Your mom thinks he’s just wonderful as Law & Order: SVU’s Odafin Tutuola. Your nephew says that Madd Dogg is his favorite character from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Your weird brother-in-law swears that his turn as a half-man, half-kangaroo in 1995’s Tank Girl is a highlight of 20th-century cinema. But the man doing business as Ice-T (real name: Tracy Marrow) put himself in a position to leverage his profile across various media platforms due to his abilities on the microphone: He was unquestionably one of the best storytellers and most dominant rappers of the late 1980s and early ’90s. His 1986 single “6 ’N the Morning” pioneered gangsta-rap, but it was with his hardcore punk/heavy-metal side project Body Count and 1992’s revenge fantasy “Cop Killer” that Ice-T courted his greatest notoriety; he raised the ire of not only prominent politicians but also of Charlton Heston, who railed about the track and even intoned its “Die, die, die, pig, die!” battle cry.
Ice-T has reassembled Body Count for a new album (Manslaughter, out tomorrow); his latest targets, as heard in the record’s opening salvo, “Talk Shit, Get Shot,” are social-media-enabled loudmouths. As the band prepares to embark on this summer’s RockStar Energy Drink Mayhem Tour, Ice told Vulture exactly what he thinks of keyboard crybabies and reminisced over the era of pre-internet outrage.
Where have I reached you today?
I’m at home in New Jersey. SVU ain’t shooting today.
Body Count hasn’t released any records since 2006’s Murder for Hire. When you have so much going on and don’t really need the money, why are you putting yourself out there again?
I’m in a very good place to make records. Needing to make money off music is very dangerous. I have a few dollars in the bank, and whether this album hits or tanks, I’ll be okay. I made this record because I want to. I want to play Body Count songs for the people, and to prove a point that Ice-T is still a bad motherfucker.
Well, I’m in my 50s, and I think these youngsters are a bunch of pussies. We live in a surveillance state that’s getting more into your private life every day, and those guys are talking about trying to get pussy at the club? Motherfuckers use technology to obsess about Kim Kardashian’s dress? Who give a fuck? When your career is based on whether you’re going to get enough likes on Facebook, you’re no longer going to have an opinion. Now, I’ll have a strong opinion that may offend some motherfucker, and someone will say [adopting an uptight white-guy voice], “Hold on, are you gonna get in trouble with Dick Wolf for saying that?” Dick Wolf loves my dirty drawers! Motherfuckers are so scared to say anything, and I’m trying to put some balls back in the game.
On the new album, Body Count updates a Suicidal Tendencies classic on “Institutionalized 2014.” Oprah is now on the list of things that gradually drive the protagonist nuts.
If someone is pissed about some tweet I did, I tell them to go follow Oprah. We had a term called “getting Oprahed,” where a guy comes home into a booby trap when his woman’s been watching daytime television. “Oh, I was just watching Dr. Oz and he says that you need to do this or that.” Fuck Dr. Oz! The wife in the song is saying I don’t love her because I’m playing Xbox. Fuck Oprah! Oprah ain’t got no man!
You also revise “99 Problems”; not everyone knows that Jay Z got the line from you.
“99 Problems” is a sucker punch, so that a journalist will say [in uptight white guy voice again], “Oh, Ice-T remade Jay Z’s record.” No, Ice made that record 11 years before Jay Z. I thought his version was dope, but Jay didn’t go out of his way to mention that it was a remake. In rehearsal, the band would play those licks from Jay’s record to tease me, and I would get up and say the original lyrics. So I decided that I would reclaim it on this album.
In 1992, shortly after the L.A. riots and in the middle of the presidential election, “Cop Killer” was denounced by the sitting president and vice-president. How surreal was that?
I’m at home one day and somebody calls me: “Yo, the president is on the news talking shit about you.” The shit was on! I knew that if I was on a hip-hop tour coming through, say, Georgia, we would get picketed. But I didn’t know there was shit you couldn’t talk about in rock and roll. In that song, I was speaking through a character who’s had it with police brutality and goes on a shooting spree. Body Count’s songs, like lots of heavy metal records, are about crazy shit that you might feel like doing but never will, including impossible horror-movie shit. But I don’t care who the president is at a particular time — if you go up against the government, prepare for impact. That year I got audited by the IRS three times and my kid was pulled out of school while the FBI was finding out whether I was connected to paramilitary organizations. I’ve learned that if I don’t have an attack that’s really truly planned out, I’m not going to say shit.
On a recent podcast, you said that doing voice-overs for a Dungeons & Dragons audiobook helped you come to the conclusion that D&D is the “deepest nerd shit ever invented.”
I’ve done audiobooks before. They like my voice. I was offered a decent fee for three hours, reading 48 pages. But they did not say it was fucking Dungeons & Dragons. This is the hardest shit I’ve read in my life. The main guy’s name is Trisdur Odin, okay? And they got Pegasuses and swords that talk inside of his head or some shit. I had to read as five different people, three of them women, so I had to change my voice for each. And all these words are made up, so they have this guy who has the pronunciations of every word standing there with me. You say it once right, but by the time you gotta say it again, you forget. All that shit! I’m sweating, drinking water, going to the bathroom. It took me three and a half hours to read 19 pages. I came back the next day to do the rest, and the guy at the audiobook company said, “We didn’t think you were gonna come back. We’ve had motherfuckers get up and walk out on us in the middle of a session for shit like this.”
Do you watch Game of Thrones?
I couldn’t get into it! You have to invest so much time in it: You have to learn where everyone’s from, who’s related to who, and who did what to somebody’s mother 25 years ago … that learning curve is too steep. I watch that show Vikings.