A new generation of metalheads better brace themselves for the return of Body Count with their Sumerian Records debut, Manslaughter. This is the group that dropped hip-hop attitude into heavy metal and hard rock music before Rage Against The Machine, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and Hollywood Undead made records, despite nary an ounce of rapping over their mosh-pit inducing songs. Body Count is a full on metal band, fronted by a legendary rapper who drops knowledge, violent stories and verbal middle fingers, with a bellowing growl descended from some of punk rock’s most pissed off screamers.
Ice-T and cofounder/lead guitarist Ernie C have perfected their mix of thrash, punk and bottom heavy doom across five albums, hitting a zenith with the unstoppable Manslaughter, backed by bassist/songwriter Vincent Price (with Body Count now for nearly 15 years), drummer Ill Will (joined in 2009) and new guitarist Juan Garcia of EVILDEAD. They embody the monumental Southern California tradition of street born punk bands like Suicidal Tendencies combined with the aggressive aural napalm of Slayer. From the punk bite of their gold debut through the metallic triumph of Born Dead (1994), Violent Demise: The Last Days (1997) and Murder 4 Hire (2006), to the all encompassing Body Count vibe of Manslaughter, which merges the strengths of the band’s entire catalog.
Driven by the same iconoclastic, antiauthoritarian and pimp-turned-poet mentality that made Ice-T a gangster rap pioneer, a platinum artist from the streets and a household name in film and television before “rapper/actor” was a commonly used term, Body Count flipped the script with the same tenacity when they bumrushed heavy metal. The first rumblings of Body Count were heard in the eponymous song unleashed on Ice-T’s gigantic O.G.: Original Gangster album in 1991, which hit stores just two months after Ice’s first major movie role in the modern crime classic, “New Jack City.” The fierce thrash of the “Body Count” anthem put people on notice that the Megadeth cap Ice-T wore on MTV wasn’t for show: aggressive heavy metal and hardcore is in his blood.
It’s one of the music world’s most undeniably punk rock coincidences that Ice-T played a cop in “New Jack City” and later went on to energize the “Law & Order” television franchise as Detective Odafin Tutuola on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” for well over a decade. Body Count built a huge buzz on the inaugural run of the legendary Lollapalooza tour in 1991 – alongside Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails, Living Colour, Violent Femmes and other rock n’ roll luminaries – where they handed out free cassettes and brought the ruckus. But they rose to true notoriety in 1992, getting called out by the President of the United States and the Vice President and sparking a huge boycott against Warner Bros. with the incendiary sing-a-long anthem, “Cop Killer.”
The message behind “Cop Killer” wasn’t much different than Black Flag’s “Police Story,” Dead Kennedys’ “Police Truck,” or TSOL’s “Anticop.” But coming just a few years after N.W.A.’s “Fuck Tha Police” and just two months before the L.A. riots, the anti-police-brutality revenge fantasy became a target for bigmouthed politicians and unions. Beatmaster V, Mooseman, D-Roc the Executioner (all of whom have since passed away), Ernie C and Ice T decided the “controversy” was distracting from Body Count’s body of music. Warner was behind Ice-T and his band, but the group elected of their own accord to delete “Cop Killer” from future pressings of their first album, to control the focus.
On the heels of massively successful tours of Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, Born Dead drew a clear lineage between the groundbreaking wizardry of Jimi Hendrix and the bombastic sound of Body County, with a brilliantly faithful cover of “Hey Joe” blended together with savage metal rippers like “Master of Revenge” and “Killin’ Floor.” Ice T’s punk rock style tongue-in-cheek lyrics were also laced with naked cynicism about the declining state of society, just like all of the best punk singers of yore.
Mooseman exited the group before the band recorded their third album (he was later killed in a drive-by shooting). Beatmaster V passed away from leukemia soon after the completion of Violent Demise: The Last Days, released through Virgin Records, like the album before. The album’s cover represented the unification of L.A.’s Bloods and Crips (“B.C.”) street gangs. Violent Demise was produced by future rock hitmaker Howard Benson, who had done several Motörhead albums after starting his career with TSOL. Ice wrote about the issues of the day, including the O.J. Simpson trial and Dr. Kevorkian.
Work began on Murder 4 Hire in 2004, but was halted when D-Roc was found dead in his apartment due to complications from lymphoma cancer. Bendrix joined up with the rest of the crew (including Price and drummer O.T.) to complete the album, which featured some of D-Roc’s contributions. Murder 4 Hire dropped in 2006, nearly ten years after the last record. Body Count’s first album on a fully independent record label was as pissed off and topical as ever, tackling American intervention abroad, among others. Ice, Ernie and Vince remained the primary songwriters on the majority of the songs. Body Count also did the title track to the XBOX game Gears of War. The song is included in the game and the game has generated over 800 million dollars.
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