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Ice-T: ‘The Second the President Says Your Name Shit Gets Hectic’

Rapper/actor on vicious new Body Count album, state of America and the guilt of success.

This record was written during the elections,” says Ice-T. “[America] has gone upside down in the last year or two.” The man born Tracy Marrow is calling in from Boston, where he’s based while filming Law & Order: SVU, the show he’s starred in as Detective ‘Fin’ Tutuola for 17 years. Top of his mind, though, is Body Count, the hardcore-metal band he formed in 1990, which has just released its sixth album, Bloodlust. Featuring guest spots from Max Cavalera (Soulfly), Randy Blythe (Lamb of God) and Dave Mustaine (Megadeth), it’s the band’s most focused, vicious offering since their 1992 self-titled debut. Which, for a man approaching 60, and whose debut album, Rhyme Pays, turns 30 this year, is quite the feat. “I wasn’t as hungry then as I am now,” he says. “I have a daughter and I’m an old motherfucker, and if I can get a hit record right now, that would be some shit.”

Most people mellow with age, you’re getting angrier. What was your state of mind while writing Bloodlust?
I think great art happens in turmoil. There’s something about pain and unrest that makes you write this type of stuff. Right now with Trump, shit is hectic. I think what scares me is that people aren’t connected. They’re delusional, and they don’t see this impending doom. Barack Obama was such a smooth character that the world could be coming to an end and he would never let you know! But Trump wants to blow up Nordstrom because they took his daughter’s shit out.

The album opens with “Civil War”. Is that where America is headed?
That’s definitely a possibility. Now you’ve got the Klan marching again in the United States, that hasn’t happened in 30 years. [But] I don’t think people really want it. They like to say black people want to riot – even with Rodney King, we waited on justice, we waited on the trial. People aren’t savages and want to start some shit, you’ve got to really push them.

This is your third Body Count album since 2006, which is when you did your last rap album. Are you done with rap?
I don’t know. Hip-hop has taken a turn to some weird mumble zone that I don’t really fuck with. If you’re drinking cough medicine and getting high like that, I can get it, but that’s just not my style. I’ve wanted to do a hip-hop project, but it wouldn’t be like a record, it would be more like a cinematic journey and story-rapping; more of a novel that goes through chapters, and [I’d] use additional rappers, almost like what they did with Hamilton, but more gangster. Honestly I’m really leaning more toward EDM right now. Like crossing hip-hop with EDM. So I’m experimenting with it. I’m not saying I ain’t fucking with rap no more.

When Body Count released “Cop Killer” in 1992, President Bush called you sick and more than 1000 stores threatened to boycott the LP. Did you feel the heat?
Oh absolutely. The second the President says your name shit gets hectic. The first thing they want to do is find out if you’re really a threat to security, so they go through your business and they check in to you. I didn’t know that singing about the cops was off limits. I had records by Millions of Dead Cops, the punk band, and Black Flag was always on the cops’ bumper talking shit. As soon as I did it it became a problem.

Fast forward two decades and you’re a cop on Law & Order, and Vice President Joe Biden is cameoing alongside you…
Oh, dig this. When Joe Biden shows up on the show, in the middle of the scene he goes, “Where’s Ice T?” I’m like, “Oh hell no.” I’m like, “Oh you know who I am?” He’s like, “Oh yeah, we know who you are!” I don’t know if you want the President knowing your name. He gave me one of those Vice President challenge coins. He’s like, the only one that can beat this is the President’s. He was cool.

You became a dad at 57. How’s that?
In one way it’s frightening because you want to make sure you’re healthy. But once that baby got here? The best thing ever. Muhammad Ali said it best. He said when a man has a baby in the second half of his life, it sets the reset button like, I gotta live, I can’t go nowhere. So you get healthy, and your hustle is back up.

You’ll be 60 next year. Is that hard to fathom?
Nah, cos I’m so healthy. I’m in great shape, I work out, I don’t feel it at all. Well, maybe in my back [laughs].

Some people who make it out of the ghetto and forge a career talk of feeling survivor’s guilt; that some of their friends weren’t so fortunate. Have you ever felt that?
Yes! It’s a success guilt. But what happens is, you hand out so much money, you give away so much, that at some point you hit this point where you’re like, all right, I’m cool, I’m out of debt. You’ve paid your debt to the ‘hood: “I bought all you motherfuckers cars, back the fuck up, let me enjoy this.” I’m at that point. Everyone who says I owe ’em got paid already.

Ice-T and Body Count are set to tour Australia in June; dates and details here.

From issue #786 (May 2017), available now