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Body Count is an American heavy metal band formed in Los Angeles, California in 1990. The group was founded by Ice T, best known for his contributions to the hip hop genre. Ice-T founded the group out of his interest in heavy metal, and took on the role of vocalist for the group, writing the lyrics for most of the group's songs, while the music was written by lead guitarist Ernie C. The group's self-titled debut album was released on Sire Records in 1992.
The song "Cop Killer" was the subject of much controversy. Although Sire Records' parent company, Warner Bros. Records, defended the single, Ice T chose to remove the track from the album because he felt that the controversy had eclipsed the music itself. The group left Sire the following year. Since then, they have released three further albums on different labels, none of which have been received as commercially or critically well as their debut album.
Tracy Marrow, best known under the stage name Ice T, had long had an interest in heavy metal and other genres of rock music, even before becoming famous as a rapper. He founded Body Count out of this interest. The band was comprised of musicians Ice T had known from Crenshaw High School.
Ice T cowrote the band's music and lyrics with lead guitarist Ernie C, and took on the duties of lead vocalist, even though he felt that he did not have a great singing voice. Aside from Ice T and Ernie C, the original line-up consisted of Mooseman on bass, Beatmaster V on drums and D-Roc on rhythm guitar. According to Ice T, "We named the group Body Count because every Sunday night in L.A., I'd watch the news, and the newscasters would tally up the youths killed in gang homicides that week and then just segue to sports. 'Is that all I am,' I thought, 'a body count?'"
Ice T introduced the band at Lollapalooza in 1991, devoting half of his set to his hip hop songs, and half to Body Count songs, increasing his appeal with both alternative music fans and middle-class teenagers. Many considered the Body Count performances to be the highlight of the tour. Like Ice T's hip hop albums, the group's material focused on various social and political issues, with songs focusing on topics ranging from police brutality to drug abuse. Ernie C has stated that "We were just a band that played the songs that we knew how to write. Everybody writes about whatever they learned growing up, and we were no exception. Like the Beach Boys sing about the beach, we sing about the way we grew up."
The group made its first album appearance on Ice T's 1991 solo album O.G. Original Gangster. The song, "Body Count", was preceded by a spoken introduction in which Ice T responds to allegations that he had "sold out" by incorporating rock elements into his rap albums by pointing out that rock music originated with African-American artists such as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Little Richard, in addition to stating that "as far as I'm concerned, music is music. I don't look at it as rock, R&B, or all that kind of stuff. I just look at it as music. [...] I do what I like and I happen to like rock 'n' roll, and I feel sorry for anybody who only listens to one form of music."
Mainstream success and nationwide controversy
Main articles: Body Count (album) and Cop Killer (song)
Body Count's self-titled debut album was released on Sire/Warner Bros. Records on March 31, 1992. The album encountered controversy soon after its release mostly surrounding the song "Cop Killer". The song was intended to criticize corrupt police officers, but many took it as an attack against the entire police force. According to Ice T, "I thought I was safe. I thought within the world of rock'n'roll, you could be free to write what you want. Hell, I was listening to Talking Heads singin' 'Psycho Killer.' Fuck it, I'll make 'Cop Killer'! But, that was the cross of metal with something that was real. Now we’re not just killing your family, we’re killing somebody so real that everybody just went, 'oh shit.'"
The Dallas Police Association and the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas launched a campaign to force Warner Bros. Records to withdraw the album. Within a week, they were joined by police organizations across the United States. Some critics argued that the song could cause crime and violence. Many defended the song on the basis of the group's right to freedom of speech. In The Ice Opinion: Who Gives a Fuck, Ice T wrote that "The people who did have a platform were way off backing me on the First Amendment. That's not where all the anger should have been directed. The anger should have been generated back at the police. [...] Because people jumped on the wrong issue they were able to drive this thing totally through Warner Brothers."
