Bartees Strange On 'Live Forever' & Why "It Shouldn't Be Weird To See Black Rock Bands"

Bartees Strange


Photo by Julia Leiby


Bartees Strange On 'Live Forever' & Why "It Shouldn't Be Weird To See Black Rock Bands"

Speaking to, the D.C. songwriter and producer discusses his musical upbringing, his journey towards making 'Live Forever' and what he says to anyone who asks about his "genre-defying rock music"

GRAMMYs/Sep 26, 2020 - 06:40 pm

Bartees Strange is clearly a student of all things indie rock, and that was clear as soon as his introductory EP, the National covers project Say Goodbye To Pretty Boy. Inspired by a concert where he was one of the only Black audience members, he wanted to re-interpret their catalog and connect it to his own experience. While working on the project, he would slip in references to Bryce Dessner’s project Clogs or even other National songs he didn’t cover. A close listen to "Mr. November" reveals the chord progression of Sleep Well Beast highlight "I’ll Still Destroy You."

You just need to hear "Mustang" to understand how versatile Bartees Strange is, but also where his primary loves lie. "Mustang" started as a country song but evolved into something that takes inspiration from 2000s rock like the Walkmen’s "The Rat," while introducing unexpected time signature changes and glimmering synths. Then an unexpected hardcore breakdown at the end of the track hints at the chaos to come over the next half hour. Live Forever, his debut album releasing via Memory Music on Oct. 2, pulls together elements of country, rap, IDM and rock into something unlike any record out this year. Despite comparisons to TV on the Radio, his eccentric approach puts him just as much in line with iconoclasts like St. Lenox and Young Fathers.

The references to indie rock continue: "Mustang" quotes the Antlers' "Epilogue" ("you’re screaming and cursing")—but it’s more an album about Bartees’ personal journey. Growing up in Oklahoma, Bartees worked for non-profit organizations while moonlighting as a drummer in various bands. Second single "Boomer" documents the moment when he finally felt at home in Brooklyn, the title not referring to the oft-mocked generational term but a period of time Bartees felt like he was "booming." Other songs like "Mossblerd" directly address his status as a Black man operating in a space dominated by white men—that title is a combination of "Mossberg" and  "blerd," itself a portmanteau of "black" and "nerd," over a heavily compressed noise collage. It’s fitting, because Live Forever is essentially a series of musical portmanteaus.

Speaking to over the phone, Bartees discusses his musical upbringing, his journey towards making Live Forever and his suspicion of labels.

How are you holding up? You just got a new job at a studio? And I remember hearing that you were working on a new record with Will Yip producing?

Will and I are talking about doing our next record together, and I'm going to pre-produce it in October and just see what I pull out. But I finished a bunch of it already, I’m just trying to see what the next one will be like. I'm excited about it. I just moved out of my old spot, which was my apartment. It’s been really cool to have bands reach out and want to work with me. I’ll be producing a bunch of bands and artists through the year while keeping up with my stuff. I always wanted to do this so I think it will be fun.

How did you discover music was a passion of yours?

I found music through my parents. My mom's a singer and my dad is a really avid music collector and like speakers and record players and he really liked that kind of stuff, even though he wasn’t a musical person. I got to hear a lot of interesting things that way, but my personal journey with music and being able to really seek it out and buy the things I want probably started when I was in middle school. I was one of the only Black people in my school where I was going. There were a bunch of people that were into heavier music, they were into Glassjaw and a bunch of Christian hardcore bands, all the Tooth & Nail bands and As Cities Burn. They also looked different, they were like a little bit more diverse [of a] crowd. And then all the white people looked really fking weird and I felt like I could kind of slide into that crew and kinda be a little more anonymous. I was just kind of sick of sticking out all the time. But it was through that, that I found At The Drive In and a ton of other bands that really changed my life.

Read More: Philly Producer/Engineer Will Yip Works Harder Than You

I read that your mother was a Jubilee singer. If at all, how does what your parents grew up listening to (and performing) inform the music you’re making now?

Legacy is something that weighs heavy on me. Like, I always grew up hearing about my mom singing when she was younger and all over North Carolina. Everyone knew my mother, and I would remember being a kid and every time we go home in North Carolina, I was listening to her sing in all these huge churches. As I got older, I learned more about my mom's side of the family, and all of these people who were tremendous singers and vocalists and guitar players and bass players, and all the way back as far as like anyone can think. And this is like Chitlin' Circuit, era, Black music in the South.

