Body Count is the eponymous debut album of American heavy metal band Body Count. "Cop Killer" was originally intended to be the album's title, as evidenced by the tattoo on the original cover. Released in 1992, the album material focuses on various social and political issues ranging from police brutality to drug abuse. The album presents a turning point in the career of Ice T, who co-wrote the album's songs with lead guitarist Ernie C and performed as the band's lead singer. Previously known only as a rapper, Ice T's work with the band helped establish a crossover audience with rock music fans. The album produced one single, "There Goes the Neighborhood".
Body Count is best known for the inclusion of the controversial song "Cop Killer," which was the subject of much criticism from various political figures, although many defended the song on the basis of the group's right to freedom of speech. Ice T eventually chose to remove the song from the album, although it continues to be performed live. Although the album received mixed reviews, it was ranked among the Village Voice's list of the 40 Best Albums of 1992, and is believed to have helped pave the way for the mainstream success of the rapcore genre, although the album itself does not feature rapping in any of its songs.
While Ice T is primarily known for his work in the hip hop genre, he had long been a fan of various genres of rock music and had sampled songs by Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, among other artists. He formed Body Count out of this interest. The band comprised musicians Ice T had known from Crenshaw High School. Ice T states that "I knew we didn't want to form an R & B group. [...] Where am I gonna get the rage and the anger to attack something with that? [...] We knew Body Count had to be a rock band. The name alone negates the band from being R & B."
Ice T co-wrote the band's music and lyrics with lead guitarist Ernie C, and took on the duties of lead vocalist. Ice T states that "I knew I couldn't sing, but then I thought, 'Who can sing in rock 'n' roll?'" Aside from Ice T and Ernie C, the original line-up consisted of Mooseman on bass, Beatmaster V on drums and D-Roc on rhythm guitar. According to Ice T, "We named the group Body Count because every Sunday night in L.A., I'd watch the news, and the newscasters would tally up the youths killed in gang homicides that week and then just segue to sports. 'Is that all I am,' I thought, 'a body count?'"
Ice T introduced the band at Lollapalooza in 1991, devoting half of his set to his hip hop songs, and half to Body Count songs, increasing his appeal with both alternative rock fans and middle-class teenagers. Many considered the Body Count performances to be the highlight of the tour. The group made its first album appearance on Ice T's 1991 solo album O.G. Original Gangster. The song "Body Count" was preceded by a staged interview in which the performer referred to the group as a "black hardcore band," stating that "as far as I'm concerned, music is music. I don't look at it as rock, R & B, or all that kind of stuff. I just look at it as music. [...] I do what I like and I happen to like rock 'n' roll, and I feel sorry for anybody who only listens to one form of music.
Recording sessions for the group's self-titled debut took place from September to December 1991. The album was released on March 31, 1992, on compact disc, vinyl, and audio cassette. Ice T states that Body Count was intentionally different from his solo hip hop albums in that "An Ice T album has intelligence, and at times it has ignorance. Sometimes it has anger, sometimes it has questions. But Body Count was intended to reflect straight anger. It was supposed to be the voice of the angry brother, without answers. [...] If you took a kid and you put him in jail with a microphone and asked him how he feels, you'd get Body Count: 'Fuck that. Fuck school. Fuck the police.' You wouldn't get intelligence or compassion. You'd get raw anger." From the album, "There Goes The Neighborhood" was released as a single, while "Body Count's in the House" was featured in the film Universal Soldier.
Despite Ice T's attempts to differentiate Body Count from his work in the hip hop genre, the press focused on the group's rap image. Ice T felt that politicians had intentionally referred to the song "Cop Killer" as rap to provoke negative criticism. "There is absolutely no way to listen to the song Cop Killer and call it a rap record. It's so far from rap. But, politically, they know by saying the word rap they can get a lot of people who think, 'Rap-black-rap-black-ghetto,' and don't like it. You say the word rock, people say, 'Oh, but I like Jefferson Airplane, I like Fleetwood Mac — that's rock.' They don't want to use the word rock & roll to describe this song. Body Count has since been credited for pioneering the rap-metal genre popularized by groups such as Rage Against the Machine and Limp Bizkit, although Ice T does not rap on any of the album's tracks. Ernie C stated that "A lot of rappers want to be in a rock band, but it has to be done sincerely. You can’t just get anybody on guitar and expect it to work. [...] [We] really loved the music we were doing, and it showed."
Like Ice T's gangsta rap albums, Body Count's material focused on various social and political issues, with songs focusing on topics ranging from police brutality to drug abuse. According to Ernie C, "Everybody writes about whatever they learned growing up, and we were no exception. Like The Beach Boys sing about the beach, we sing about the way we grew up." Ice T states that "Body Count was an angry record. It was meant to be a protest record. I put my anger in it, while lacing it with dark humor." The spoken introduction, "Smoked Pork" features Ice T taking on the roles of a seemingly stranded motorist and a police officer who refuses to aid, telling him that "my job is eatin' these doughnuts". When the officer recognizes the motorist, gunshots are heard. The final voice on the track is the motorist confirming his identity.
In the lyrics of "KKK Bitch," Ice T describes a sexual encounter with a woman whom he soon learns is the daughter of the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The lyrics go on to describe a scenario in which members of Body Count "crash" a Klan meeting to "get buck wild with the white freaks". Ice T makes humorous reference to "[falling] in love with Tipper Gore's two twelve year old nieces", and ponders the possibility of the Grand Wizard coming after him "when his grandson's named little Ice-T." In The Ice Opinion: Who Gives a Fuck?, Ice T wrote that "'KKK Bitch' was ironic because the sentiments were true. We'd play Ku Klux Klan areas in the South and the girls would always come backstage and tell us how their brothers and fathers didn't like black folks. [...] We knew that 'KKK Bitch' would totally piss off the Ku Klux Klan. There's humor in the song, but it fucks with them. It's on a punk tip."
