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"Body Count" (1992) album review
Body Count (Sire Records, 1992)
In many ways, the controversy that surrounded Body Count's first album was more interesting than the album itself. The band was the brainchild of gangster rapper/actor Ice-T, who wanted to create a project that melded two of his favorite musical genres - the hardcore hip-hop he was already well known for, and the brutality of the thrash metal scene which was at its commercial peak at the time. Eager to cross over into the rock world, Ice assembled a band consisting mostly of his old high school friends (lead guitarist Ernie C., bassist Mooseman, drummer Beatmaster V, and rhythm guitarist D-Roc) and took them on the road with him for 1991's Lollapalooza festival tour. Each night, Ice-T would perform a solo rap set and then bring the band out onstage to finish with a 20-minute Body Count set. The band's intense live performances quickly created a buzz and they were soon labeled as one of the "must see" acts at the Lollapalooza festival. By the end of the tour, Body Count had secured a deal with Sire Records and they quickly went to work recording their first album.
Gaining a Rep...
Body Count's self-tited debut was released in March of 1992 and was an instant hit as soon as the first single, "There Goes the Neighborhood," premiered on MTV's "Headbanger's Ball." The band's mix of furiously crushing music and foul-mouthed, streetwise attitude appealed to headbangers, punk rockers and alternative music fans alike. Despite glowing reviews from "serious" music critics at prestigious publications such as the Village Voice and Rolling Stone. Body Count might have gone totally unnoticed outside of the hard-rock scene if it weren't for the album's last track - a sensitive ode to the L.A.P.D. entitled "Cop Killer." Within weeks, the song had inflamed emotions worldwide and caused the kind of mass hysteria that hadn't been seen in the hard rock community since the height of Tipper Gore's PMRC witch hunt in the mid '80s. Police organizations protested in front of Time-Warner (Sire Records' corporate parent) offices around the globe, and the company was being chastised not only by their own stockholders but by public figures including Vice President Dan Quayle and legendary actor/then-NRA president Charlton Heston, who accused Time-Warner of profiting from advocating violence against law enforcement. An unintentionally-funny video clip of Heston reading the lyrics to BC's "Cop Killer" in front of news cameras remains a YouTube favorite to this day. Time Warner initially stood by Ice-T and the band, citing their artist's right to freedom of speech, but eventually the pressures on both parties became too great. By mid-1992, Ice-T voluntarily removed the song "Cop Killer" from future pressings of Body Count's album (the "Cop Killer" tattoo on the chest of the gangster on the album's cover was also retouched so that he simply sported the band's name), and the offending track was replaced by "Freedom of Speech," a song from one of Ice-T's earlier albums, reworked into a rock context with the help of punk rocker/free speech advocate Jello Biafra. By the time the smoke cleared, the band had sold over a half million copies of their album, Ice-T was a notorious household name, and Body Count had become one of the most feared bands in America
Nearly 20 years after its initial release, Body Count remains a hot button topic for many listeners (and original pressings of the album with "Cop Killer" included are sought-after collectibles). Honestly though, when listening to the rather cartoonish album today, most will wonder what all the fuss was about, or why the Censorship Brigade singled out "Cop Killer" as the most offensive track from this record, because EVERY SONG on this album is just as profane, obscene, and inflammatory as that one. This is an album that was made for angry teenagers to crank up as loud as possible, for the express purpose of scaring the hell out of their parents, teachers, and neighbors. Musically, Body Count was never really anything to shout about. The most skilled instrumentalist in the band was definitely lead guitarist/songwriter Ernie C., whose fluid shredding gives even the most goofball songs on this album (and there are many of them) a touch of class. (Useless trivia: Ernie C. plays guitar left handed, just like his idol, Jimi Hendrix.) The rest of the musicians were capable at best; they played well enough to get the job done, but Ernie and Ice-T are the real stars here.
The bulk of Body Count is a maelstrom of angry, out-of-control, bass-and-drum-heavy punkish speed metal, sounding much like the love child of Motorhead and Suicidal Tendencies. Out of the 18 (!) tracks on the album, six are merely spoken-word "intros" (oddly enough, the album-opening skit "Smoked Pork," which dramatizes the shooting of a police officer by a street punk, remained on the album even after "Cop Killer" was removed...go figure!), two are simplistic crowd shout-alongs meant to get mosh pits started ("Body Count's In The House" and "Body Count Anthem"), and several are simple, dirty-joke songs that showcase the band's juvenile sense of humor (the ridiculous "Evil D**k" and hilariously over-the-top "KKK B****h"). Ice-T will never be considered one of metal's great singers, but his authoritative bark fits this sort of mayhem perfectly, spitting out lyrics like bullets from a machine gun. Despite the heavy amount of throw-away tracks, several tunes from Body Count have held up well over the years, particularly the vicious "There Goes the Neighborhood," the cautionary prison story "Bowels of the Devil," the anti-crack power ballad (!) "The Winner Loses," and yes, even the infamous "Cop Killer." While on tour for this album Body Count shared concert stages with speed metal and hardcore bands like D.R.I. and Exodus and by all accounts, they were able to hold their own. If nothing else, this album proved that Body Count was not just another vanity project from a bored rapper who wanted to try something different.
Body Count has never been able to recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle effect of their first album. In 1994 they released a belated follow-up disc, Born Dead, the title of which more or less describes its half-baked contents (the lone exception: an excellent cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe," which had been previously released on a Hendrix tribute album), and two further efforts (1997's Violent Demise: The Last Days and 2006's Murder 4 Hire) went all but unnoticed. Ice-T concentrated mainly on his budding acting career for much of the 1990s and 2000s, racking up an impressive number of film and television credits... including a low-budget 1997 suspense thriller titled - you guessed it! - "Body Count" (also known as "Below Utopia") in which he co-starred with Alyssa Milano of "Charmed" and "Who's the Boss?" fame. Most ironically, the man who became infamous for singing "Cop Killer" has portrayed a cop every week on TV's "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" since 1999!
Sadly, three of the original Body Count band members have passed away since the release of the debut album. Drummer Beatmaster V. succumbed to leukemia in 1997, bassist Mooseman was killed in a drive-by shooting in 2001, and rhythm guitarist D-Roc died from complications of lymphoma in 2004. Ernie C. and Ice-T have soldiered on, doing occasional gigs with replacement players, and recording an exclusive track for the video game "Gears of War 3." In 2014, Body Count returned with their fifth studio album, entitled Manslaughter. Featuring the instant classics "Talk Sh*t, Get Shot," "B*tch In The Pit," and a hilarious 21st century update of Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized," Manslaughter was hailed as the best BC album since the debut.
The sixth Body Count album, titled Bloodlust, was released via Century Media Records in March. Bloodlust featured guest appearances by high powered metal royalty like Max Cavalera (Soulfly/Sepultura) and Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, and Ice-T promised that the album will "bring hardcore back!" The first single from the album was called "No Lives Matter," so the man definitely isn't mellowing with age. Bring it on, Ice!!
BODY COUNT discography:
Body Count - Sire, 1992
Born Dead - Virgin, 1994
Violent Demise: The Last Days - Virgin, 1997
Murder 4 Hire - Escapi, 2006
Manslaughter - Sumerian, 2014
Bloodlust - Century Media, 2017
© 2011 Keith Abt