My first solo project I ever put out was a six-song folk album that was all about just connecting country music and blues and all of these like super Black sounds together. It's definitely in the backdrop of the music I make.

Before we get to the full-length, I want to ask about the National EP for a second, Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy. On "Lemonworld," you changed the line from "I was a comfortable kid" to "I'm an uncomfortable kid, but I don't think about it much anymore." Can you talk about that change and those kinds of easter eggs?

The EP is called Say Goodbye To Pretty Boy and in my theme of the record is like, I felt like I had always been precious in my previous life. Like before I really started taking music seriously, I was very precious. And I felt like I was trying to be this person that I really didn't like. And a lot of the record was about saying goodbye to that. It's like me sneaking in saying that I'm growing, I'm moving on, and I'm feeling better about who I am and I'm more comfortable now.

It's just fun songwriting to put your own kind of feel into it and to reference things. I always kind of think of it as like sending smoke signals up to people that I want to work with one day, like there's shit that I did in the National record purely because I wanted Aaron Dessner to hear it. I was like, “Yo Graham, we should do this, it's a Clogs reference." It's just nerdy shit that I enjoy. I guess subconsciously, I want people to catch t, but I don't plan for that, you know?

Have you thought about making a record with Aaron?

Oh, I'd love to. I mean, I just don't think Aaron has ever considered doing that with me. She probably would imagine he's pretty busy, but I would love to work with him.

Tell me about the timeline of recording and releasing Live Forever.

In December, 2018, I hit up [No Earbuds founder and indie publicist] Jamie Coletta and I was like, "Hey, I have this song, but I also am about to go and record an album. Would you be down to work with me? Like at all?" She was like, "I don't want to commit to the album, Let's just see how this single goes." And so we released that single ["In A Cab"] and then I went and recorded the album. I went for like almost two weeks in February and recorded 17 songs. And then me and Brian DiMeglio started mixing it right after that. And he and I shot a bunch of versions back and forth, like over the next month, probably a month and a half. And then we got it mastered by Jesse Cannon, who's in New York and he's a great engineer. It's a cool studio up there.

And then, I circled back up with Jamie and we were like, cool, we've got a record. Let's see if we can build a team around it and see if we can find the label. We shopped it for a long time and no one really was that into it, to be honest. Like, I think people thought it was cool, but maybe it just wasn't the right time or something. And then we just kept on going and we got some booking help and eventually like we got it to Will and then he was really, really into it, like super pumped. And that was honestly like right before we put out Pretty Boy. So we were shopping the album around for almost a year.

It must have been frustrating to have this whole album ready to go without actually releasing it!

I really felt like I wanted to take the time, I know I've seen a lot of bands release music and I've been in a lot of bands that released music and we always did it way too fast. And Jamie gave me great advice. She was like, "We should take our time. Like if it takes a year, like it takes a year. They're like, we're gonna just get it to as many people as we possibly can." And it worked. Eventually, we found somebody, but I think in that year I also locked down the Pretty Boy project and recorded it. So, we had a label to do one release and I think that was like a really great thing to happen. I think it was like a good way to introduce my music. So it all worked out somehow.

There are several left-field experiments like "Flagey God" and "Mossblerd." Can you talk about that song in particular?

I really wanted the album to be like an exploration of sounds. And I feel like I naturally am writing a lot of different things all the time. Like it's always been hard for me to just be write hardcore songs or just punk songs or whatever. I felt like with songs like "Kelly Rowland" and "Mossblerd" and some of the more beat-driven ones, it's hard for me to say that there's like a through line between those and like the rock songs. But I remember looking back at the projects and saying, "I don't have to be afraid that all these songs sound different" because the through line I think is just me, just that I made them. And that it's my story and my voice and my experiences. I think beyond that, there's no sonic element that makes everything similar. I'm just kinda pulling it together. 

One of the differences I noticed between you and a comparison point like TV on the Radio is that their lyrics are less directly about Tunde Adebimpe’s life and more conceptual. Meanwhile, on Live Forever, there’s an in-joke about your PR work ("I lie for a living now that’s why I can’t tell you stuff"), there’s an Antlers reference, there’s even a reference to the Hershey Relays. That kind of storytelling about your own life is very rooted in rap. Was that contrast deliberate?

