"This next record is dedicated to some personal friends of mine -- the LAPD. For every cop that has ever taken advantage of somebody, beat 'em down, or hurt 'em, because they got long hair, listen to the wrong kind of music, wrong color, whatever they thought was the reason to do it -- for every one of those fucking police, I'd like to take a pig out here in this parking lot and shoot 'em in their motherfuckin' face."
Welcome to 1992. George H.W. Bush is president of the United States, though he will lose the election in November. The Soviet Union collapsed last year. Amy Fisher helps create a new tabloid media landscape by shooting Mary Jo Buttafuoco. Grunge rock has been born and effortlessly killed hair metal dead, though true heavy metal and hardcore are still going strong. Gangsta rap is continuing to grow in popularity. Interest in alternative music is on the rise, thanks to the Lollapalooza music festival.
The four Los Angeles police officers who were videotaped savagely beating black motorist Rodney King last year get acquitted by a mostly white jury. L.A. erupts in riots. Though the King trial was the flashpoint, other racial tensions helped fuel the riots, along with an economically depressed black community, the continuing rise in power and influence of youth gangs, and resentment over the LAPD's entrenched corruption and racism. Over 50 people are killed in the riots.
It is not a good time to be black in Los Angeles.
Enter: Ice-T and Body Count.
I got my black shirt on.
I got my black gloves on.
I got my ski mask on.
This shit has been too long.
I got my twelve gauge sawed off.
I got my headlights turned off.
I'm 'bout to bust some shots off.
I'm 'bout to dust some cops off.
Body Count's self-titled 1991 CD wasn't really all that good. An attempt by gangsta rapper Ice-T to create an all-black heavy metal band, it was plagued by mostly mediocre musicianship and lyrics that were not up to Ice-T's normally impressive standards. "KKK Bitch," "Mama's Gotta Die Tonight," and "Voodoo" may have had inflammatory, controversial lyrics, but they just weren't very good songs. You want an all-black hard rock band? Go with Living Colour. Body Count has more attitude, LC has better music. Despite this, it's an album I still enjoy listening to, partly because I respect Ice-T's attempt to evangelize about problems in the black community through a music genre most popular with white kids... and partly for the last song on the record, which did everything a good rock song should do -- it tore shit up, and it scared the crap out of people.
Cop killer! Better you than me.
Cop killer! Fuck police brutality!
Cop killer! I know your family's grievin' (fuck 'em)
Cop killer! 'Cause tonight's the night we get even.
"Cop Killer" started out -- surprise, surprise! -- making cops nervous. It got its first dose of fame when Body Count played during the first year of the Lollapalooza tour. If there's one constant through the ages, it's that college students don't like cops (and vice versa), and fans at the music festival got a big charge out of shouting "Fuck the police!" during Body Count's shows. After the L.A. Riots, the attention focused on Body Count got a lot more hostile.
It started out soon after the riots, when a police organization in Dallas called for a boycott, claiming that the song encouraged people to shoot police. The band and its supporters cited the First Amendment while pointing out that police murders had been featured in popular entertainment since at least the days of Prohibition. For his part, Ice-T said he was playing the part of a cop killer in his song: "I'm singing in the first person as a character who is fed up with police brutality. I ain't never killed no cop. I felt like it a lot of times. But I never did it."
Soon enough, people were sending death threats to executives at Warner Bros, which released the record. Pressure continued to mount, and Ice-T eventually asked to have the song removed from the album. It was replaced by a new version of Ice's rap "The Iceberg," recorded with punk rocker and free speech activist Jello Biafra. Warner still dropped Ice from the label, and Ice has avoided the major labels since then, feeling that a label that had to satisfy rich stockholders would never support an artist properly.
Fuck the police!
Fuck the police! Break it down.
Fuck the police! Yeah.
Fuck the police! For Darryl Gates.
Fuck the police! For Rodney King.
Fuck the police! For my dead homies.
Fuck the police! For your freedom.
Fuck the police! Don't be a pussy.
Fuck the police! Have some mothafuckin' courage.
Fuck the police! Sing along.
Wanna know what I think? I don't blame Ice for recording or releasing the song. I'm a spoiled fat white guy, but I remember some of my run-ins with cops back when I was a kid. And there ain't nothing like getting hassled for no reason by a bully with a gun and a badge to get you feeling like popping a fucking cop. And when you're living in a city with a hopelessly corrupt and racist police force? The LAPD should be thanking the black community for not just rounding up every cop in the city and putting 'em all down. When I weigh Body Count's crimes against the LAPD's crimes -- well, singing a song ain't against the law. Cops wanna be liked by the folks they're policing, and that's fine. But if their feelings are so hurt that a bunch of people don't like 'em, they're too damn thin-skinned to do the job.
And just a few years later, G. Gordon Liddy was telling his listeners to "Go for a head shot... Kill the sons of bitches." How many cops complained? How many made death threats to his radio station? How many called for a boycott? What color is Ice-T's skin, and what color is Liddy's?
Research from allmusic.com and listening to the song a buncha times. "Your writeup is mean to cops. You should have more respect. Maybe they should shoot you." Yeah, yeah, ya shoulda killed me last year.