of yellin' [laughs]. But effective.
The new Body Count album, “Manslaughter,” seems to pick right up from where the band left off with 2006’s “Murder 4 Fire” I’m really liking it.
How do you think it differs from previous Body Count albums?
I think this one is as good as the first one. We went back to the original formula, of all of us getting together and gettin' into a room and writing the songs together. Ya know, I was away from the game, and this gives me a chance to get back hungry, gives me a chance to get some ideas in your head about what you wanna talk about. We also were teamed up with one of the best producers out there: Will Putney, he gave us a really good, solid-sounding record. A lot of bands are really good but they lose it in the studio. So I think all those things came together. We got a good label behind us that let us do what we do. It just came together, and I'm very proud of it.
How did the new label make a difference this time?
Well, I think the kick with the label is, when you sign to a label, they have a job to do, they have to put me on the phone with you. They have to handle things I'm incapable of handling. Now everything is sold through the Internet, it’s impossible to police the Internet, so you need someone who knows what they're doing. I think also they just believed in the band. Ash [Avildsen is] is a Body Count fan; Ash is the head of Sumerian. The way we got the deal had to do with Vincent Price; Vince, the new bass player for Body Count, was connected to Juan Garcia, our new rhythm guitar player, and Juan had connections with the label.
And I didn't wanna make another record unless I had the full support system together. In my words, I said, I want a valid swing at the ball, like I don’t wanna just make a record, and da di da, I don't want to get with some major who demands us to try to make radio records. I just want somebody who understands the band. And Sumerian was with it. And they gave us the money to go in and take the time. They didn't put a time limit on the album. They gave us everything we needed to do this record.
On some songs, it bought me back to old-school U.S.-style hardcore, especially with “Institutionalized 2014,” a reinterpretation of the Suicidal Tendencies song.
Oh absolutely, “Institutionalized.” The theme of the Xbox. I just wanted to sit back in my chair and play a little Xbox [laughs]. You know the thing is, Suicidal did it back in the day with “all I wanted was a Pepsi,” and to me that was a rant record. He was just ranting about his parents not understanding what he was going through. And Suicidal was really the first West Coast band that kind of embraced the real street culture. They kind of looked a little bit like gang-bangers, and skaters. Suicidal was always known to have the crazy fans and they kind of ended up being Body Count fans as we came along. “Institutionalized 2014” was an homage to that group. But the problem is, you can’t do that record from the perspective of a 16-year-old kid when you’re a grown-ass man. So I had to find the things that ticked me off in my daily life, and kind of just rewrote the song using the same hook, and it worked.
So you like Xbox?
Oh my God, I love f---ing Xbox, I’m the most Xboxed f--ka. And I'm in a lot of games. I was just in “Gears of War,” I was Griffin, I was a final character on “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” I'm a “Call of Duty” guy, I like “Titanfall.” I mean, when I'm gettin’ ready to get on the tour bus, first thing i say is “we gotta have a 360 on the muthaf---a. I love that s---.
What about PlayStation 4?
I stopped playing PlayStation because Xbox started giving me free consoles -- so sorry, I sold out [laughs hard]. I always say, free that's for me, and I'll take three [laughs].
Like with early Body Count material, the whole idea of violence and guns comes up again with "Talk S---, Get Shot." Is there a difference in bringing it to listeners now as opposed to more than 22 years ago?
Body Count, their aggression is street-based: “you'll get punched in the face,” that kind of stuff. When we first did Body Count, most metal was dealing with the occult, devil this, devil that, and when we put the guy on the cover of the “Cop Killer” album [Body Count’s self-titled debut], we were like, “that's the devil,” that's the last muthaf---a you want to meet in an alley, and when you open the cover, there's a big Magnum pointed at you. We kind of like wanted to make drama more real, so now you take Body Count, and to get to understand it 20 years in the game: Body Count is grindhouse, the album covers are grindhouse. It's ultraviolent, it's ultravsexual, to the point of humor. It's just too far-fetched to be taken serious. And remember even back in the day when we were doing "Cop Killer," and I was like, "you guys are taking this record a little too serious." If you notice on the next record, I kill my mother and dismember her over racism. This isn't real. This is the wild movies we used to see on Saturdays where the guy would go in his trunk and he'd pull out a rocket launcher, it was blowout. So "Talk S---, Get Shot" is kind of like my feeling on bloggers and people who talk s--- on the Internet, and I think we all wish we could just reach through the screen, like I did in the video, and snatch a motherf----- [laughs]. We can't in real life, so Body Count does it.
It's fantasy. And there's so much fantasy. I mean, did I really have sex with a KKK bitch? Did I really meet a voodoo lady that had a voodoo doll, like on the new album? Did i really have sex in a graveyard with a woman with a knife? It's intentionally pushed way over the top.
It’s outrageous and pushed way out, but with real themes.
Exactly. And here's the monkey wrench. Occassionly I get serious. And that's what throws people the f--- off. Because when you listen to "I Will Always Love You,' that's dead serious. When you listen to "Back to Rehab,' that's dead serious. So [laughs], it's an intelligent man's record, you gotta think.
