Ben Apatoff’s book Body Count is a thoroughly researched and engaging exploration of both the origin and social relevance of Ice-T’s hardcore band Body Count and their self-titled album.
1. Parliament, “Dr. Funkenstein”
Ice has pointed out that great Black rock artists—Prince, the Isleys, or Parliament-Funkadelic among them—often get classified as “funk” or “R & B” instead of rock. (Bo Diddley, who saw his rock music being suddenly classified as “R & B” when whites started playing rock, liked saying “R & B” stood for “rip-off and bullshit.”) Just recently, I saw Dr. Dre call Nirvana his favorite rock band, even though the foundation of Dre’s career is Parliament-Funkadelic samples. Maybe Nirvana really is his favorite, but it made me wonder if Dre even classifies P-Funk as rock.
Ice often cites P-Funk as a major influence. He remembers The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein as his first record and Parliament as his first concert, which he attended with high school friend/Body Count hypeman Sean E. Sean. “Parliament was the ultimate cross-rock band,” Ice stated. “They landed a motherfkin’ spaceship onstage when they played live! And George Clinton, he’s just one of those people who everyone needs to do research on. He had us all talkin’ a different language.” You can hear “Dr. Funkenstein” sampled on Ice-T’s 1991 song “Bitches 2.”
Parliament-Funkadelic also still throws the greatest party in the world—last year I saw P-Funk play a hometown New Jersey show for George’s belated 80th birthday party, and Ice-T surprise guested onstage for “Mothership Connection (Star Child.)” It was far beyond awesome.
2. Blue Öyster Cult, “Godzilla”
Ice-T and Ernie C were both raised on classic hard rock bands like Blue Öyster Cult, Mott the Hoople, Rush, UFO and Deep Purple. Ice shared a room with his rock radio-loving cousin, and Ernie picked up a box of rock cassettes from a neighbor. Ernie pointed out to me that a riff in “Body Count’s in the House” was inspired by BÖC’s “Godzilla,” which is a connection I never made despite loving both of those songs for most of my life. That modified “Godzilla” progression has a similar effect in “Body Count’s in the House,” warning you that something dangerous has arrived and it’s too late to do anything about it.
3. Van Halen, “Eruption”
Body Count’s debut is a lot more musically complex than it gets credit for, and a lot of that has to do with Ernie. He’s got a range of guitar god influences, from John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola to Jimmy Page and of course Eddie Van Halen. Eddie’s influence can be heard in everything from Ernie’s tuning to the tapping section of “There Goes the Neighborhood.” Ernie also has some good stories about the man himself, including the time Ernie was trying to get an Ernie Ball guitar. “I called him up, I said ‘Eddie, you know, I’m having trouble. They won’t make me a guitar.’ He’s like, ‘No problem, let me call them up. They made one for John McEnroe, they’re gonna make one for you!’ Eddie called up and he got me a guitar.”
4. Ice-T, “The Girl Tried to Kill Me”
Ice-T had made great records before 1989, but The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech… Just Watch What You Say! is really where his political and metal instincts gelled. No doubt that’s in part due to his high school friends Ernie C, Mooseman and Beatmaster V showing up to play guitar, bass and drums respectively on a few songs. “The Girl Tried to Kill Me” is almost a blueprint for Body Count, a catchy, hilarious rap-metal story about a dominatrix that I think ranks with the best of Raising Hell and Licensed to Ill.
5. Suicidal Tendencies, “Pledge Your Allegiance”
Ice sometime names Suicidal Tendencies as one of Body Count’s top three influences (along with Slayer and Black Sabbath), in particular citing their gangster punk style and recording an uproarious cover of “Institutionalized” in 2014. For the book, he told me he liked the way ST got the crowd to chant their name in “Pledge Your Allegiance,” which is something you can hear in BC songs like “Body Count’s in the House,” “Body Count” and “Body Count Anthem.”
6. Ice-T, “Midnight”
O.G. Original Gangster is a flat out masterpiece, best heard in its entirety, where you get the shock of hearing Ice-T introduce and debut Body Count on track 18. But Ice’s metal chops were already well-established, especially on “Midnight,” a chilling crime story set to samples by Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. “Me and [my brother] Igor were huge fans of the O.G. album, especially the song ‘Midnight.’ I always loved that track. The Black Sabbath sample, you know?” Max Cavalera told me, whose band Sepultura toured with Body Count in 1992. They’ve stayed friends and collaborators since.
