For the better part of the last decade, Ice T has probably gotten a lot more recognition as an actor on Law & Order: SVU than he has as a musician. With the release of Body Count’s fifth album, Manslaughter, next week, that could change. His first musical output in eight years, the album marks a new beginning for Ice. With a new label (Sumerian), a new rhythm guitarist (Juan of the Dead), a slot on the Mayhem Festival, and a round of appearances on late night TV with his metal band, the album finds Ice as pissed off and as confident as he’s ever been as a rapper or frontman. We caught up with the self-proclaimed “baddest motherfucker on earth” to talk about his return to music after an eight-year absence, the backlash against his lyrical content and the audience that he’s looking to connect with on Manslaughter, which will be released on Tuesday (10). The album can be pre-ordered here.
How are you doing?
I’m alright, where are you?
I am not very far from where you live actually; I’m in Weehawken, New Jersey.
Oh that’s business. I’m right in Edgewater, between the tunnel and the bridge.
Yup, we’re right at the edge of the Lincoln Tunnel. In fact, I’d like to extend an open invite to stop by our office whenever you’d like because I work at a company called The Syndicate, and so do you.
How about that? That was the name of my organization when we started.
It’s great to have Body Count back, it’s been a long time.
Yeah, everything had to line up perfectly because I just wanted to do a good record. I didn’t want to do a mix tape, I wanted to have a valid thing. We were able to get a record deal with Sumerian and they weren’t in any rush and I think we put together a nice record.
How did it all come about? Have Body Count songs been building up in the eight years since the last album?
No, they’re all brand new. Body Count is invented to let Ernie C play his guitar. Ernie is my friend and he’s an incredible guitar player. Of course I’m out here doing Law and Order and they’re calling me “Let’s do another record, let’s do another record,” and I’m like ‘Nah, I’m not doing one unless we get a record deal.’ I need a label behind it, I need the expertise of a record deal, I need a good producer, all those things. So what happened was, [bassist] Vince connected to Juan, the new guitar player, Juan was connected to Sumerian, and [Sumerian Records founder] Ash [Avildsen] wanted the group. They said they wanted to get a record deal, I said “Let me meet Ash,” I met Ash, he’s the head of Sumerian, he’s a real fan.
He just gave us full reign, and he said “How much money do you need?” and I said ‘Just enough money to make a good record and a video, I don’t need any money for my pocket,’ and he gave it to us. We recorded the album last summer, we had a house in Vegas while Coco was out there working. We wrote the album in Vegas, they took those songs to L.A., tracked them with Will Putney. Super producer, you know he did Asking Alexandria and a whole bunch of other groups. Then they sent the tracks to me in New York. I sat with the tracks for about a month or so, I laid the vocals at Will’s studio, and they mixed it. So it took about a year start to finish, but we took our time. We took our time with the album cover, I took my time with the lyrics, and I think it shows.
I think it’s great that the album got started in Las Vegas, and wound being completed ten miles from where you live in Belleville.
Yeah, I said I need a hot producer. One thing about making a record is that a lot of bands, it’s one thing to play, but it’s another thing to actually record. Recording metal is an art, to make the band sound good, sound thick, so you could turn it up, and I’m not a master at that, Will is. I met with him and he understood the band, and the key was to make a better Body Count record, not to make a record that sounds like another band. I said “The biggest diss we could get on this record is for somebody to say we sound like somebody else. We want to sound like ourselves,” and Will did it, I take my hat off to him.
He’s a great producer.
He’s definitely, and he’s very cool, he’s easy to work with, he knows his shit. He was very easy to work with. You could away and come back and the record would actually sound better. A lot of times you’ve got to actually sit over a fuckin’ producer, with Will you just do what you had to do and walk away and he makes that record sound good.
I mean being a musician himself, he knows what sounds good.
Yeah, but with a record, a group, you have to have a producer who just really knows the group, not just listened to a couple songs. It’s better that they’re a fan, then they kind of know what they’d like to hear the band do. It’s better, it’s very important. I think with any band, that producer is that fifth or sixth member of the group, it’s very important.
How familiar were you with Sumerian? I know they’re a relatively new label and it’s been awhile since you’ve made a record.