Yes. I think that was very deliberate. One thing that I love about hip-hop for me is, I know what's going on. Like, shit is very clear. All of the messages are sharp and succinct and clear and if you're not familiar with the lexicon, I guess that's a barrier, but if you are familiar, you can know what's happening. And I feel like in rock music, you could be talking about anything in a rock song, but if it's arranged right, it can just be great.

And I wanted to bring that type of approach that's normally used in hip-hop with writing lyrics and making things super clear and concise. "Boomer" starts like a DaBaby song, like right on beat one. Like there's no intros, it's just like, boom, like we're in the song [and] I'm rapping, you know? That was something I wanted to do a lot. I did it on "Mossblerd" too. Cause I thought that shit was genius. Like those DaBaby songs are so simple and they start so fast and so quickly, it's like a freight train. And I was like, "How can we do that in a pop punk format?” Which in my mind is like a freight train, but just in a different way. Those were some ways that I was like, "Maybe I can smash these two ideas together." And I liked how it sounded.

When you're writing, are you thinking in terms of "this is my National song, this is my weird trap song?" Or is it just like, "I'm going to make a loop or a piano part and just see what happens?"

So I normally start with a loop or a piano part. Once I work that section, I just start collecting sections, like, so like literally in project files. Then, once I like have as many sections and ideas collected, I just start arranging them and when I can hear it and I can look at it and say like, "Oh, it would be sick if I was rapping. Or if there was a drum and bass beat here." I go through incrementally like that. But I definitely don't think like, "Oh, let me make [this kind of] song." I'll just think like, "I love when DaBaby does this, I want to try and find a way to do that on a song."

You’ve spoken extensively about how your race informs your songwriting; what does it mean to you for someone to "sound Black"?

It’s hard not to say that most Western music doesn’t sound Black. Many of our most popular forms, pop-rock-dance-soul-funk-gospel-country-folk-blues, hip-hop, all seem to be rooted in Black people. Or at least shaped by formative Black artists.

I think that it's kind of strange and impossible to be expected to stay within a genre. And I feel like genres, and how they've played out, just in the categorization for Black artists, it's all just kind of set up so we'll lose. When Tyler, the Creator put out Flower Boy and Igor, I remember listening to them and being like, Whoa, these are pop records. Like, these are huge, super future-facing pop records, you know? I don't see how naming them all Urban [helps]. I think that Black people that are just, you know, the shit and it shouldn't be weird to see Black rock bands. Like, there should be tons of them. It shouldn't be weird for them to also have hip-hop influences.

That sounds like it ties into "Mossblerd."

And also just like how genres grow to impact your life and how you see yourself and the contributions that your community makes. I ended the song talking about my nephew who is a pretty outstanding rapper. But I remember being 16 and Black, and I know a lot of young Black guys that all thought they were going to be rappers and we were just going to sell drugs and just be rappers you get that from the shit you see on TV. And it's all tied back to genres and what we're telling people that they can accomplish. So it can be kind of dangerous.

That's why when people ask me, Oh, what's it like making "genre-defying rock music." I'm like “All that is just Black music and I'm Black," and that's it, that’s the whole thing.

So someone wants to get into playing music—maybe they’re also into the National and those kinds of bands but don’t see themselves in it. Do you have a message for them, the kind of thing you wish you heard when you were 16 and thinking you were going to be a rapper?

I didn't know what I could do or become until I saw it.

And I remember seeing Bloc Party and TV on the Radio and bands that had people that looked like me and how much it meant to me. And I think that was really important and something I've just learned in making music is that sometimes you just have to be your own biggest fan, and you have to build the thing that no one else knows is real yet. You might be the only one for a while that knows that you have something special to offer. And that doesn't mean that you're wrong. I spent a lot of time, in my teens and 20s, playing in all sorts of bands, trying to fulfill myself because I didn't trust myself.

And I didn't believe that my music was worth making because I didn't look like other people. And my voice was so resonant. And I just sounded like a church kid in a hardcore band, which is weird to hear my Black voice over these riffs. You just feel like you can't do it cause no one has seen it, but you might just be on some shit that other people can't do. And you have to learn to trust yourself and really learn to go with your gut early. And then people will just form around you because you'll be doing something that is genuine and from the heart. And that's the hardest thing, to create things that actually connect with people.

