Star Apps: Body Count Featuring Ice-T

Rapper-actor Ice-T is a true original gangster. Best known to a younger generation as Detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," Ice-T originally felt more at home on the other side of the law, committing crimes and later writing lyrics about them. His most controversial song, recorded with with his band Body Count, is "Cop Killer," a polarizing track released between the Rodney King beating and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Body Count's latest album, "Manslaughter," came out earlier this month, and the band will promote it on the Rockstar Mayhem Festival tour. I chatted with Ice-T about the "Cop Killer" controversy, being an OG, recovering from the loss of his parents and a horrific car accident, playing the law and outlaws, and his favorite apps.

Body Count, Ice-T
Body Count, Ice-T

Part prophet, part pimp, Ice-T (pictured with Body Count) is a walking contradiction.

(Credit: Sumerian Records)

What can you tell us about the new Body Count album?
It's hardcore Ice-T. I think it's lyrically one of my best records. You gotta go test it out. It might be too toxic for a lot of soft people. Body Count is grindhouse, ultraviolence, ultrasexual, but it's meant to be taken with a grain of salt. It's funny. It's so outrageous. But I am striking on a lot of issues that need to be addressed today. You're either gonna love it, or you're gonna hate it. It's not much in between.

Why is it called "Manslaughter"?
"Manslaughter" is my take on the death of manhood or the pussy-fication of the male sex right now. I think men are so afraid. They want to be politically correct with all this social media, where everyone's afraid to offend somebody 'cause you might get unfollowed or something devastating like that. So no one's talking about anything. I'm just trying to put some balls back in the game.

You recently posted on Twitter that you have to see Body Count live to understand what you're doing. What did you mean by that?
I don't really make music for radio. I make music to be performed. I think you have to be there and around the crowd to get the energy. It's a very aggressive situation, and it's always going to be more intense looking me in the face than listening on a speaker. Most people today listen to music over their laptop speakers, so I think the experience is tenfold when you get to see us live.

What will you bring to Mayhem Festival, musically and performance-wise?
I think we'll be different. We're very hardcore and aggressive, and all of our music is made for the mosh pit, so there should be a lot of action. I just think we bring a different sound. When I go to a concert with a lot of bands, I think the worst thing is to see a band that sounds like all the other bands. I think Body Count gives people a different sound to rock to.

Body Count, Ice-T
Body Count, Ice-T

Manslaughter is a killer Body Count album.

(Credit: Sumerian Records)

Both of your parents died when you were fairly young. Outside of what I'd imagine to be an incredible sense of loss, how did that impact the course of your life?
I think when you're an orphan, you're very aware that no one has to give you anything. All that sense of entitlement goes out the window. I'm very much about knowing that if I hit the bottom, there's no one there whose duty is to pick me up. I don't have a mother or a father obligated to help me, so I've always been very self-sufficient and take care of myself. That doesn't mean that I don't live close to the edge, though. I'm not afraid to spend my last dollar, but I'm also aware that I've got to be able to make more money or support myself. It's very odd now, for someone who's an orphan to have so many people that depend on me. It's different. It's a real flip of the coin.

I've read that it was your cousin Earl, who originally introduced you to rock music when you were a teenager. What was it about that experience that spurred your interest in the genre?
It was forced on me. I couldn't change his radio, and he listened to nothing but rock, and actually thought he was Jimi Hendrix, walking around, wearing scarves and shit on his head. Music is an acquired taste, so once you can't listen to anything else, you start to pick the songs out that you like. If you work at a job, where all they play is reggae, eventually you start picking out the songs that you like. I just got indoctrinated to everything from Black Sabbath to Blue Oyster Cult to Def Leppard, and I tended to like the harder stuff like Black Sabbath.

Body Count covered "Hey Joe" for a Jimi Hendrix tribute album. Why that song, and in which ways do you identify with Hendrix?
Well, Jimi Hendrix was a bad motherfu*ker, and probably one of the baddest that ever lived -- just the way he used feedback and the musicianship. His lyrics were there. Sometimes you didn't know what he was singing. All that stuff was just so dope. We did "Hey Joe" because we thought it was the furthest from Body Count musically. I'm really into doing the unexpected. It's the opposite of us, but the content of the song, this guy who killed this woman because she was fu*king around, and now he's on the run, that's very Body Count.

You've served in the Army and play a detective on TV, yet you also have a criminal past and reject authority. How do you reconcile the two?
No reconciliation whatsoever. When you're a criminal, you're breaking the law. When you stop breaking the law, you're an honest citizen. You do what you have to do at that particular moment. I have no allegiance to crime. It was just a job occupation. And I'm not a cop; I can't arrest anybody, so I'm not really connected to the politics of police. I'm just an actor and enjoying the opportunities presented to me in my short life here. Who the hell wouldn't want to act in a movie?

What caused your car accident in the mid-1980s, and how did that change you?
The car accident just happened from hanging out too late. I was out at a club that didn't close till 9 o'clock in the morning, and I walked out of the club at 7 a.m., and my eyes are stinging and I've been up too late. It was sleep deprivation. I was dozing off at the intersection, letting my eyes rest, and at one of the particular intersections, I didn't wake up. I fell totally asleep. My foot fell off the break, and I coasted right into the intersection. I got side-hit dead in the driver's door and am lucky to be alive.