I wasn’t familiar with them. I was very fortunate that I got signed by Seymour Stein for my first record deal, and he’s a visionary. He signed Ministry, Madonna, Talking Heads. So I was concerned with what kind of label this was, and was this label gonna make us sound like one of the bands out now. Ash was very much like “I want Body Count on my roster, I want it. I don’t care what the last record sold, I believe in you guys.” That’s all it took, we did the deal and we’re happy.
There are probably a lot people who haven’t even heard Body Count yet that might just know you as an actor. What do you have to say to them?
You’ve got to think about it. I’ve been on Law & Order for sixteen years. So if a kid is 18, he was two years old when I went on Law & Order. We’re dealing with an entirely new fan base, and that’s our challenge. Our challenge is “Can we hit that audience, this new audience that, no diss, is a lot softer that the audience back in the day, and how will they react?” So this is an experiment.
So you’re looking at it as something that isn’t a guarantee?
It’s never a guarantee. I don’t care how hot you are, every record is a nervous breakdown moment. Your fans, you’ve got to give them what they want. From our response so far, everyone fuckin’ loves it. I’m concerned with 21-30 year-olds.
You’ll definitely find that audience out on Mayhem Fest. Do you find it hard to differentiate between being an actor and the singer from Body Count?
No, not at all. Acting is acting. I could take any rock band, any lead singer, and put them on Law & Order, because they’re gonna give you instructions. They’re gonna say “Say this, act like this, do this, stand here.” Acting you just have to want to do it, and a lot of people from David Bowie, a lot of people have acted. You’re not yourself, you’re being somebody else. You have to kind of just submit to your character. Doing rock and shit is just what I do, so this isn’t my first record. So going out on stage is like going home. We played the Fun Fun [Fun] Fest and killed, and we just played in Phoenix and killed. I’m not at all worried about it, it’s just that our sound is still a little different than what the kids are accustomed to. The beauty of it is if they bite, you might have a resurgence of groups like Rage Against the Machine, and Korn, and the Limp Bizkits because when we went out, our first opening act was Rage Against the Machine. It’s possible, and hopefully I might inspire some of these kids to start singing about issues and things again.
Body Count has always been issue-oriented. Do you address current issues on the album?
I just talk about all kinds of shit. We remade Suicidal Tendencies “Institutionalized” as an homage to Suicidal. They were the first band to rock the bandannas and bring out the L.A. hardcore punk side out, so we redid that. In that one I’m ranting about playing Xbox and vegans and fuckin’ the internet. In “Enter the Dark Side,” I talk about rich people who think they’re above people. I just go off on a lot of people, you’ve got to hear the record. I do one called “Back to Rehab,” which is kind of a song sayin’ “we want our people out there fucked up to get their shit together,” it’s not a diss record, one called “Get a Job Muthafucka,” which I think you and everybody will agree with. I did one called “I Will Always Love You,” which is a homage to service men because I’m a vet. One called “Wanna Be A Gangsta,” which is telling dumbass kids that think they want to be a gangsta that every fuckin’ gangster I know is trying to get out of the muthafuckin’ hood. It’s a bunch of Ice-T topics. When I started writing the record, people were like “Well what are you gonna talk about?” There’s so much shit to talk about. I did one called “Pop Bubble” which is about rap and music today, telling them they’re fuckin’ full of shit. They ain’t singing about nothin’, and pop music makes me physically sick.
So are you going to make any more rap records? It’s been awhile since you’ve done that as well.
I don’t know, we’re gonna ride this one out. I’m not really inspired to do hip-hop right now because hip-hop got real pop, and real fake. It took a bad turn to “I got money, and I love this, and I love that.” Bullshit. I intentionally made this record without any references to money or cars. The only thing on there to be retro is “99 Problems,” which I did, and “99 problems” is a booby trap on the album. It’s a skit, it’s set up to make reviews or people say “Oh Ice-T is doing Jay-Z records,” and somebody can smack the shit out of them. It’s a booby trap I just threw on there, and the only reason it’s on the album is because when we would rehearse we would always fuck around and do that song with the real vocals and I said “Fuck it, let’s just put it on the record.” I think that with albums you can throw shit on just for fun.
And you still think albums are an art form as opposed to just a collection of singles?
