When you write for a magazine, your editors tell you how long an interview feature needs to be and invariably, the most agonizing part of putting it all together is having to remove great quotes and really interesting discussions because they either don’t fit the word count or they run too far afield of the main topic. I interviewed Ice-T earlier this year for Outburn magazine and found myself with an embarrassment of riches in the unused material department. With the blessing of my editor, I’ve put together all of the unused material as a separate bonus feature to the main story. So please support music journalism and pick up a copy of the new Outburn, featuring Album of the Year contenders Mastodon, and enjoy this free bonus content with one of the most engaging, controversial and accomplished frontmen in modern metal — Mr. Ice-T.
Cop Killer came out at a time when police brutality was still happening, but it was before cell phones with cameras.
But now, mainstream news outlets are publishing videos of brutality, protest and even death. To what degree is the new album a reflection of that?
When we recorded Bloodlust, we didn’t know who was going to be President, so there aren’t any references to that. The record is my vision of what I see out here, it’s not me telling you to do anything. Even a song like Black Hoodie, I’m like, “Yo, this happened and nobody marched and it never made the news.” I just saw this picture that Greenpeace did over the White House (on January 26, 2017, seven Greenpeace protestors hung a giant “Resist” banner on a crane behind the White House). I mean, they got up there on a crane! Who the fuck does that?
You’ve said this album is more aggressive than Manslaughter. How so?
Everything! One of my mottoes is that it’s no time for anything soft. When you do an album, you always want to get better. With metal, you’ve gotta go harder! That’s how you make it better! (laughs) Another thing is that our whole career, we’ve had everybody in metal support us, from the guys in Slayer, to Lamb of God, to Henry Rollins back in the day… Everybody we respected loved us, but we never answered their phone calls. We never said, “Hey, got some ideas? Let’s jam.” So this time we just said that we were going to put everybody on our lines on the record. Some people sent us tracks and we used that material as a starting point for writing. It all ends up better like that. Why not take advantage when you have all of these great, talented friends?
Is it safe to say that throughout your career, you’ve felt the support of the metal community around Body Count.
Absolutely. The ones I give a fuck about, anyway. I’m sure that there are some metal people that don’t like us and that don’t care for us, but we got respect from everybody who I respected. We toured with Metallica, Dave Mustaine is on the album, Max Cavalera… These are guys who I give a fuck about and these are really the top shelf motherfuckers in the game. Whether it’s Jamey from Hatebreed, these are the people who set the bar, as far as I’m concerned. You go into death metal… I’ve fucked with Chris Barnes, I’ve fucked with the guys from Cannibal Corpse. The people I give a fuck about like us and that’s all that matters. I feel the same way about hip hop; all the rappers don’t need to like me, just the dope ones. (laughs) Shit, think about it – you want your hat tips coming from the bosses. We respect them and they really respect us. You know, it’s one thing to say “I like you,” but it’s another thing to say, “I’ll be on your record.” The first voice on the record is Dave (Mustaine). When you play Civil War, he comes on talking shit and I don’t think he’s done that for anyone else. We’re very happy to be in the metal community and to be accepted. We’ve been around for twenty years and I think motherfuckers realize we ain’t going away. And whenever we play, like on tour, that fucking stage is packed with the bands we’re playing with who want to come out and see what the fuck we’re doing. So we get the props from who we want ‘em from and God bless ‘em. Thank you.
No Lives Matter goes beyond racism and becomes something of a call to arms, or at least a call for unification. Think we can do it?
I don’t want them to use racism to divide us again. We’re all on the same side. I found that out a long time ago when I started touring with Public Enemy, when I saw white kids in the fucking audience with their fists in the air. Then when I did Home Invasion, I began to understand more and more that if you’re mad at the same shit then you’re an ally. They don’t want whites and blacks and Hispanics to be on the same side. That’s the big fear, so let’s split ‘em up. That’s what that song is about.
Like “My enemy’s enemies are my friends.”
Absolutely, but we’re in a situation where the key to winning all wars is to divide and conquer. Don’t let ‘em get together. So these are the same tactics that are being used. A lot of the people that are out there running around on that racist shit, they really don’t understand the whole game. So that’s my job- to break it down and let you say, “Oh shit… that’s the truth.” I read this stuff about the arms trade and that stuff and when you get to that level, humans are just collateral damage. They don’t give a fuck. The evil motherfuckers up there just want the money and they don’t care who gets killed.
You say “They fuck whoever can’t fight back/we gotta change that.” Are you talking about the police? Who’s “they?”
You know what, that’s a question I always ask myself – who is “they?” I think “they” are the people that really agree with the cops – the brutal cops. These are the people who think it’s OK for them to snatch you out of your car if you’ve got long hair. I guess you’re right – “they” are the cops, but they’re not all cops. They’re just the ones that are picking up and saying, “This kid’s Mexican, so we can drag his punk ass into this alley. He ain’t got no lawyer.” Even me, when they pull me over and then figure out who I am, they back the fuck up.
You still get pulled over?
Man, I just got pulled over last week, me and Coco. Why wouldn’t I? (laughs) I’m still the same guy – I’m a black man rolling around with a white woman. And I look like a pimp! What, you think there’s some halo over me now? No, nothing changes. Even in a nice car, they see me and throw those lights on. Why are they doing it? Is it because we’re black and it’s racism? Or is it a mentality like, “These are some cats that we can really fuck over because they’re poor, so they really can’t fight us”? Even on Law and Order, when we go in, they’ll say, “This is a family from the upper east side – tread lightly.” What are they saying? So that’s what I mean when I say “they fuck whoever can’t fight back.” They’re more reckless with people who can’t. But what’s changing with that shit now is that if you kill a poor kid, we march. So you can’t just brush it under the carpet. When they killed these kids and the people stood up, that tells the police, “Hey, you gotta handle this shit a little differently because the people aren’t having it.” So that’s what I’m saying. We gotta let ‘em know that everybody matters. Because in their eyes, they’ll fuck us all. That’s a really good question – who is “them?” Who is “The system?” I guess Trump can put all the hats on now, ‘cause he asked for it. (laughs)
Black Hoodie is heavy, provocative and graphic Is it based on real life?