Over the next month, controversy against the band grew. Vice President Dan Quayle branded "Cop Killer" as being "obscene," and President George H.W. Bush publicly denounced any record company that would release such a product. At a Time-Warner shareholders' meeting, actor Charlton Heston stood and read lyrics from the song "KKK Bitch" to an astonished audience and demanded that the company take action. The criticism escalated to the point where death threats were sent to Time-Warner executives, and stockholders threatened to pull out of the company. Finally, Ice T decided to remove "Cop Killer" from the album of his own volition. In an interview, Ice T stated that "I didn't want my band to get pigeon-holed as that's the only reason that record sold. It just got outta hand and I was just tired of hearing it. I said, 'fuck it,' I mean they're saying we did it for money, and we didn't. I'd gave the record away, ya know, let's move on, let's get back to real issues, not a record but the cops that are out there killing people."
"Cop Killer" was replaced by a new version of "Freedom of Speech," a song from Ice T's 1989 solo album The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech...Just Watch What You Say. The song was re-edited and remixed to give it a more rock-oriented sound. Ice T left Warner Bros. Records the following year because of disputes over the Ice T solo album Home Invasion, taking Body Count with him. Despite the controversy, the album received some praise, including A- reviews from Entertainment Weekly and The Village Voice, who later ranked the album among their list of The 40 Best Albums of 1992. Variety reported that the album had sold 480,000 copies by January 29, 1993.
Ice T performing with Body Count in 2006.In 1993, Body Count recorded a cover of "Hey Joe" for the Jimi Hendrix tribute album Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix. The band released their second album, Born Dead in 1994 on Virgin Records. Prior to the recording of Body Count's third album Violent Demise: The Last Days (1997), bassist Mooseman left the group and was replaced by Griz. Drummer Beatmaster V died of leukemia soon after the album was completed, and a new drummer named O.T. filled in the position. Bassist Griz left the band later on, and in the meanwhile, former bassist Mooseman was shot in a drive-by shooting in February 2001 while working for Iggy Pop. In late 2004, rhythm guitarist D-Roc died due to complications from lymphoma, leaving only Ice T and Ernie C from the original line-up.
Ice T has stated that "For me, honestly, after something like that, you can either come to a dead stop or you can go on. [...] It was so emotional. We were in the middle of making a new record together and he goes and dies? It was like, 'damn!' Soon enough, though, everybody was like, 'c'mon c'mon you gotta do it.' It was make-or-break. The key essence of Body Count is it's a band made up of friends. It's not about going out and hiring the best drummer or the best guitarist. If we don't know you, you can’t be in the band."
In July 2006, Body Count released their fourth album, Murder 4 Hire on the indie record label Escapi Music. Its album cover, featuring Uncle Sam holding a cardboard sign reading "Will Kill for Money," compares the United States military to contract killers. Their current line-up includes drummer O.T., bassist Vincent Price and rhythm guitarist Bendrix. Body Count plan to continue to play live and record. According to Ernie C, "We will carry on the band. I don't know if it will be Body Count, but in some form, Ice and I will always play together."
Body Count's early music is primarily rooted in the heavy metal and hardcore punk genres, but has also been associated with genres such as speed metal, thrash metal, and rapcore. According to Ernie C, "We wanted to be a big punk band [...] Our first record is almost a punk record." When the band's debut album was released, Ice T defined it as being "a rock album with a rap mentality." The album has since been credited for paving the way for the rise of rap-metal or rapcore groups.
Ice T later stated that "When we initially came out, my agenda was not to be a rap/rock band. My agenda was to redefine hardcore metal. If you listen to the first record, I don't rap! I didn't want to go out there and perform with Korn. I wanted to go out with Slayer!" On another occasion, Ice T stated that "What I saw was a direction in music. I was like, 'This will work because rap is rock, and rock is rap.' It's all the same." According to Ernie C, "A lot of rappers want to be in a rock band, but it has to be done sincerely. You can’t just get anybody on guitar and expect it to work. [...] Ice and I, on the other hand, really loved the music we were doing, and it showed."