7. Sinead O’Connor, “Mandinka”
Summer/fall 1992 was really quite a time for persecuting artists who spoke truth to power. Sinead O’Connor was a big Ice-T fan, telling Rolling Stone, “Ice-T is an enormous influence. I saw his concert and nearly wet myself.” Ice returned the praise in Q magazine, stating, “My attitude is, if you deal with music and you just bounce along the top surface and don’t rock the boat, then you’re doin’ pop music; but if you rock that boat in any fashion, whether you’re Sinéad O’Connor, Ice-T or Too Short, then you’re doin’ rock ‘n’ roll.” Last year, I got to show my students the Nothing Compares documentary, and I was touched by how different their responses were from the ones she predominantly got at the time. Those kids were living in a world she changed.
8. Body Count, “Bowels of the Devil”
“Cop Killer” is the most famous song on Body Count, and “There Goes the Neighborhood” is the biggest hit, but “Bowels of the Devil” is probably my fan favorite. “‘Bowels of the Devil’ is the dopest jam on there, perfect proto-thrash style punk,” Body Count cover artist Dave Halili told me, and Ernie named it as a favorite too. It’s a brilliant use of metal’s Satanic imagery, applied to America’s incarceration system. I think “Bowels of the Devil” might be the greatest punk song of the ‘90s, with the possible exception of “Cop Killer.”
9. Black Flag, “Police Story”
There’s a potent version of “Police Story” performed by Ice-T with the Rollins Band for the 2002 compilation Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three, but that’s sadly not on most music streaming services (try YouTube). Henry Rollins is a longtime Ice-T friend and Body Count supporter, who spoke with me about performing with them on the first Lollapalooza, where they toured with Jane’s Addiction, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Butthole Surfers, Living Colour, Nine Inch Nails, Fishbone and more great acts. Ice has quoted Henry a few times on his podcast The Daily Game, which I listen to every weekday morning (it’s always under five minutes), and sometimes talks about sharing Henry’s hustler mentality. “I would watch Henry warm up off of ‘[Welcome to the] Terrordome,’ he would listen to Public Enemy to get hyped for his set,” Ice remembered Lollapalooza. “He was really the epitome of hardcore lead singer. And we started to vibe together out on that tour. And since then, we’ve become very close friends, because we think pretty much along the same lines.” Ice also told me that he didn’t think the lyrics of “Cop Killer” were especially worse than the musical shots Black Flag or MDC took at the police.
10. Slayer and Ice-T, “Disorder”
Ice-T has been an outspoken Slayer fan for about as long as he’s been a famous rapper—as he says in the soundtrack hit “Ricochet,” “Cause I’m a pimp and a player/Sometimes I bump hip-hop, the other times, Slayer.” A year after Body Count’s debut, rap and rock were connected enough for the now-classic Judgment Night soundtrack, with 11 songs pairing rock acts with rap acts, including Slayer and Ice-T tearing through this thrashed-out medley of three Exploited songs. “I’ve been stood on the side of the stage and when they come on, the fucking mixing desk moves,” Ice described Slayer shows. Slayer have since retired, but Body Count sometimes still performs “Disorder,” and does a thrilling cover of Slayer’s “Raining Blood” and “Postmortem,” combined into “Raining in Blood / Postmortem” for legal reasons.
11. Public Enemy, “Welcome to the Terrordome”
These days, there are rap artists in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but of course hip-hop at first was often not taken seriously as a form of rock music, much less a form of art. As Ice-T told Decibel, “In my book, rap is rock. If you listen to an MC, we rock the house, we rock the mic. It’s rock – we don’t ‘R & B’ the mic. So, rock is – whether you are doing it on piano like Jerry Lee Lewis, or on guitar – an attitude. So, when I hear [Public Enemy’s] ‘Welcome to the Terrordome,’ I think that shit’s rock!”
