“When ‘Cop Killer’ hit, I got blackballed for a minute,” Ice-T says about his most infamous song. “People didn’t wanna fuck with me. Everybody was nervous.” With everyone from the Los Angeles Police Commission to the president issuing statements against the track, the scrutiny around the record prompted Ice-T to leave Warner, taking Body Count with him. Now, after an eight-year gap between records, the metal band has returned with its fifth LP, Manslaughter and will be touring this summer as part of the Mayhem Festival, playing a new selection of heavy riffs that split the difference between Black Sabbath and Rage Against the Machine.
Although Manslaughter doesn’t contain anything as incendiary as “Cop Killer,” it does feature a remake of the 1993 Ice-T song “99 Problems” that Jay Z famously repurposed for a track of his own, and a challenge to pop-rap artists called “Pop Bubble.” When Rolling Stone catches up with him to talk about the legacy of Body Count, Ice-T says his goal with Manslaughter is to remind young people that rock can still be dangerous. “Hopefully it’ll reopen the genre up,” he says. “You’ve got to remember, when we went out first, Rage Against the Machine was our opening act. That style has been missing from rock for a minute maybe this will bring it back.”
You complain about pop-rap in “Pop Bubble.” What got you mad?
Nobody is singing about anything. We live in a delusional state of music. Everybody’s got a Bentley and is drinking champagne every night, when that’s not the case. The world is in a real fragile state, but inside of this pop bubble, the world is just perfect, especially in hip-hop. So as a rapper first, I couldn’t make an album without addressing hip-hop. I don’t know what the fuck they’re singing about.
So what rappers do you like?
I like Lupe Fiasco. I think Kendrick Lamar’s album is an important rap album, because that kid is young, he gets it, he’s lyrical and he’s saying something. The kid uses a fucking Polaroid picture for his album cover, so there are still young kids out there that are really reaching for it. But then Macklemore wins the fucking [Grammy] award, so it’s like this shit is kind of popped out right now. And I’m not a Macklemore hater, but he’s politically correct. He ain’t gonna push no buttons.
On Manslaughter, you revisit “99 Problems.” Does it bother you that people forget that that was your song first?
Not really. ‘Cause you gotta remember, I’ve been on Law & Order 16 years, so if a kid is 18, he was two years old when I went on Law & Order. So I don’t think everyone is historians and stuff. Jay Z went through all the correct procedures. He didn’t steal the record. He paid publishing. But you never heard him say, “It’s Ice-T’s record.” So Treach from Naughty by Nature’s a good friend of mine, and he said, “Jack back.”
Why did you re-record it?
When we would do rehearsals, the band would always play “99 Problems,” the music. And I would say the real vocals. We figured, “Fuck it, we’re doing an album. Let’s do it like a skit.” It was also meant to catch fans out there. When this record comes out, a lot of fans will go, “Oh that’s Jay Z.” And then their buddy gets to smack ’em in the face [laughs].
Did you like Jay Z’s “99 Problems”?
Yeah, I loved it. And Jay, instead of talking about bitches, he talked about a dog searching his car – which was a bitch – which was kind of clever. But it’s kind of like, when you hear the real version, then you understand the hook. It makes sense.
Back to your version, why do you need a bitch who plays piano?
Oh that’s funny, let me think. “I got a bitch who play piano, a bitch who don’t/A bitch who dances naked, a bitch who won’t.” I don’t know why she played piano. That might have been one of the greatest questions for “99 Problems.” I don’t really know.
So what inspired “99 Problems” in the first place?
The idea came from [2 Live Crew’s] Brother Marquis, who’s on the original version. We were talking about “Whoomp! (There It Is).” He said that at Magic City [strip club], when the girls would bend over and show their stuff, the DJs would go, “Whoomp! There it is!” He said, “Ice, that was the phrase that pays.” So right in the middle of him saying that, he goes, “Man, I got 99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one.” Yo, that’s a fucking song! He’s like, “Huh?” I said, “That’s a song.” So I wrote the song, and I called him in to do the verse. So the honest-to-God true, first person that I ever heard say that was Brother Marquis from 2 Live Crew.
Did you try to get Brother Marquis on the new version?
Not really, because the problem when you have people on record is they’re never there when you want to perform them. I haven’t talked to Marquis in years. This will probably bring him from the dead, but I did it just to rock it out at my show, get a laugh and keep it moving.
Have you ever regretted taking “Cop Killer” off the first Body Count record?
Well, I didn’t really have an option. Warner took it off the album.
You’ve always said it was your decision.
No, no, no, no, no, let me retract there. What happened was the record had caused so much shit that Warner was getting death threats. And I did pull it off because I felt that they were going to pigeonhole this band. “Cop Killer” was just one song on the album; it wasn’t the political stance of the group. So I just told Warner Bros., I’m taking it off, and they were like, “All right, man.” You know what? Fuck it. We’ll pull the record off, and we’ll give the record away. We gave away 10,000 copies of “Cop Killer.”
They said I did it for the money, they said I did it for the hype. I didn’t really think “Cop Killer” was such a bad record considering I was familiar with bands like Millions of Dead Cops. I was familiar with Black Flag always fucking with the police in songs like “Police Story.” I didn’t really think the cops would be looking to the music enough to get mad; I just thought that it was just going to be punk rage. And it turned into a real big shitstorm, so that was just a way the music created a shitstorm. No, I don’t regret pulling it because at the moment, it was just a lot about trying to make [killing cops] like that’s what I was about. And it really wasn’t, it was just a song.
It didn’t go over as well as N.W.A‘s “Fuck the Police.”
“Fuck the Police” is a lot different than “kill the police,” and when black rage is translated across to white kids, that’s when people give a shit. I could sing “Cop Killer” in a rap concert all fucking day with the rap kids, the black kids. But when they saw me out there at Lollapalooza with 15,000, 20,000 white kids yelling “fuck the police,” something’s gotta be done about this.
What happened with rap and urban hip-hop back in the Home Invasion days, was we were able to translate black rage to white rage. And we taught the white kids that we’re not mad at you, we’re mad at shit. And the white kids said, “You know what? We’re mad at the same shit.” And the racism was an easy way their parents were able to separate them. Their parents taught them, “Ice-T wants to rob you. Ice-T hates you. Ice-T wants to punch you in the face.” Before they knew it, they’re like, “I like Snoop Dogg. I like Ice-T. Ice-T ain’t mad at me. Ice-T may be mad at you mom or dad, but he ain’t mad at me.” And the beauty of that is, those same kids voted, and that’s how we ended up with a black president. So we were making some moves back then for the good.