Since Body Count's early material, what's happened to music? And what’s happened to it considering how violent the world has become, both here in the U.S. and throughout the world? I mean the world has just become very delusional. It’s pop -- pop kinda won. And the kids, the generation now, we're leaving in a generation of jaded youth. So the parents had to fight, and the parents fought, and they made a better world, and the kids kinda grew up to be a bunch of little brats. Like my son, he got picked up from a f---in' hospital in a Rolls-Royce. Why? because I had made a lot of money making records. He gets to wear $250 sneakers. At 15, he got to go into the club. So what the fuck can he really sing about? In other words, hip-hop turned our kids into the kids we used to hate [laughs]. They haven't struggled. Is there something wrong with that? No. We wanted a bettter life. But the mosh pit went from a brutal mosh pit back in the day to everybody's doing the pogo. And this album I did, I don't expect it to be a super big record. I hope it inspires the next generation of Rages [Rage Against the Machine]. Like I want some kid to listen to this and go, "This is the s--- I want to do, and I could do it better." I was inspired by Black Sabbath; I want a new young group to come out and say, "Body Count, that was the group that got me going.'
Also, I wanted to make a body of work because an album to me is different from making a single. It's 15, 12 songs that have to be played together, and you got to be able to listen to all of them; you shouldn't be fast-forwarding them. You're gonna pick your favorites, but it's like a concert. But they're not into that now.
The music industry sure has changed, and some would argue that some of the changes have been a letdown.
It's hard to sell records now. First week, we sell like less than 5,000 records -- I’m like, really? I used to sell 50,000 records in a week, a hundred thousand. I mean, it's like, people don't buy records, it's crazy.
Now, I really feel for any new artist who is out there starting from nothing. We're doing half a million YouTube views within the first three weeks. People just don't purchase, they'll buy one song. The game is real strange. So you know why you do it? You do it because you love making music, you do it because you love going out in front of an audience, and you just do it. And hopefully, hopefully [laughs] you gotta side gig.
Any intriguing studio moments during the making of the new record that you can reveal?
I think the weirdest thing is the "99 Problems” song. My boys knew, and those who know Ice-T know, that "99 Problems" came out on the Ice-T “Home Invasion.” And then Jay Z remade it. And I get teased a lot like, "That ain’t your record." They would always play it and I would do the live vocals. And then people in the studio would be like, "Woe, what are you doin'?" And I would have to explain it. So when we got ready to do the [latest Body Count] album, we were like, “Let's just throw it on there,” but we threw it on the album kinda like, in hip-hop, we call 'em an interlude, or a skit, and I start saying these words, so the listener is going, What's going on? And then the track hits. And we also put it on the album as a journalist's booby trap.
I had a couple of journalists say [in a dorky accent], "So Ice-T, when you were making this record, why did you choose to remake Jay Z's record?' And I'm like, "Ah, you just stepped in the dog s---.’ One guy was so embarrassed that he was like, "Would you like me to stop the interview?" I was like, "Nah, it's not an insult, just, you know, Jay remade it and we jacked it back. I think it was a great hook. Brother Marquis from 2 Live Crew invented the hook. We went out and I proceeded to make a record naming off every kind of girl I can think of: a bitch from the East, a bitch from the West, and, ya know. It made sense. Now when Jay made it, he talked about a dog searching his car, and a dog is a bitch, a girl dog, so that's how he flipped it.
There’s lots of dark humor in your music. Anything to say about that?
I think Ice-T and Body Count have a learning curve. And people gotta understand my dark humor. And you remember "Black 'n' Decker," where we put a drill through somebody's head, just weird s--- I tend to do, just to f---in’ bother people. You were doing that early on. On “Power,” on “O.G. Original Gangsta.”
I think on "Power," a guy wants to hear the tape and we make him bleed through a whole album [laughs]. I'm like, "Should I get a paramedic?" And he's like, "No, play that one more time." You know, some dumb s---.
Any plans to come back as a full-on rap MC?
I gotta get inspired, man. And you know, it took me eight years to get inspired to do this [the Body Count album]. I might be the first 60-year-old rapper, you know? I think the next hip-hop project I'll probably do will be connected to a film. After doing "The Art of Rap," I wandered a bit, into doing movies, getting more into television and stuff. I got an animated series I wanna do, and I think I might create something very hip-hop and very rap-oriented for that. But just trying to put a record out, with Drake and them out there, no.
What kind of movie do you plan on doing?
I found some cool guys that do heavy animation, like very urban s---, but very ultraviolent stuff. And I see a lot of the stuff on Comedy Swim and stuff, but I haven't really seen a real drama, blaxploitation so to speak, put to animation, with some good ol' Curtis Mayfield music. I'm working with those people, but I’m really trying to find somebody who will help us. It costs a lot of money to animate, and I've been looking at this channel Robert Rodriguez has, the El Rey network, and I'm just trying to find somebody who will give us a production deal so we can go in and really animate some really crazy s--- that no one's ever seen. And of course, then we'll put the music to it. So wild s---. But not funny. Funny only because it's outrageous. One again, I'm very into grindhouse, I'm very into s--- that's way over the top. I'm a Jason fan and a big fan of old movies like the “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” “Evil Dead II,” just harsh crazy s--t.