As a Crips affiliate, once you started becoming famous, were you still able to freely travel around LA, or were there certain gang areas that you could no longer go to?
I kinda had diplomatic immunity in LA. I was most closely connected to the Rollin 60's Neighborhood Crips, but by not being an active gang member and by being a rapper, everyone kinda liked me, because I represented LA. I kinda put LA on the map, so I had diplomatic immunity. That doesn't mean that nothing could happen to me. And to this day, when I'm in different areas of LA, I don't hang there too long. You gotta know somebody from that neighborhood. Even now I could be more of a target, 'cause they could think that I have money and want to rob me. You never get too cocky about south central LA. I could stand outside and get shot. Anybody can.

Your 1988 "Colors" single is one of your most famous. How accurate was the "Colors" film at portraying gang life?
Not really that accurate, because in "Colors" you had the blacks fighting the Mexicans, which had never really happened in LA. A Mexican-black war would be devastating in LA. Mexican gangs just messed with the Mexicans, and the blacks messed with the blacks. It was more of a show to let people know that there were gangs in Los Angeles, because when we got ready to make the movie, Dennis Hopper wanted to shoot in LA, and they wanted to shoot it in Chicago, because people were unaware there were gangs in LA. That year, there were 365 [gang-related] murders in LA. It had just never hit the press.

A lot of people have called themselves OG. What does it take to be a true OG? An OG is just slang for first generation. It means you started something that wasn't there. In gang vernacular, it would be the first generation of the gang. Now there are so many sects in LA. New gangs pop up every month. Now if I were to see someone who started a certain sect, I'd consider them an OG.

I started getting called an OG because I'm the OG of gangster rap, because I was able to put the guns and the gangs in the records. So I used the gang terminology to connect to hip-hop. But OG also means anything that's original, the original Chuck Taylors, the original 501 jeans. So if you've been in the game long enough, you could be considered OG, as opposed to a new booty-ass motherfu*ker that just got in the game.

Body Count, Ice-T
Body Count, Ice-T

Ice-T takes pride in being an OG of rap.

(Credit: Sumerian Records)

What was the hardest part of the "Cop Killer" controversy for you?
I think just getting blindsided by it. We weren't prepared for the controversy. We didn't expect the controversy. We thought it was a rock record. We had played that record for a year on Lollapalooza and were business as usual. And all of a sudden, all this bullshit happens. I think we just weren't prepared for all the controversy and all the unnecessary bullshit that went along with the hype.

Rap has morphed from gangster rap to party music. What is the legacy of gangster rap?
I just think that it's an apolitical music, where we didn't give a fu*k. We had to say what we wanted to say. It was punk rock. It was, "This is how I feel, and fu*k you, if you don't agree with it." It's not based on money or fashion. It's all based on attitude, and we had to come from zero, like Dr. Dre and all of us -- there were no record labels, there was no help whether we liked it or not. Now, Dr. Dre is a successful entrepreneur, and the kids are able to start at a position that wasn't available to us, so they're definitely coming from a better place, and the music reflects that. It's softer and about partying. But gangster rap was necessary. I think conscious music is necessary. It's hard to be a gangster when you don't have to be.

You've played characters on both sides of the law. Which are more fun to play?
I don't like playing cops. I think when you cast me, and you cast a street guy as a gangster, it's not much acting. When you cast me as a cop, you get a cop with an interesting dynamic, so it works out better. But I like playing bad guys. I can't wait to play a villain again. They're one-dimensional, and they're fun. All you gotta do is make people hate you, and it's easy. Playing the hero is difficult, 'cause you want people to like you, but you don't want to be corny. I'm just happy to act. As far as acting, I'm not worried about being typecast. I'm just worried about being cast. I love acting, and that's the fun of acting -- trying to make the role interesting.

Final Level is the name of your film production company, gaming podcast, and Twitter handle. Why that moniker?
It's kind of an ode to video gaming. You're always trying to get to the final level. I feel the same about life -- there are levels, and you're always trying to ante up and move to the next level of understanding. It kinda matches what me and my crew are always trying to do, always trying to get to that next level. Although I'm not truly on the final level, it's where we're trying to go. People ask me what the final level is, and I always say that it's inner peace. When you finally get your head together and are at peace, I think that's the most difficult level to reach. That sounds like some Buddhist shit [laughs], but call it what you want.

What are your top mobile apps?
1. Twitter, because it's kind of like a website where you get to say shit and can keep people abreast of what you're doing.
2. I think everyone should have Coco's Workout World, which is really important to keep your booty in shape. I can't do any of the exercises on the app, but it's fun to watch Coco do her thing. It works out for working out or soft porn.
3. I do have Instagram, but I'm not a big fan of taking pictures of everything that fu*king moves. That's corny. But I'm forced into every once in a while putting pictures on Instagram.
4. I got one called FatBooth, and it allows you to take a picture of your friends and make them fat. I can make their faces fat, and it shows them what they'll look like if they gain 30 pounds. It's kinda fun.
5. I have a Podcasts app, because, of course, by having my own podcast, I had to figure out a way to listen to it, and YouTube requires a podcast app.
6. I don't have any goofy apps on here. No dumb shit. I use Dropbox, which is an app to help move big files around.

I guess I'm pretty boring when it comes to apps. I don't play video games on the phone. I don't like the phone. I turn it off. My wife always has her phone, and that's usually the better way to get to me. I wouldn't carry a phone around if I didn't have to. But I fu*king hate talking on the phone.

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