In 1991, Ice-T was on top of the rap game. His fourth album, O.G. Original Gangster, featuring the theme song to the Wesley Snipes vehicle New Jack City—in which Ice also had a part—was screaming up the charts. The album also included “Body Count,” the first shot from Ice’s all-black hardcore band of the same name. When Body Count’s self-titled debut dropped the following year, Ice found himself at the center of a shitstorm surrounding the track “Cop Killer,” which criticized police brutality in the wake of the Rodney King beating and—if you weren’t paying attention—seemed to advocate deadly retaliation. Police organizations across the country cried foul, and the song was denounced by everyone from Tipper Gore and the police commissioner of New Zealand to then-President George Bush and VP Dan Quayle. In the end, Ice decided to yank the song from the album, but not before appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone in a cop uniform.
Fast forward to right about now: Ice-T has played Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for the past 16 years, and Body Count is back with Bloodlust. The album, their sixth, includes the lead single “No Lives Matter” and features guest appearances from Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe and former Sepultura main man Max Cavalera—not to mention a cover of Slayer’s “Raining Blood.” “One thing about Body Count is that we’ve been embraced by everybody in rock that I respect, from Henry Rollins to Slayer,” Ice tells Playboy.com from New York, where he’s about to shoot some scenes for the new season of SVU. “I’m quite sure that there are rock bands out there that don’t like us, but fuck them.”
At 59, the artist formerly known as Tracy Marrow shows no signs of fading. He and his wife Coco had their first daughter, Chanel, in late 2015. “Muhammad Ali said that when a man has a child in the second half of his life, like in his 50s, it’s like hitting a reset button on his life,” Ice enthuses. “Immediately you start getting healthy and in shape because you realize you can’t go nowhere. People ask me, ‘How long you gonna do it?’ But if Mick Jagger is still in the game, I got a minute.”
In the conversation below, we spoke with Ice about police brutality, the Trump regime and the lyrical inspirations behind Bloodlust.
You’ve said music happens in specific climates. Do you see a parallel between today’s climate and the one in which Body Count originally came to life?
Body Count happened in the Bush era. It also happened during the [Rodney King] riots and all that stuff. But I think people back then were more in touch with what was going on, so they were easily brought to their feet by groups like us, like Public Enemy, like Rage Against the Machine. But this new generation is delusional. They came up in the Obama era; they’ve never been through any real roughness, so it’s like they’re just waking up to it. They’re like, “Oh my god, politicians are bad!” [Laughs] Yeah, motherfuckers—they lie!
Your new song “Black Hoodie” references the Trayvon Martin case…
Yeah, perfect example. You guys are offended by black kids getting killed? I’ve been yelling about this shit for 20 years. People are protesting like this is new. “Oh, I’m gonna go protest. I’ll make a cute sign.” [Laughs] Yeah. And the cops will whoop your ass out there, too. So it’s a wake-up call to a new generation.
Bloodlust is really just my overview of humans. We’re into aggression and violence. We’re our own virus. So whether I’m talking about the bloodlust of the serial killer in “Here I Go Again” or the bloodlust of “The Ski Mask Way” cats or the police or all these different realms of human behavior—we’re fucked up. We’re the most violent species on earth. So all the songs are different realms of our own fucked up-ness. [Laughs]
You covered Slayer’s “Raining Blood.” Did you pick that song because it fits the Bloodlust theme?
Absolutely. We played it in a rehearsal, just fucking around, and we Periscoped it. People went batshit crazy for it, so we were like, “Should we put that on the album?” Then we did a show in Arizona where we just opened with that, and the crowd went crazy. So we knew we needed it in our repertoire, and I did that little intro on the album where I mention Black Sabbath and Suicidal [Tendencies] and Slayer, because I think Body Count is a hybrid of those three groups. Then you add my gangster sensibility and lyrics that come more from the street.
The song “No Lives Matter” obviously has to do with the division between the Black Lives Matter movement and those who say all lives matter.
I tried to break it down as simple as possible. I’m not a member of BLM, but I understand what that statement means. When people say “All lives matter,” they’re missing the point. We’re not saying that black lives are the only lives that matter. We’re just saying they have to matter. But in the song, I’m saying they never really have. But then take it another step: When you get to the bottom of evil, they don’t give a fuck about any-fucking-body. There’s a good documentary called Shadow World, where they’re talking about selling weapons. When you’re playing on that field, humans are just collateral damage to the money. So I’m saying black lives should matter, but motherfuckers don’t act like they do.
This new generation came up in the Obama era; they’ve never been through any real roughness, so it’s like they’re just waking up to it.
You’ve said you feel like the issue is more about class than race, though.