Is there anyone you want to shout out?

Melanie Charles. I think she's the best vocalist and hip-hop producer... ever in New York. I would want to shout her out. Taja Cheek and her band, L’Rain. I really loved their music. Felicia Douglas. Felicia is in Dirty Projectors, but she's got two side projects that are amazing. I look up to those people quite a bit and their music is always super tasteful and excellent. I’m loving everything Dancer is putting out, I’m loving everything Pinkshift from Maryland is putting out. I'm not sure if there are [more Black bands] now or if people are just elevating those people more. But I do know that there have always been people of color and Black people in rock bands and they just didn't always get the same opportunities. So, maybe it's like a little bit of everything.

Matt Berninger's Optimistic Malaise

Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More



Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

Joan as Police Woman


Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2020 - 07:21 pm

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, singer/songwriter Joan Wasser of Joan as Police Woman, whose forthcoming covers album, COVER TWO, includes tracks by The Strokes, Prince, Talk Talk, and more, shares her Quarantine Diary.

Thursday, April 2

[10 a.m.-12 p.m.] Went to bed at 4 a.m. last night after getting drawn into working on a song. Put on the kettle to make hot coffee while enjoying an iced coffee I made the day before. Double coffee is my jam. Read the news, which does not do much for my mood. Catch up with a few friends, which does a lot of good for my mood. Glad it goes in this order.

[12 p.m.-2 p.m.] Make steel cut oats with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, a sprinkling of cinnamon and cardamom, and of course, coconut butter to melt on top. If you’re not into coconut butter (sometimes marketed as coconut "manna"), I’d suggest just going for it and getting it (or ordering it) and putting it on your sweet potatoes, your oats, anywhere you’d put butter. I’m not vegan but I do enjoy hearing the tiny scream uttered by a strawberry as I cut into it. 

Contemplate some yoga. Contamplate meditating. Do neither. Resume work on the song I want to finish and send today. I have a home studio and I spend a lot of my time working on music here. The song is a collboration sent to me from Rodrigo D’Erasmo in Milano that will benefit the folks who work behind the scenes in the music touring system in Italy. 

[2 p.m.-4 p.m.] I traded in a guitar for a baritone guitar right before all this craziness hit but hadn’t had the time to get it out until now. I put on some D’Angelo, plugged into my amp and played along as if I were in his band. Micahel Archer, If you’re reading this, I hope you are safe and sound and thank you immensely for all the music you've given us always. 

[4 p.m.-6 p.m.] Bike repair shops have been deemed "necessary," thank goodness, because biking is the primary way I get around and I need a small repair. I hit up my neighborhood shop and they get my bike in and out in 10 minutes, enough time to feel the sun for a moment. 

I ride fast and hard down to the water's edge and take in a view of the East River from Brooklyn. There are a few people out getting their de-stress walks but it is mostly deserted on the usually packed streets.

[6 p.m.-8 p.m.] Practice Bach piano invention no. 4 in Dm very, very, very slowly. I never studied piano but I’m trying to hone some skills. Realize I’m ravenous. Eat chicken stew with wild mushrooms I made in the slow cooker yesterday. It’s always better the second day.

[8 p.m.-10 p.m.] Get on a zoom chat with a bunch of women friends on both coasts. We basically shoot the sh*t and make each other laugh. 

Afterwards I still feel like I ate a school bus so I give into yoga. I feel great afterwards. This photo proves I have a foot. 

[10 p.m.-12 a.m.] Record a podcast for Stereo Embers in anticipation of my new release on May 1, a second record of covers, inventively named COVER TWO. Continue to work on music (it’s a theme).

[12 a.m.-2 p.m.] Tell myself I should think about bed. Ignore myself and confinue to work on music. 

[2 a.m.-4 a.m.] Force myself into bed where I have many books to choose from. This is what I’m reading presently, depending on my mood. Finally I listen to Nick Hakim’s new song, "Qadir," and am taken by its beauty and grace. Good night. 

If you wish to support our efforts to assist music professionals in need, learn more about the Recording Academy's and MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit the MusiCares website

Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

Hero The Band perform at the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter Annual Membership Celebration
Photo: Marcus Ingram/WireImage


Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

How sound planning for a creative future in our urban areas makes all the difference for artists and musicians

GRAMMYs/Oct 24, 2019 - 01:27 am

The future, as they say, is now. And for music makers around the world, building a future for themselves often starts at home, in their local creative community and in the city where they live. While technology has expanded communication and made the world smaller, cities continue to grow, making planning for the future a critical cultural mission of the present.