Ice-T and Public Enemy’s Chuck D go way back. Chuck told me he used to play Ice’s records on his college radio show, and that Ice was the first person to greet Public Enemy when they came to LA. Ice also has a cameo in PE’s “By the Time I Get to Arizona” video, and is honored in the Fear of a Black Planet liner notes as “The Soldier of the Highest Degree.” Not bad for a West Coast rapper, coming from an East Coast band.
12. Living Colour, “Pride”
Everybody knows Living Colour for “Cult of Personality,” but I’ve loved seeing their sophomore album Time’s Up get more of its deserved acclaim in the past few years, particularly in Questlove’s Music is History, The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell, and best of all Kimberly Mack’s excellent 33 1/3 book on Time’s Up. On the first Lollapalooza tour, Body Count and Living Colour were often pitted against each other by the fans and media as a sort of East Coast-West Coast rivalry, which both Ernie C and Living Colour’s Vernon Reid discussed with me in the book. “Pride” is a thunderous song written by LC drummer Will Calhoun—check out the video of them playing it live at Lollapalooza, where you can see Ice-T headbanging at the side of the stage.
13. Fishbone, “Sunless Saturday”
There’s a great ‘80s trend of rap music videos starting with the artist having to prove themselves to a rock music gatekeeper—Run-DMC in “King of Rock,” Beastie Boys in “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and of course Ice-T in “Lethal Weapon,” where the bouncer tells him he can’t play because it’s “metal night.” When Ice finally takes the stage, he’s got members of Body Count, Wasted Youth and Fishbone with him.
Fishbone seemed poised to be huge on “Sunless Saturday,” which got them an SNL performance and a music video directed by Spike Lee, released the year the band played Lollapalooza with Body Count. Fishbone didn’t get the arena-level popularity that they deserve (check out Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, which features Ice-T, for more on that), but they’re still touring and an absolute powerhouse live—they played New York last spring and it was the best I’ve seen them. My favorite of their records is Truth and Soul, but if I had to pick a song to introduce someone to Fishbone I’d probably go with “Sunless Saturday.” Frontman Angelo Moore has known Ice since Ice’s breakdancing days in early ‘80s LA, and spoke with me about Body Count’s impact, saying, “Body Count’s a part of the grass that’s growing from the shit that’s been happening in our country for the past three to four hundred years…Fishbone, Living Colour, Bad Brains, all these Black rock bands that talk about racism, or talk about their disgust in how the system is run…When [Ice-T] puts together Body Count, he reminds everybody that he hasn’t forgotten his culture and his people.”
14. Duff McKagan, “Chip Away”
I hadn’t followed much of Duff’s frontman career since the first Loaded record, but I saw him on the Tenderness tour and he was great. He’s got more than enough rock star swagger to carry any song he plays, and his newest songs are among his best—Tenderness has a kind of roots rock vibe to it that Duff works really well. He’s also a longtime friend of the Body Count guys, especially Ernie, and provided some good stories for the book. I love “Chip Away,” which fellow Ice-T fan Robert Allen Zimmerman praised last year: “There’s a Duff McKagan song called ‘Chip Away,’ that has profound meaning for me. It’s a graphic song. Chip away, chip away, like Michelangelo, breaking up solid marble stone to discover the form of King David inside. He didn’t build him from the ground up, he chipped away the stone until he discovered the king. It’s like my own songwriting, I overwrite something, then I chip away lines and phrases until I get to the real thing. Shooter Jennings produced that record. It’s a great song.”
15. Sepultura feat. Jello Biafra, “Biotech vs. Godzilla”
One musician I spoke with (not Max Cavalera or Jello Biafra) surprised me by saying that he didn’t love Body Count’s debut when he first heard it. He was more of a metal guy, and Body Count was a little raw for him—it wasn’t until he saw Body Count live that he “got it.” As a ‘90s kid, I’d almost forgotten that there was a long time when punk and metal were considered very different—to me, it made perfect sense that someone would like them both. Part of that came from growing up with bands like Body Count who bridged punk and metal. Of course a year after Body Count’s debut, punks and metalheads were collaborating on albums like Sepultura’s Chaos A.D., featuring Jello Biafra. Jello and Max were both a blast to speak with for this book. I figured Jello would go in-depth about Body Count’s politics, and he did, but I was really struck by how insightful he was in describing their music.
