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Metal Mondays: Ice-T and the importance of rap metal

Heavy metal and rap are not next-door neighbors in the city of musical genres. On a surface level, they don’t sound all that similar and combining the two seems bizarre. To some metalheads, the idea is an affront to the genre. 

I believe those people are both wrong and annoying. A lot of the arguments you see online against “rap metal” often have some serious underlying racism or even just outright hatefulness. But if you ignore that (which I won’t, don’t worry), rap metal still has a ton of hits, and some of metal’s best acts fall into the genre.

I’ll forgo an in-depth look at the history of rap metal, but many metalheads agree that the genre started in the late 1980s, pioneered mainly by rap groups that sampled heavy metal and metal bands that fused hip-hop elements into the typical heavy sound. Beastie Boys, Anthrax, Cypress Hill, Run-DMC and Faith No More are all widely considered to be the first rap metal artists. But the most well-known group – and my personal favorite – would be rapper Ice-T’s band Body Count.

Perhaps best known for the insanely controversial song “Cop Killer,” Body Count serves as Ice-T’s way of embracing his love for rock and metal. Along with several friends from his high school (most notably guitarist Ernie C), Ice has toured across the country and released several studio albums, collaborating with notable heavy metal figures such as Max Cavalera (ex-Sepultura, Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy) and Dave Mustaine (Megadeth).

While Body Count is my favorite of the original rap-metal groups because the band’s music is the best, the group is also an interesting case study of the racism surrounding the genre and its conception.

When Body Count released “Cop Killer,” the backlash was instant and widespread. Conservatives and police organizations across the country attacked the song relentlessly, and the controversy was so great surrounding it that Ice-T removed it from Body Count’s debut, the group’s 1992 self-titled album. He felt the controversy outweighed the actual music and audiences would fail to hear the message of the music if he left it on the record.

However, metalheads didn’t support Body Count the way that they supported so many other groups and artists. When the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s spurred hostility towards glam metal acts like Twisted Sister and W.A.S.P., rock and metal fans everywhere came out in droves to protest the unfair and unsound arguments being made against these artists and supported their right to free expression and free speech. 

This did not happen for Ice-T or his fellow members of Body Count. Ice-T even said, "I thought I was safe. I thought within the world of rock 'n' roll, you could be free to write what you want. Hell, I was listening to Talking Heads singing 'Psycho Killer.’ F— it, I'll make 'Cop Killer!’ But, that was the cross of metal with something that was real. Now we're not just killing your family, we're killing somebody so real that everybody just went, ‘Oh s—.'“

Metalheads everywhere flocked to defend their favorite hair bands in the ‘80s, but they largely ignored Body Count. The message of the song “Cop Killer” was against police brutality and injustices committed against Black people, but there was no outcry from fans railing against censorship of “Cop Killer” like the outcry for Mötley Crüe and Ozzy Osbourne during the 1980s. Marilyn Manson received more support following abuse allegations than Body Count did after releasing a song with an important social message.

This is largely because of the racism in metal, especially during the ‘90s. In a genre that has been plagued by Confederate flags for years, you can’t ignore the fact that this is a song written and performed by a Black man and his friends that talk about systemic injustice and was thusly abandoned by metalheads. Despite Ice-T’s love for the genre, a large portion of his fellow listeners turned their back on him and Body Count.

It’s not all hopeless for Ice-T’s band and the genre of rap metal, though. Body Count still has a career, and the album “Cop Killer” was supposed to be on was critically acclaimed upon release. Additionally, the band (alongside other rap metal pioneers) has inspired a number of modern artists such as rappers Backxwash and Scarlxrd. They also inspired other socially conscious bands like Rage Against the Machine as well as nu-metal bands like Limp Bizkit

In the era of “Cop Killer,” Body Count did not receive the support it deserved, but it will not go unrecognized. While rap metal doesn’t have to be your favorite metal subgenre, it is still important to acknowledge its impact on metal. It ties two genres together that have little overlap in fanbase or sound and uplifts important social messages. Rap metal is an ever-evolving genre of music, and recognizing it as an important tool in fighting racism within metal is paramount, even if you aren’t a huge fan of the sound.

Jackson McCoy is a freshman studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to share your thoughts? Let Jackson know by emailing or tweeting him at or @_jackson_mccoy_.

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