I’m old school. I’m from the days when George Clinton would put out an album and you sat up there and you read that fuckin’ album and you looked at the album cover for hours. You listened to the whole record, and it just took you some place and it’s one long statement. I love making albums, I’m not much of a singles guy. All my rap albums had inserts and intros and endings. To me an album is like a book or a film. It’s very important, people don’t make them anymore. I think if you make an album with the intent to make singles it gets kind of crazy. Sometimes you have good records that are good but you know it won’t get on the radio. This is the good thing about Sumerian, never once during the course of this album did they say the word “radio,” never once. They said “hey, we’ll use the internet, we’ll use satellite, just make your “fuckin’ record.” I loved it. That was liberating when you go in to do hardcore music, and thinking about the radio. Now we’re about to go do a bunch of television shows, we’re about to do Fallon, we’re about to do Conan. I have to do slight edits in the words, but I accept that. I accept that, and that’s television and that’s a great way to get to a lot of people. Making radio records is a drag.
I have a kind of related question to that. “Bitch in the Pit” recently came out, and a lot of people are already talking about the song. Do you think there will be any backlash from women about the title? I know the song itself kind of stands up for women.
How the fuck are you supposed to write the song? Lady in the pit, girl in the pit? It’s a bitch in a pit. Nowadays women say bitch as a fuckin’ mode of power. I mean the thing of it is, the girls that this song is about love it. Of course maybe some sideline woman might have a problem, but we already killed her in “Talk Shit, Get Shot.” We already wasted Mothers Against Metal. The thing about making metal, or making rock, or making hardcore rap is backlash can’t be part of your thing. I actually had people ask me “Why did you kill white people in ‘Talk Shit, Get Shot,’” and I’m like ‘Because the video director cast white people, I didn’t. You’re trying to read into this deeper, you’re over intellectualizing shit.’ I have to sing this off the stage at a rock concert, so I gotta yell (feigning singing) “There’s a bitch in the pit!” I’ve got to do it like that. There’s no backlash, we haven’t gotten any yet. I think a lot of the trip with controversy is people predict it but it never really happens. People “Oh well you’re a black rock band,” is there a backlash? I haven’t seen one.
There was a backlash with “Cop Killer” back in the day.
Well “Cop Killer,” those cops didn’t even hear the record, they just didn’t like the title. I learned that if you stand in the middle of the street, you’re gonna get hit by a car. I’m like “Why? We’ve already got one in our catalog.” We play it, we close the show with “Cop Killer.” I don’t intentionally go out looking for shit, I just make fucking fun records that are entertaining to me. When you hear “Pray for Dead,” I’m talking about cutting a guy’s nut sack open. That’s entertaining for me. (laughs)
You’re really trying to reach the people might not have heard you perform any music before. You’re probably less concerned about the fans that have been there for a long time because they know the band. Is that a correct assumption?
Yeah, I’m not really concerned, but I’m concerned. It’s not like I’ll die if they don’t get it, but it would be nice to get them. One of the reasons we’re doing Mayhem Fest is because if I just did a Body Count tour, which we could have easily done and put some opening acts, I would pretty much would have gotten our fan base. I wanted to get out there and play in the afternoon in front of a bunch of kids that may never hear the record and get some new fans. We want new fans, and that’s why we’re out there on Mayhem.
Are you intimidated at all by doing that?
Nah, I’m never intimidated because I’m the baddest motherfucker on Earth, so I can’t be intimidated. I don’t get intimidated. Before I go onstage I go into some other shit, and I demand motherfuckers understand what the fuck I’m saying. Nah, I’m not intimidated at all. I feel that we’re just as good, if not better, than any band out there. We may not sound like them, but we are just as good musically and just as good to listen to. If I watch Slayer, then watch Cannibal Corpse, and I watch Body Count, I feel like all of the shows will be comparable. They’re all different, but they’ll all be dope.
Are there any bands you’re looking forward to hanging out with this summer on tour?
I’m actually friends with Chris Barnes, he used to be in Cannibal Corpse, I just got done talking to him, asking does he still fuck with ‘em. He said he talks to Alex and Paul, so okay I’ll fuck with them. Of course I know the guys from Korn. I just want to make new friends and just go out there and jam.
It seems like it’s gonna be a great time.
It’ll be fun, that cowboy shit on the tour bus and everybody starts stinkin,’ I’ve been there. Bram are you gonna come to the show at the Gramercy?
I will absolutely be there.
With Madball and Wisdom in Chains. Come there, and get your ass in the pit and let’s see what it do.