Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Body Count, "Cop Killer"

Mike Huckabee is generally one of the most loathsome social conservatives in America, but he surprised me a few years ago on Morning Joe with his comments about Rev. Jeremiah Wright, then-candidate Obama's hotheaded former preacher who was actively claiming that the US Government invented AIDS and that America deserved the 9/11 attacks. Without defending Wright's statements or linking his agendas to Obama's, Huckabee delivered the wisest message that I heard about the whole ordeal.

"One other thing I think we've got to remember," Huckabee told Joe and Mika. "As easy as it is for those of us who are white, to look back and say 'That's a terrible statement!'--I grew up in a very segregated south. And I think that you have to cut some slack--and I'm gonna be probably the only Conservative in America who's gonna say something like this, but I'm just telling you--we've got to cut some slack to people who grew up being called names, being told 'You have to sit in the balcony when you go to the movie. You have to go to the back door to go into the restaurant. And you can't sit out there with everyone else. There's a separate waiting room in the doctor's office. Here's where you sit on the bus.' And you know what? Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder and resentment. And you have to just say, I probably would too. I probably would too. In fact, I may have had more of a chip on my shoulder had it been me."

I wonder if Huckabee would have defended "Cop Killer." Today it's remembered as a historical relic, the finale of Ice-T's punk metal album that launched a thousand free speech debates and sparked public condemnation from President George H. W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle. No one seems to care that it was quickly taken off pressings of Body Count (the internet has kind of made that fact irrelevant), and no one remembers that their invitation to the Metallica/Guns N' Roses stadium tour started a press war between those bands' leaders, culminating in Axl Rose calling James Hetfield a racist from the stage. "Cop Killer" rarely gets mentioned or written about today, not even in the summer of the George Zimmerman trial and Fruitvale Station.

That's a shame, because musically, "Cop Killer" is one of the best hardcore songs that I've heard. It's got a perfect bar fight riff, and the machine gun drums are as thrilling as they are unnerving. Ice-T sounds like the most charismatic MC on the planet, the kind of guy who would beat Jay-Z to "99 Problems" by eleven years. In high school, I even liked the lyrics. I would compare them to something like Scarface, an amazingly campy violent movie. Yet today, I don't like Scarface anymore, and I've never liked Reverend Wright, but I still like "Cop Killer."

Like a lot of Body Count fans, I was too far removed from Ice-T's situation to think of "Cop Killer" as anything other than a gleeful prod to the stodgy system, too over the top to be taken as serious social commentary. But now I hear it the way that I hear my favorite metal, punk and hip-hop, as someone blowing off steam. Someone managing the harshest realities of their existence by going there. It's not the call to arms that President Bush feared that it was--if Ice-T really believed in killing cops, he would have done it himself. I'm glad that he was able to talk about it instead.


M said...

I completely agree, this song is really quite remarkable. This history is evident here.

Ben Apatoff said...

Thank you, M. Glad to find another fan.