In 1992, riots broke out in Los Angeles after a trial jury acquitted four LA Police Department officers of using excessive force in the arrest and beating of Rodney King, which had been videotaped and widely viewed on TV. This was momentous timing for Body Count’s just-released debut album and its most controversial song, “Cop Killer.” Critics at the time argued that the song’s defiant chorus, “Fuck the police!,” and verses like, “I'm ‘bout to bust some shots off; I’m ‘bout to dust some cops off,” had crossed a line.
But even before the riots and Body Count album, columnists and critics were wringing their hands over the state of music and culture. Some parents worried that their kids liked NWA, 2 Live Crew, and Guns n’ Roses; the Parental Advisory label affixed to controversial albums was an enticement for many music store customers; and the 1991 film, Boyz n the Hood, was a hit in theaters and featured compelling depictions of a booming South Central LA gang culture.
Now, here in 2020, several records and 18 years removed from that context, Body Count has a new album, Carnivore. Rapper, actor, musician, producer, and author, Ice-T, fronts Body Count, a band he formed after he established himself in rap in the 1980s. The band members were recruited from Ice-T’s South Central LA high school, Crenshaw, and included a talented guitarist, Ernie C, who is still in the band.
Carnivore sounds energized and focused. On the opener and title track, a police siren warns off in the background. A thunderous floor tom pushes a vibration through your chest. Then the whole band kicks in. This song, and the album as a whole, is produced with a sound that could knock over furniture.
During the song “Another Level” (which features Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed), Ice-T reminds everyone that there was “No way that you could bring me down, you can't get in my brain; your life is miserable, I'm on a higher plane; all you non-believers, I chose to beat the game; they said I didn't have what it takes.” What does it mean to Ice-T to be on a whole new level? Is it having money, some influence, the ability to do more of the things you want?
Are those the things that should inspire us? Ice-T has consistently portrayed himself as the man who is relentless in his hustle, who cannot be outworked, and who is not to be underestimated. What is inspiring should not be his success or what “level” he is on. It is his fearlessness.
Carnivore’s track list also includes covers of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” and Ice-T’s own classic, “6 In The Morning.” These covers are OK; of course, the originals are better.
Body Count is not a phoned-in side-project. The album has inspired moments, and Ice-T always sounds pissed off. Body Count’s debut seemed highly relevant in 1992; in 2020, we have a seemingly target-rich environment—everywhere are outrages, and anger feels diffused.