It’s a lot more about class than race, and I truly believe it. There are racists out there—don’t get it fucked up—but a lot more is going on than just racism. That’s what the song is about. Like on my show, Law & Order, they go, “They’re from an affluent family, so tread lightly.” What are they saying? They’re saying we can’t fuck with them. So I think when the cops are in the projects, their hands are quicker on the trigger because there’s gonna be no ramifications for their actions. If they’re in Beverly Hills, they’re not gonna pull that gun. That’s in the back of their minds.
But black cops are fucking up, too. They’re out there shooting motherfuckers. So I’m just here to say it’s deeper than racism. Black lives should matter, but they don’t give a fuck about poor whites that they call trash, either. One thing I’ve always tried to do is let white people know that black people ain’t the enemy, and let black people know that all white people ain’t the enemy. There’s suckers of every race, color, and denomination. You’ve gotta judge a devil by his deeds, not what they look like.
Black Lives Matter was born during Obama’s presidency, so it might seem to some that the recent rash of police killing black men is some sort of symptom of resentment over a black president. Do you think that’s the case, or are we just seeing so much of it because now everybody has a video camera in their pocket?
It’s absolutely the video camera and social media and our ability to see it. This shit has been going on forever. We wouldn’t have even known what happened to Rodney King if it wasn’t for a video camera. I mean, the guy that got shot in the back by a cop while he was running across the park? Come on, man. You can’t justify that shit. It’s dirty. You can’t defend those cops. They’re criminals, and they gotta be dealt with as criminals. Nobody is getting mad when the cops run up in the drug dealer’s house and shoot the place up. There’s no pickets behind that. People get upset when a situation occurs that didn’t need to happen—and we got a video of it! It’s crazy.
Just imagine watching a video of your brother or your father being murdered. A lot of people can’t put themselves in that place, but it’s horrible. When black people saw Rodney King get his ass kicked, we felt that could’ve been any of us. I mean, what the fuck? So I think cops just need to be held accountable. If they don’t think you can fight back, the powers that be will fuck you over. Period.
Even if these cops get dragged into to court, most of the time nothing happens to them.
Because they’re not beating up no rich people. If they touch a rich person, it’s a totally different story. We know the scales of justice are based on how much is in your pocket. I mean, okay—I get pulled over the other day. Soon as the cops figured out who I was, I hadn’t broken the law. A few minutes ago, I had broken the law. They said I was straddling the line, which was bullshit. I know how to drive. But when the cop figured out who I was, it wasn’t a crime—because he doesn’t want the drama. He knows I can fight back. And that’s bullshit.
There was a huge controversy when Body Count came out with “Cop Killer” in 1992, but the sentiment behind it seems more relevant today than ever. Do you think of that song as timeless?
Yeah. “Cop Killer” was a warning record. It was saying, “If you motherfuckers continue this behavior, somebody might go after you.” And it recently happened. I did the same thing on this new record with “Civil War.” Civil war hasn’t happened recently, but it can happen. And if these motherfuckers don’t address these situations, then it will pop off.
I don’t hate cops. When I was a criminal, the cops were the opponent, not the enemy. There’s a difference.
When “Cop Killer” came out, you famously appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in a cop uniform. And now you’ve played a cop on TV for the last 16 years. What do you think young Ice-T, the guy who started Body Count with his friends from Crenshaw High, would think about that?
See, this is the mistake people have with me. I never had nothing against cops. I don’t hate cops. When I was a criminal, the cops were the opponent, not the enemy. There’s a difference. When you’re going to rob a bank, you know you’re not supposed to break the law, but you choose to do it anyway. So why you mad at the cop who comes after you? You just feel you can outsmart him and get away with it. I was a real live criminal, man. I’m not one of these people who’s mad at the cops because I can’t smoke weed. It ain’t the cop’s fault! He’s just doing his job. So the old Ice-T would be like, “You got a job, and it pays good? Play on, playa.” [Laughs] But the cop I play on Law & Order is chasing pedophiles and rapists. So I’m playing the cop I should play.
Last but not least, were you surprised that Trump won?
I think we all were surprised that Trump won, because dude be lying. He’s a motherfucker. He didn’t never show his taxes. He’s the ultimate con artist. He’s the kind of rich person, when people say they don’t like rich people—that’s what they mean. I know Richard Branson, I know Mark Cuban—billionaires that you can sit up and kick it with. But Trump is an elitist. He’s a demagogue. And yeah, it’s scary, man. He’s got a lot of power. I come from the gang world, you know. You can’t just be talking shit and think the other gangs don’t hear you. You can’t talk the way he talks and think the rest of the world doesn’t see him as their enemy. Once the dude told the world, “I’m smarter than the generals,” I knew we were up shit creek. But I predict his own supporters will turn on him in six to eight months. So let’s just cross our fingers.
Bloodlust is out March 31 via Century Media Records.