Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March 31, Body Count, "Cop Killer"

Artist: Body Count
Song: "Cop Killer"
Album: Cop Killer
Year: 1992

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Whenever a song sounds so different than anything else being made at the time, it is sure to make some waves and get some people listening.  Add to that the presence of an already established artist, and there is a great likelihood that, at the very least, the song will develop a cult following.  Top all that off with a healthy dose of controversy and protest, and there is no question that you'll have on your hands a song that is nothing short of a classic.  Though these elements rarely come together, there has been perhaps no better an example of the explosive nature of this phenomena than eighteen years ago today, when the world first heard from a little band called Body Count.  Combining together heavy metal energy with the raw and direct style of the early formation of gangsta rap, there has never been a group that had a sound quite like Body Count, and there has never been a song that stirred up as much controversy as their legendary first single, "Cop Killer." While within the scope of the current music scene, the song may not seem as much of a heated issue, the fact of the matter is, when the song first appeared in 1992, it may very well have been the most talked about and heavily protested song in music history.  Yet the fact of the matter is, as is usually the case, such controversy only made the song more popular, though for years after its release, it was used as an example of "when music goes bad."  Love it or hate it, when it comes down to it, one cannot deny the amazing and powerful music contained therein, and furthermore, one cannot deny the overall impact on the entire music scene created by Body Count's "Cop Killer."

Though the music and lyrics of "Cop Killer" are actually fantastic, one cannot discuss the song without bringing up all of the controversy and overall drama that the song created.  Almost immediately after the album was released, the song made such waves that even then President, George Bush made comments on the songs' content.  However, the most pointed and aggressive attacks came from the Queen of Censorship herself, Tipper Gore.  She teamed up with a group of Texas police officers, calling themselves C.L.E.A.T., and spent a majority of the next few weeks doing nothing but voicing their problems with the song.  This led to a number of cities, states and even a few countries to ban the song, and in some cases (New Zealand), they even banned the group from performing.  All of this drama surrounding words and music eventually led Body Count's frontman, Ice-T to recall the record and then re-release it without the offending track.  Though he never apologized to the song, he cited the fact that the controversy had eclipsed the musical merit of the song, and he was also receiving a massive amount of pressure from Warner Bros. records to made such a move.  Though one can understand Ice-T's move to recall the album after one can make the case that his "point had been made," the fact of the matter is, it was this move that set the precedent for record labels to censor their own artists when the music may have caused them (the label) too many headaches or controversy.  Since the record was pulled back, the studio recording of "Cop Killer" has been completely unavailable, and the overall incident led to many record labels withholding albums that were deemed "too controversial" in the years that followed.

Stepping aside from the stir of media and commentary that surrounded the songs' not-so-subtle subject matter, one cannot deny that the music itself is nothing short of revolutionary.  The sheer power and energy put forth on the song from Body Count was unlike anything else a the time, and there is no question that the group paved the way for countless other bands as they were one of the first heavy metal bands that consisted completely of African American players.  Nearly all of the band members had met whilst attending Crenshaw High School in South Central Los Angeles, and this gave them more "street cred" than nearly any other band in history.  While they were not the most talented musicians ever, the amount of energy and emotion that they bring to each song remains largely unrivaled.  On "Cop Killer," the group brilliantly fuses together metal, punk, and rap in a way which had never before been heard.  Opening with an aggressive, heavy riff from Ernie C., the song drops in following the iconic yell of Ice-T, and from that point on, neither the music nor the vocals ever slow down or relent in any way.  The core riff has become nearly as iconic as the song itself, and the overall mood of the song is nothing short of unsettling.  The drumming of Victor Wilson (AKA Beatmaster V) is absolutely phenomenal, and throughout the song, it sounds as if he is trying to destroy his drum kit through his playing.  The rest of the band falls perfectly into line and as they move as a single unit, Body Count was re-writing the rules on both heavy metal as well as hip-hop.

Had this been an instrumental track, it would still have contained the legendary guitar riff, but one cannot deny the fact that it is the lyrics that make "Cop Killer" the song that it remains.  A man who was never good at being subtle, Ice-T brings some of his most pointed and heated lyrics of his career, and one must also remember the time in which they were written.  With a country still deeply involved with the police beating of motorist Rodney King, the song was as political as they get, and it followed the hip-hop sense of delivering "the news' through rapping.  In the song, Ice-T even name drops both King as well as then-Los Angeles police commissioner Daryl Gates.  In fact, it was less than a month after "Cop Killer" debuted that the "L.A. Riots" began, and it was in many ways due to the riots that the song received the treatment that it did.  While on his earlier records, Ice-T had presented a bit more of a laid back and "gangsta" delivery style, on "Cop Killer," he is as aggressive and straightforward as ever.  This change in style showed the true skills he had as an emcee, and any artist who has performed hip-hop style delivery over aggressive music owes much of their career to the pioneering efforts of Ice-T.  Not leaving anything to the imagination, Ice-T almost takes both sides of the issue simultaneously when he screams, "...I'm a cop killer, better you than me...cop killer, fuck police brutality!"  The song contains what can be seen as a "call and response" of the songs' title, and overall, there has simply never been another song that was similar.  From the sheer power of the song to the unprecedented amount of protests and controversy, Body Count's legendary 1992 song, "Cop Killer" stands as one of the few songs that, if nothing less, will never be forgotten.

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