To that end, a new report by global organization Sound Diplomacy titled "This Must Be The Place" examines, "The role of music and cultural infrastructure in creating better future cities for all of us." The 37-page deep dive into community planning and development highlights the importance of creative culture in what it calls "Future Cities."

"The government defines ‘Future Cities’ as 'a term used to imagine what cities themselves will be like," the report states, "how they will operate, what systems will orchestrate them and how they will relate to their stakeholders (citizens, governments, businesses, investors, and others),'"

According to the report, only three global cities or states currently have cultural infrastructure plans: London, Amsterdam and New South Wales. This fact may be surprising considering how city planning and sustainability have become part of the discussion on development of urban areas, where the UN estimates 68 percent of people will live by 2050.

"Our future places must look at music and culture ecologically. Much like the way a building is an ecosystem, so is a community of creators, makers, consumers and disseminators," the report says. "The manner in which we understand how to maintain a building is not translated to protecting, preserving and promoting music and culture in communities."

The comparison and interaction between the intangibility of culture and the presence of physical space is an ongoing theme throughout the report. For instance, one section of the report outlines how buildings can and should be designed to fit the cultural needs of the neighborhoods they populate, as too often, use of a commercial space is considered during the leasing process, not the construction process, leading to costly renovations.

"All future cities are creative cities. All future cities are music cities."

On the residential side, as cities grow denser, the need increases for thoughtful acoustic design and sufficient sound isolation. Future cities can and should be places where people congregate

"If we don’t design and build our future cities to facilitate and welcome music and experience, we lose what makes them worth living in."

For musicians and artists of all mediums, the answer to making—and keeping—their cities worth living in boils down to considering their needs, impact and value more carefully and sooner in the planning process.

"The report argues that property is no longer an asset business, but one built on facilitating platforms for congregation, community and cohesion," it says. "By using music and culture at the beginning of the development process and incorporating it across the value chain from bid to design, meanwhile to construction, activation to commercialisation, this thinking and practice will result in better places."

The report offers examples of how planners and leaders are handling this from around the world. For instance, the Mayor Of London Night Czar, who helps ensure safety and nighttime infrastructure for venues toward the Mayor's Vision for London as a 24-hour city. Stateside, Pittsburgh, Penn., also has a Night Mayor in place to support and inform the growth of its creative class.

Diversity, inclusion, health and well-being also factor into the reports comprehensive look at how music and culture are every bit as important as conventional business, ergonomic and environmental considerations in Future Cites. Using the Queensland Chamber of Arts and Culture as a reference, it declared, "A Chamber of Culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce."

In the end, the report serves as a beacon of light for governments, organizations, businesses and individuals involved in planning and developing future cities. Its core principals lay out guideposts for building friendly places to music and culture and are backed with case studies and recommendations. But perhaps the key to this progress is in changing how we approach the use of space itself, as the answer to supporting music may be found in how we look at the spaces we inhabit.

"To develop better cities, towns and places, we must alter the way we think about development, and place music and culture alongside design, viability, construction and customer experience," it says. "Buildings must be treated as platforms, not assets. We must explore mixed‑use within mixed‑use, so a floor of a building, or a lesser‑value ground floor unit can have multiple solutions for multiple communities."

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Nearly 30 Years After Their Debut, Body Count's 'Carnivore' Is The Thrash-Metal Band's Most Fully Realized Album

Ice-T In 1993

Photo by David Corio/Redferns


Nearly 30 Years After Their Debut, Body Count's 'Carnivore' Is The Thrash-Metal Band's Most Fully Realized Album

Led by iconic rapper Ice-T, the L.A.-based seven-piece keep their socially conscious themes consistent and the music louder than ever on their seventh studio album

GRAMMYs/Mar 10, 2020 - 10:06 pm

In early 1992 Ernie Cunnigan visited the Burbank office of Howie Klein. The guitarist (who goes by Ernie C.) and the then-president of Reprise/Warner Bros. Records were listening to the upcoming self-titled debut from Cunnigan’s band, Body Count, fronted by his Crenshaw High School buddy Tracy Marrow, already famous as rapper Ice-T. Ice, with the savvy creative connectivity that guides his multi-hyphenate media career to this day, introduced his forthcoming metal band in 1991 via tracks on O.G. Original Gangster, his fourth album.

