These days Ice-T is likely best known for his acting career, and then his solo rapping career. But his metal side-project Body Count deserves as much recognition – especially after having just released their intense sixth album Bloodlust.
Body Count started as a group of friends interested in heavy music at high school. And they sound mean. They combine gangsta rap mentality with heavy rock and metal music to create an aggressive sound verging on hardcore.
If my description doesn’t sum it up well enough for your liking, then try Ice-T’s explanation, taking from the vocal intro to their cover of Slayer’s “Raining Blood”
” Body Count is a band I put together just to let one of my best friends, Ernie C play his guitar. He’s always been playing guitar, we all went to Crenshaw High School together in South Central Los Angeles. And I had the idea of let’s make a metal band, let’s make a rock band, ’cause I had been to Europe and I noticed that the kids would mosh off of hip-hop. So we put the band together and I used the three bands that were my favourites at the time to set the tone. We used the impending doom of a group like Black Sabbath, who pretty much invented metal; the punk sensibility of somebody like Suicidal, who basically put that gangbanger style from Venice, California into the game; and the speed and the precision of Slayer – one of my favourite groups and always will be. “
Not only do Body Count take inspiration from some of the big names in metal, but they also collaborate with a few of them on this album, including Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, Sepultura’s Max Cavalera and Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe.
As you would expect from that explanation, the music is in-your-face. Tight, fast drums, distorted riffs, squealing solos, and punk-meets-thrash delivered vocals.
The lyrical and thematically content seems contradictory within the album, with Ice-T bragging about criminal activities on one track, whilst protesting black stereotypes on another. I acknowledge that maintaining a tough guy persona is an integral aspect of the band’s image, but I would argue that singing about violence would further perpetuate negative stereotypes. Ice-T tackles issues like racism, poverty, street violence and police brutality, but also paints himself in an intimidating light.
Sure Black Lives Matter is worth acknowledging, but singing that you “gotta get paid the ski mask way” and discussing your thirst for bloodshed is a surefire way to become another statistic at the hands of a trigger happy cop.
Not that this criticism is exclusive to Body Count. Many political charged rappers walk that line between voicing out against injustice and playing to clichéd hiphop conventions of being a drug dealing gang banger.
Body Count use voice to add variety to the tracks. The opening passage on the album features Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine taking on the role of the broadcaster who delivers a faux broadcast from a dystopian president announcing martial law, before delving into a blistering guitar solo. Samples from news clips in “No Lives Matter” paint a picture of how it many young black men are being shot and killed by police in America. Ice-T also switches up his own style, providing monologues to preface a few songs, aping Tom Araya’s bark in the cover of Slayer’s “Raining Blood”, and acting out a bank hold up during the break down of “The Ski Mask Way”.
Bloodlust is a great introduction for those uninitiated to Body Count’s work. The slick production sounds great – especially when compared against the band’s early work from the ’90s. Ice-T gives a few explanations at the start of some tracks, which give insight into how the band came about and what drives them. The music is energetic and tight, and the topics touch on some issues that need to be addressed.
It is a real shame that the braggadocio attitude dilutes the genuine attempts to raise awareness for social issues, but the music and delivery on Bloodlust is killer. Mean metal with real gangsta swagger, loaded with memorable hooks and filled with intensity.
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