16. Body Count, “Talk Shit, Get Shot”
Even as a longtime Body Count fan, I was shocked at how great they sounded when they came back with Manslaughter. Part of it’s the band they got—Ernie told me he’s had seven different lineups in the band, and by far the ones that have worked best are the ones they started with (Ice, Ernie, Mooseman, Beatmaster V and rhythm guitarist D-Roc the Executioner) and the one they’ve had since Manslaughter (Ice and Ernie with bassist Vincent Price, drummer “Ill Will” Dorsey and rhythm guitarist Juan of the Dead.) “Talk Shit, Get Shot” is such a catchy, funny, badass song with an equally funny music video, and has the Body Count hallmark of a simplicity that somehow blends multiple genres. “If we’re metal, then what’s ‘KKK Bitch?’ That’s punk,” Ice stated in 2018. “When we do ‘Talk Shit, Get Shot,’ and we breakdown, it gets funky. . . . Regardless, it’s hardcore.”
17. Ho99o9, “Street Power”
Punk-rappers Ho99o9 have gotten pretty big now—last year they toured with Slipknot and Cypress Hill—but Ice gave me an anecdote about seeing them open for Body Count at Gramercy Theatre in 2014 and being blown away by their performance. After that, I found a touching interview with the Ho99o9 guys where they spoke of Body Count’s influence and how kind Ice was to them backstage after their Gramercy show. “Street Power” builds on Body Count’s horrorcore innovations—one usually hears it as a subgenre of hip-hop, but Body Count basically invented a metal version of horrorcore. Ho99o9 gives it an industrial tinge here.
18. Body Count, “Black Hoodie”
Several people I spoke with told me Bloodlust is their favorite Body Count record, and I can’t argue with them. I’ve got an emotional attachment to the debut, which changed my life in high school, but listening to songs like “The Ski Mask Way,” “This Is Why We Ride,” “All Love is Lost,” “No Lives Matter,” “Bloodlust” and “Here I Come Again”—really, the whole record—I can tell Bloodlust is a full-on metal classic and maybe Body Count’s best. The album closes with “Black Hoodie,” one of the strongest protest anthems I’ve ever heard. “All these people out here trippin’ off police brutality, like this shit is something new? Give me a fucking break,” Ice barks in the intro, and the band storms in with some of their most infectious riffage. It was released on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Body Count.
19. God Forbid, “The End of the World”
I first saw Doc Coyle in God Forbid, opening for fellow New Jerseyans the Dillinger Escape Plan in 2006, and most recently saw him on Metallica’s current tour, opening with Ice Nine Kills. God Forbid made a classic political metal record, IV: Constitution of Treason (I have to believe the crumbling Statue of Liberty on the album cover is a nod to …And Justice for All,) which nails the metalcore sound that Body Count hinted at in 1992 and aced when they came back on Manslaughter. Coyle cowrote one of the all-time best Body Count songs, “This Is Why We Ride,” and is a longtime fan of both Ice-T (“He always seemed like someone who had a certain amount of knowledge and wisdom based on his life experience, which he imparted through his art.”) and Body Count (“People look at it from the perspective of what that means for a mostly white fanbase to see that, but I think it actually means more to the Black community, when they see, especially a band like that where you got guys coming from the inner city, playing rock and metal…It shows that culture that you’re not bound to just do what is expected of you.”)
20. Body Count, “Point the Finger”
I absolutely love Power Trip. Years ago, I was in the Morbid Anatomy Museum coffee shop when a barista put on Manifest Decimation and nearly knocked me out of my seat. I’m still crushed over the fact that Riley Gale died—what an incredible frontman. Body Count and Power Trip were talking about touring together in 2020, which I wish had happened. As far as I know, Riley’s last recorded performance was this team-up with Body Count on the anti-police brutality “Point the Finger,” which was 100% the song the world needed when Body Count dropped their quarantine music video performance in 2020. “Before that I had a ‘no features’ rule. I wouldn’t do features on songs. But when Ice-T asks, you say yes,” stated Riley in Revolver. Musically and lyrically, this could be a great Body Count song or a great Power Trip song. You can hear Body Count’s innovations, their continued relevance and their impact on great new artists.
Ben Apatoff is the author of Metallica: The $24.95 Book and the first-ever book about Body Count.