"Voodoo" describes a fictional encounter between Ice T and an old woman with a voodoo doll. "The Winner Loses" describes the downfall of a crack cocaine user. "There Goes the Neighborhood" is a sarcastic response to critics of Body Count, sung from the point of view of a racist white rocker who wonders "Don't they know rock's just for whites? / Don't they know the rules? / Those niggers are too hardcore / This shit ain't cool." For the song's music video, the word "nigger" was replaced with the phrase "black boys". The music video ends with a black musician implanting an electric guitar into the ground and setting it on fire. The final image is similar to that of a burning cross.
"Evil Dick" focuses on male promiscuity. Its lyrics describe a married man who is led to seek after strange women after his "evil dick" tells him "Don't sleep alone, don't sleep alone." "Momma's Gotta Die Tonight" follows the account of a black teenager who murders and dismembers his racist mother after she reacts negatively when he brings a white girl home. In The Ice Opinion: Who Gives a Fuck?, Ice T wrote that the song's lyrics are metaphorical, explaining that "Whoever is still perpetuating racism has got to die, not necessarily physically, but they have to kill off that part of their brain. From now on, consider it dead. The entire attitude is dead."
Ice T referred to the album's final track, "Cop Killer" as a protest song, stating that the song is "[sung] in the first person as a character who is fed up with police brutality." The song was written in 1990, and had been performed live several times, including at Lollapalooza, before it had been recorded in a studio. The album version mentions then-Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates and the black motorist Rodney King, whose beating by LAPD officers was recorded on videotape. In The Ice Opinion: Who Gives a Fuck?, Ice T wrote that the song "[is] a warning, not a threat—to authority that says, 'Yo, police: We're human beings. Treat us accordingly.'" In an interview for Rolling Stone, Ice T stated that "We just celebrated the fourth of July, which is really just national Fuck the Police Day [...] I bet that during the Revolutionary War, there were songs similar to mine.
The album encountered controversy before its original release. It was originally set to be distributed under the title Cop Killer, named for the song of the same name, which criticizes violent police officers, and was interpreted as an attack against the entire police force. At a Time-Warner shareholders' meeting, actor Charlton Heston stood and read lyrics from the song "KKK Bitch" to an astonished audience and demanded that the company take action. Sire responded by changing the title to Body Count, but did not remove the song. In an article for the Washington Post, Tipper Gore condemned Ice T for songs like "Cop Killer," writing that "Cultural economics were a poor excuse for the South's continuation of slavery. Ice-T's financial success cannot excuse the vileness of his message [...] Hitler's anti-Semitism sold in Nazi Germany. That didn't make it right. The Dallas Police Association and the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas launched a campaign to force Warner Bros. Records to withdraw the album. CLEAT called for a boycott of all products by Time-Warmer in order to secure the removal of the song and album from stores. Within a week, they were joined by police organizations across the United States. Ice T asserted that the song was written from the point of view of a fictional character, and told reporters that "I ain't never killed no cop. I felt like it a lot of times. But I never did it. If you believe that I'm a cop killer, you believe David Bowie is an astronaut," in reference to Bowie's song "Space Oddity".
Over the next month, controversy against the band grew. Vice President Dan Quayle branded "Cop Killer" as being "obscene," and President George H.W. Bush publicly denounced any record company that would release such a product. Body Count was removed from the shelves of a retail store in Greensboro, North Carolina after local police had told the management that they would no longer respond to any emergency calls at the store if they continued to sell the album. In July 1992, the New Zealand Police Commissioner unsuccessfully attempted to prevent an Ice T concert in Auckland, arguing that "Anyone who comes to this country preaching in obscene terms the killing of police, should not be welcome here," before taking Body Count and Warner Bros. Records to the Indecent Publications Tribunal, in an effort to get it banned under New Zealand's Indecent Publications Act. This was the first time in twenty years that a sound recording had come before the censorship body, and the first ever case involving popular music. After reviewing the various submissions, and listening carefully to the album, the Tribunal found the song "Cop Killer" to be "not exhortatory," saw the album as displaying "an honest purpose," and found Body Count not indecent.
The controversy escalated to the point where death threats were sent to Time-Warner executives, and stockholders threatened to pull out of the company. Finally, Ice T decided to remove "Cop Killer" from the album of his own volition, a decision which was met by criticism from other artists who derided Ice T for "caving in to external pressure. In an interview, Ice T stated that "I didn't want my band to get pigeon-holed as that's the only reason that record sold. It just got outta hand and I was just tired of hearing it. I said, 'fuck it,' I mean they're saying we did it for money, and we didn't. I'd gave the record away, ya know, let's move on, let's get back to real issues, not a record but the cops that are out there killing people."
"Cop Killer" was replaced by a new version of "Freedom of Speech," a song from Ice T's 1989 solo album The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech...Just Watch What You Say. The song was re-edited and remixed to give it a more rock-oriented sound, using a looped sample from the Jimi Hendrix song "Foxey Lady." Ice T left Warner Bros. Records the following year because of disputes over the Ice T solo album Home Invasion, taking Body Count with him. The studio version of "Cop Killer" has not been re-released, although a live version of the song appears on Body Count's 2005 release Live in L.A. According to Ernie C, the controversy over the song "still lingers for us, even now. I'll try to book clubs and the guy I'm talking to will mention it and I'll think to myself 'Man, that was 17 years ago.' But I meet a lot of bands who ask me about it too and I’m real respected by other artists for it. But it’s a love/hate thing. Ice gets it too, even though he plays a cop on TV now on Law & Order SVU."