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MUNA: "The Most Radical Thing You Can Do Is Believe That The World Can Be Saved"

MUNA

Photo by Isaac Schneider

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MUNA: "The Most Radical Thing You Can Do Is Believe That The World Can Be Saved"

The Los Angeles alt-pop trio discuss the life-changing power of connection, exploring identity without being pigeonholed and the origins of new album 'Saves the World'

GRAMMYs/Sep 6, 2019 - 08:36 pm

What is an artist meant to do with the state of the world in 2019? What might have once felt societally optimistic is now being challenged, and artists are left with the choice to either explore the political discomfort heart-first or write about everything but the tension and come across as indifferent and privileged. Los Angeles alt-pop trio MUNA find themselves facing this conundrum with a sense of urgency, turning inward as a result. They sound equally empathetic and defiant on their sophomore album, a fitting dichotomy for a record called Saves the World. The album deals well in parsing big questions of identity and gender politics in propellant synths and live percussion, introspection writ large across dancefloor-thumping grooves. In one album they have managed to suspend a feeling of optimism whilst yielding an album that links the world’s political reality with the human beings it has embodied.

Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson first joined forces while at college at the University of Southern California, where Gavin and Maskin were studying music and McPherson narrative studies and American studies & ethnicity. That academic background shines through, offering a clear voice in their storytelling, expanding their world to include primary resources, and deriving power from collaboration. But their 2017 debut, About U, and tour dates opening for Grouplove and Harry Styles translated that strength without any of the pretention that might suggest. 

The three members of MUNA spoke with the Recording Academy about how to forge ahead in the face of catastrophic global warming, the struggles of women artists in the face of criticism and impostor syndrome and the process of narrowing down from dozens of songs to complete the superb Saves the World.

What is the one thing that connects you to your creativity when you're feeling disconnected from it? 

Katie: After creating the record, it's a different creative process to now imagine what it’s going to be like when we play these songs live. We're trying to enjoy ourselves, and there’s something very mystical that connects us to the creative side. It's been in all of us as individuals since we were kids, and I think it's probably been in most humans—I'm a believer that there’s no such split between artists and non-artists. Everyone is creative, and we’re really lucky to have had lives where we've used our creative outlets for so long that it's a muscle that's really been exercised. 

Josette: The logistics side to this, even though it does seem like a boring thing, is a different side of creativity. It just exercises the other side of our creative muscles, the two sides of the same creative coin. I think what drives us other than the mystical element of just loving the process of making music is that we've been endowed with a really intense sense of purpose. That comes directly from the people that we've picked up along the way as fans that are so supportive, and make us feel like what we are making is of deep importance, not just to us but to other people as well.

So when did you all realize that you were an artist? Having that contrast between knowing something mystically is inside us and also pursuing it are two completely different things.

Katie: Thinking of myself as an artist is probably something that just started in the last year, even though I've been literally writing songs since I was a kid. I started songwriting seriously when I was 10. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I'm a woman. There's this idea that being a woman and being an artist are kind of incongruent. So, I've just come into that acceptance and that ownership really recently. I'm an overthinker and commitment-phobic, so I tried to do other things that just didn't really work for me. Josette and I were both studying music in school, so I think at that point, to a certain extent, we understood this is what we should be doing.

Josette: I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a musician, but feeling like an artist is a very hard thing because it's such a grandiose statement. That’s something that we all struggle with. A lot of this record was us coping with a sort of imposter syndrome. Being an artist comes with so much baggage like the media’s past representations of what an artist could be. But I've always known the one thing that I can do is be as unique of an individual, just trying to be myself wholeheartedly. Being creative is really a lifestyle choice. I don't think it is something that is limited to people who are in the creative sphere. 

There's value in collaboration as well, I’d imagine. That can ease the tension. What did finding each other do for your creative process?

Naomi: We all struggle with a combination of knowing that you have something important to say and also feeling like a piece of trash. Being in a band is so incredibly emotionally helpful for us to be able to feel like it's something bigger than us. It's not about me, it's not about Katie, it's not about Josette. It's about MUNA, and that’s bigger than us—we hope. 

I love the title, Saves the World. It calls to a past where we could really just have stories where a hero could defeat a singular villain and everything would turn out right. The world just feels so much messier. Do you feel like the world can be "saved"? Or is it just a matter of making more incremental and smaller changes? 

Josette: The thing that I always think about is the hero's journey—Joseph Campbell. A villain arrives and a hero must go for this journey to defeat the villain. But it's a cycle of repetition. So that hero then becomes the next villain for the next hero. It’s this constant evolving process, with little steps forward. I don't think there's ever one thing to defeat, but this passing of time, the evolution or the spiral, the circle of life.

Naomi: We all identify with a lot of existentialist philosophy and the idea that you make meaning in your world, in a world that has no inherent meaning. The most radical thing that you can do in our current time is believe that the world can be saved, that we're not all fked. It's so easy to resign to a certain kind of very popular, accessible nihilism and tribalism that leads to all kinds of bad behavior. The world can be saved and we just wanted to make that statement and maybe give people a little bit of hope.

Katie: As a band, if we had a philosophy, it would somehow involve the concept that there's not really an enemy outside of yourself, and also that every human alive is doing the best that they can. And if you take that as the truth, then you start to really see how much trauma, pain and suffering there is in the world. And if everyone is doing the best they can, that means that a lot of people have suffered a lot and are damaged because of that. As a lyricist, this record for me was very much a journey of learning to accept that I was doing the best that I could, and to start to strain towards a higher version of myself. That requires relying on friends, learning how to have intimate relationships. We're trying to throw all of it into a pot and say, like, "This is all part of saving the world." But at the same time, we also do believe in miracles. The little individual choices matter, but we also live in a society, and just in terms of climate change, if we're really going to be able to make this planet habitable for humans for centuries to come, it can't just be the little guy making small changes. We also need people in positions with power and corporations that are really powerful to make changes.

