Musical cross-fertilisation is raising hackles in the hidebound US music industry. Craig McLean hears the word from BODY COUNT, the uncompromising rock combo fronted by gangsta rapper Ice- T that was responsible for last year’s most controversial recording.
he story of Body Count is one of
street-theatre gone Hollywood. It
starts in South Central Los Angeles.
in the playgrounds ofCranshaw High
School. Tracy Marrow and Ernest
Cunnigan are schoolmates. music fans hanging out. Out of a youthful bond between one-day gangsta rapper and ‘the last diehard metalhead’ will come one of the most potent musical forces of the day. But along the way the train of thought gets derailed, diverted. What started off as a project to spot-weld the raw, inner-city anger of Tracy/lce-T’s rap to the raw energy of Ernie C’s beloved (and generally middle-class and white) hard rock gets dragged into a drama straight out of the movies: the ghetto versus the suburbs. panic among corporate shareholders. cold sweats for the top suits at the world’s biggest record company. the prospect ofan artist facing criminal prosecution for the sake of his art. issues of censorship and freedom of speech, and the sight of Charlton Heston in his greatest leading role since Moses.
‘Yeah,’ muses Ernie C months later. ‘With the last album the controversy overwhelmed the music . . .’
Cop Killer was the final track on Body Count’s debut, eponymous album. It had a chorus that went: ‘Cop killer. it’s better you than me/ Cop killer, fuck police brutality/ Cop killer. I know your family‘s grievin’ (Fuck ’em!)/ Cop killer, but tonight we get even.’ Between choruses. lee-T rages ‘Die. die, die pig, Diel/Fuck the police!’ This track closed an
album whose declaration of intent was kicked off with ‘Smoked Pork’. :1 46- second spoken-word account of ice-T wasting two patrolmen sitting in their squad car. The cover art was a comic-hook depiction of an over-
‘The problem isn’t the lyrics on the records, it’s the fear of the white kids liking a black artist. But the real problem is the fear of the white girl falling in love with the black man.’
muscled black male, chain clenched in ﬁst, gun rammed into waistband. the legend ‘Cop Killer’ tattooed on chest. Body Count were marked men.
Ernie C remembers the small-scale seeds of large-scale controversy. ‘A white girl that lived in the suburbs somewhere in Texas, she had the record. And her father heard the record. It just so happened that he was the Chief of Police. That started the ball rolling. He called his friend, who was the District Attorney, and so they organised a boycott of Time-Warner. It just escalated from there.’
Police associations in America threatened to withdraw pension funds from their stock-holdings in Time-Warner ( the parent company of Body Count‘s record label. Sire). A shareholders meeting was disrupted by protestors, led by Charlton Heston. outraged at ‘Cop Killer’s’ perceived incitement to violence and murder. Sire backed off. withdrawing the album before re- issuing it with the offending track removed. Eventually, Body Count left the label and struck a deal with Virgin. ‘The reason why we left Sire,’ says Ernie C, ‘was because they were really getting nervous about the next album. They were trying to dictate what could and could not be said.’
The plot sickens. but thankfully doesn’t end there.
Ernie (7 co-conceived Body Count with lce-T, co-writes the songs. co-produced the album. ‘That wasn’t what the band was about.’ he says of the controversy. ‘And also. we want people to know that we’re about more than shooting cops. KKK Bitch [a (porno)graphic tale of lce-T getting hot and horny with the daughter of the local Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard in Georgia]. was a tongue-in- cheek song. Peoplejust took everything we did so seriously. Some rock bands. they take ’em light- hearted. they can write a song about anything. But if we write a song about something it’s a little more serious. The fans don’t scrutinise what we’re doing. It’s just the people who really don’t give a
fuck about us anyway — the people that we didn’t
want to have the album anyway. So it doesn‘t bother us at all.’
The view from the inside, that of the band themselves. is that the controversy was accidental and incidental. This appears
wilfully disingenuous. given that upsetting America’s wholesome apple-pie-cart is what has made lee-T one of the most forthright and successful gangsta rappers. To deny, in song, the brutal sentiment of the street is to deny lee-T.
But with Body Count the shit hit the fan. Rap’s constituency had been steadily broadening. out of the black inner-cities where it was born, into the white heartland. Musical miscegenation hastened that process. I986 had seen the worldwide success of Aerosmith and Run DMC’s rap/rock single ‘Walk This Way’. Seven years later, Body Count would turn in a creditable version of ‘Hey Joe’, on the Hendrix tribute album Stone Free. The soundtrack to a new, mainstream Hollywood movie. Judgment Night, would consist of a host of
10 The List l7 December I993—l3 January I994