It's not unusual for high school pals to form a band. What was unusual, though, was that Body Count was a hardcore thrash metal band comprised of all-black musicians, with point-blank lyrics that were both insightful and incite-ful concerning racial and social inequities and the climate of America. Listening to the 18-track debut, Klein praised it, while voicing concern about the lyrics of "Momma's Gotta Die Tonight," a song about the matricide and dismemberment of a racist parent. Turns out it was the last track, a ditty called "Cop Killer," that should have given the executive pause. 

While Klein was and remains stridently opposed to censorship and is a dedicated free speech advocate, Body Count, per the era, was released with a parental advisory sticker (as was Original Gangster). Less than two months after Body Count dropped, Los Angeles exploded in fiery violence in reaction to the acquittal of four policemen in the beating of Rodney King, as well as the shooting death of black teenager Latasha Harlins by a Korean grocer. (The grocer was given only probation.) It was the worst possible climate for "Cop Killer," with lyrics including "Fk the police, yeah!" and shout-outs to then L.A.P.D. chief Daryl Gates, Ice's "dead homies" and King. The blowback went all the way up to then-President George Bush, and though Time Warner supported Ice-T in his fight against the song's opponents, he eventually pulled the cut from new pressings of the album.

Currently, streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music offer the version sans the group's most (in)famous song, replacing "Cop Killer" with "Freedom Of Speech" from Ice's 1989 solo album, The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech...Just Watch What You Say, edited to add samples of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady" and the voice of political punker Jello Biafra. On YouTube, "Cop Killer" has more than 1.5 million views, with most of the comments thoughtful and positive, understanding the intentionally incendiary messages Body Count was delivering. Ultimately, if Body Count isn’t a classic record in the way that critics consider Nirvana’s Nevermind or Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back to be, it’s an important and groundbreaking one. As Ice-T has said, Body Count is: "a protest record,” not the norm in the metal world, but still the way BC's songs operate today.

Indeed, 28 years later, things haven’t changed. Biafra is also on Body Count's powerful new album, Carnivore. Police actions like "stop and frisk" (the NYC law enforcement program that was proven to disproportionally target black and Latino men) wasn’t legally discredited until 2014. Body Count’s one-time bassist, Lloyd "Mooseman" Roberts III, was murdered in South Central Los Angeles in 2001 in an accidental drive-by; in the last 12 months, 126 black men were killed by guns in L.A. County, as opposed to 23 white men. And Ice-T and Body Count are still raging against the machine.

Ice-T enjoys pushing buttons lyrically, and if they’ve sometimes been heavy-handed or misguided ("KKK Bitch" or "Bitch In The Pit"), Ice-T is a politically eloquent, passionate and personal songwriter, which can be too easily overlooked given Body Count's volume-heavy metal chops and Ice's delivery, a speedy vocal style that’s been traditionally more aggro-rapping than melodic singing.  

That said, Carnivore is Body Count’s best album to date; it’s the most fully realized musically, and there’s a cohesion to the vocals and music that led Body Count bassist Vincent Price to lay out the band’s growth in a Metallica timeline: "Manslaughter [2014] was basically Kill ‘Em All; Bloodlust [2017] was our Ride The Lightningand Carnivore’s our Master Of Puppets."

He's not wrong, and though Ice-T’s more than 20-year stint as detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit has precluded lengthy Body Count tours, the buzz is loud for this seventh album.

Ice-T may be the original gangster, yet he’s patient, articulate and fervent in explaining songs and motivations to audiences and the press alike. "When I'm Gone," featuring Amy Lee of Evanescence, was inspired by the killing of Nipsey Hussle. It’s a reminder, as he says in the tune, to "tell the people that you love, that you love them now. … Don't wait; tomorrow may be too fking late."

His prolific musical social criticism and seemingly left-leaning views are thoughtful and targeted, despite the vitriol of so many Body Count songs. In the nearly 30 years since founding his revolutionary band, Ice-T observes, "I think you’ve got less racism; less people, but more avid racism. It’s unnerving to think that we’ve come so far but there’s still so far to go." As he advised in a 2017 interview, "Don’t just be angry. Know what you’re talking about so you don’t alienate someone who should be an ally."