Nah, I just made it up. It’s fake. (roars laughing) I didn’t want to burst your bubble, but it’s just an imaginary tale of hanging out. This type of shit happens all the time; you’re hanging out, the cops roll up, and your boy takes off. I’ve had that happen. That’s true, but he didn’t get shot. So the motherfucker runs and everybody’s all, “Why’d he run? Must’ve had a ticket.” In this situation, he hit the corner and the cops shot him. Then the story continues, my man’s laying there dead and they’re still cuffing him up. That happens. What I do is write what I called “faction.” It’s fictional stories inspired by factual occurrences and things I’ve seen and heard. I know that even when they shoot you, they still put the cuffs on – how ‘bout that? Then there’s the day in court and the police say that he threw something, or he was a gangbanger or something. They dirty up his image. A black hoodie? That’s all it took. They portrayed him as a dirty fucking street crook. But then at the end of the song, it’s like nobody had a clue, nobody marched. It’s our way of saying that this shit happens and it’s been happening. It’s nothing new. Like you said early in the interview about cell phones and cameras. I say in the song, “maybe someone got it on video.” But now we’re just seeing a lot of stuff that nobody saw. Rodney King was the first time a lot of America saw some of these savage police get down. I always say that for every one bad cop, there are like five good ones, but unfortunately the bad ones are making the news right now.
The record is attracting some of the highest critical praise of your career. Was there a holy shit moment in the recording when you felt like you’d hit the next level?
Not really. The music just keeps getting better as we mix it. We start with the raw bones of the album and then we start adding layers and layers. Then (producer) Will Putney, he’s like the phantom member of the band. He’s worked with Suicide Silence. He comes in and adds guitar and shit, throws extra things in there and busts it out. I think that once I heard the mixes and played it in my car, I was like, “Yo, this shit is sounding good.” It’s loud and it’s got lots of layers. I was really pleased with it. I’m nervous making records. I don’t get happy too soon. When I’m making albums I need to make at least ten good albums and then I’m happy. So when I get to five, I get nervous because I’m like, “Can I make five more?” I’m an album artist, so it’s important to be able to stay coherent for ten or twelve records. It’s not that easy.
I reviewed your biography a few years back, so I pulled out my copy and thumbed through the appendix with your street wisdom and found this: Hustler’s motto: Raise the risk and raise the profits. Where’s the risk on this record? What’s here that wasn’t on Manslaughter?
I don’t really know. I was just harder about accepting records. We made maybe twenty-five songs. There are eleven songs on the album and there will be two released during the year. I’m constantly trimming the fat. So I don’t know how I raise the risk, I just try to make it better. One of the things I do is ask myself, “What if I had to come out on stage to this? Could we open a show with this song? Would I turn the lights down and start the electrical storm and come out with Here I Go Again and come out with a rubber fucking dead skin mask on my face and just go?” Yeah I’d come out like that! If you make records that you really want to perform and you can really get into it, you’re in the right ballpark. Like when we played in Arizona, we opened with Raining Blood, and it killed. It killed. Everybody’s waiting for Body Count and then Body Count comes on stage and you hear, (hums the opening riff of “Raining Blood”), and motherfuckers went crazy. They were like, “What? These niggas are playing Slayer!” (laughs) I started singing and it just killed. The pit just never stopped for the rest of the show.
Cop Killer blew up headlines when you released your debut and now it’s a live staple. Do you still feel the buzz when you play it?
We close the show with it. That’s our grand finale. That’s another thing about making albums. You don’t want to repeat it. I think that Cop Killer is the epitome of protest records against the police, so you don’t want to fuck with it if it’s in your catalog. I think it would be a mistake, fucking with that song. It’s so classic – it’s got that punk riff to it; it’s more punk than metal to me and it sits well. Every night when we do the last song, we’re like, “Everybody stick your fingers in the air and prepare for the national anthem,” and we go into Cop Killer and people nut up.
In the 90s, protest songs like that just weren’t coming out.
Right. Another thing about us is that now we’ve got the props to Rage out and the key is to do it without sounding like those bands – to do it Body Count style, to keep it gangsta and to keep it in our zone. We knew Chuck D had done Prophets of Rage, so we knew we couldn’t do it like Prophets- we had to keep it in our zone. We call it gangsta rock.
What are three things you make it a point to do every day?
First thing I do is kiss my little girl. We’ve got a new one year-old that is now the focus of my life, of course. I’m an old man, so she hit a reset button on my life. I gotta stick around now, I ain’t going nowhere. Y’all gotta deal with me. The second thing I do is check my Twitter. I’m kind of a lightweight slave to social media. I like to wake up and make sure I didn’t do anything while I was alsoeep I always wake up to see my whole feed’s full of shit like, “You fucking asshole!” Then I either go to work – I’m still on Law and Order, eighteen seasons, which pays the bill and allows me to do these records – and that’s about it. Or I’ll sit around during the day and play Xbox.
Any preview of what to expect from this summer’s Body Count shows?
When you don’t headline, you’re doing thirty minutes, but once you’ve got five or six albums, then it’s like, “OK, what’s your setlist?” Now we’ve got so many more good records to add to the setlist, Ernie’s asking me, “So what’s the show gonna look like,” and I’m like, “Man, I’ll worry about that in a month or so. Don’t ask me about that fucking shit.”