"As a band, if we had a philosophy, it would somehow involve the concept that there's not really an enemy outside of yourself, and also that every human alive is doing the best that they can."

We had the promise of this utopia where technology was going to unite everybody and disintegrate borders, but maybe this all talks to our capacity for horror. As someone who has a platform and an audience, do you feel a sense of responsibility to talk about what's going on in the world around us?

Naomi: The thing that we talked about a lot during the making of the record was the concept that the most powerful art speaks to something universal but definitely reflects the time in which it was made or written. We didn't want to make a record devoid of context. Given our own personal journeys with our identities, we do feel a responsibility to try and be honest about the world that we live in. That may mean we’re not the most easily accessible band. There are a lot of hard pills to swallow in Katie's lyrics.

Josette: Anything that is true to the human experience is something that we're sometimes not necessarily in our society programmed to be able to swallow in terms of pop culture. It’s not what we're fed. And I think Katie's lyrics are her honest and true experience as a human.

Katie: Yeah, "Katie is just telling the truth with a capital T, and that's hard for everyone." [Laughs.] I would have thought that it was hard for people to hear songs that are from the depths of despair. But that's actually not that hard for people to process. I've found it particularly difficult to hear that no matter what has happened to me, I have a chance every day to grow and I'm not a victim of my circumstances. I always have some degree of choice and I always have support if I can figure out how to locate it and ask for it. I think the idea that we can become self-responsible, happy adults is fking annoying. We don't really want to hear it. That's really funny. That's way scarier than the end of the world, you know? Then you are actually accountable for something.

There's this sense that pervades pop music of identification and connection with a community, which is wonderful and problematic all at once. That also leads me to your song, "Number One Fan," because there's this duality of connection and distance. It’s amazing for a kid in the middle of nowhere to connect with a whole world, but there can be real darkness in that obsession.

Katie: Oh my god, yeah. It’s kind of seductive, too. That can be really seductive for a band. When we are told we have good opinions and someone wants to write about it? It's seductive to the ego and we can become teachers without certification to teach. That was probably part of the reason why this record is so grounded in the personal; I'm thinking of a bowling lane when you have the bumpers up on the side. I have a big ego and I could easily slip onto my soapbox.

Escaping into other people's stories, or even your own, is really dangerous sometimes, especially as an artist. You recently tweeted about making a resource guide of books, films, and visual arts that influenced the record, which can work as a way to escape from that myopic trap.

Naomi: The idea behind the resource guide is about the intersectionality of art, and that nothing is devoid of context. The music that we make doesn't exist in a vacuum. If we have younger fans, ideally the books and philosophy could steer them in a cool direction. We're very avid learners, very much seeking the next hit of whatever's going to blow our mind. That happens all the time with all kinds of different creative mediums. It’s about giving the world of the album away to people to be able to make of it what they will. 

In addition to music, when you’re stressed, what steers you into a calmer, better direction?

Katie: I started volunteering at a native plant nursery really close to where Naomi and Josette live. There's a lot of science around the positive effects of being in nature and specifically putting your hands in soil. Like most of us, I struggle with anxiety. I'll wake up and be like, "How do I stop climate change?" I made some friends who are in their 70s who have just been quietly going about their work for decades now. They’ll get excited about seeing a native bird or watching a tree that they grew years ago. That’s helped me a lot, and led me to start a little garden and compost next to my house. I’m also cooking for myself. I really need to learn how to be an adult every day, and that can be done in even simple tasks like learning how to make a pasta sauce from scratch.

Josette: Every day is a process because everyone is...not depressed, but on the edge of depression at any given moment. When we were on the last tour, I really hurt my knee, and like post-tour I did physical therapy. I've been finding a lot of peace in exercise. Naomi started doing yoga, and I do it occasionally, as well as meditation, which has really been helpful. I love cooking as well. If I'm going to make soup, I'm going to soak the beans and make a vegetable stock, things that make it so you have to actually go through the whole process of creation, creativity, and focus. That connects me to myself, which is the hardest thing to do when feeling anxiety in any way.

Naomi: It’s kind of like wabi sabi, right? The Japanese idea, accepting the beauty that is in the imperfect, and just trying your fking best and being proud of yourself. It's really hard for the three of us to be okay with feeling proud of ourselves. I think we're all in much better places, probably because of having to make this record and do the internal work that it took to make it happen. It led to a general acceptance of ourselves of just trying to be a good person. That's all you can really do. Just don't be too hard on yourself. This sh*t is real. It's hard out here.

The pattern that seems to tie you three together is finding little joys in life as a way to assist in the creative process—living and being curious as opposed to just guzzling content. 

Katie: I'm smiling so hard right now hearing you like synthesize this stuff, it's so epic. You're talking about creative living: living as a creative rather than living as a consumer. Does that make sense?

Yeah. Like your music, it requires a willingness to express yourself, but leaves open room for a lot of questions. How do you make sure you are retaining a unique identity, while making accessible music?

Josette: There were maybe 60 songs created in the making of this record. Those songs didn't make the cut—not because they weren't good songs, but maybe they weren't made for what we were going for in this exact moment in time. Everything has its value. I don't think it's limited to accessibility, but instead the idea of what MUNA is in that moment. The album is the structure and then we put everything into that box.

Naomi: What binds the three of us is an unspoken understanding when something is good. There is a sort of mystical, spiritual element of it where everyone connects. We all have the pop music virus in our brains. There are certain things that are just really pleasant for us, but also Katie is such an amazing lyricist that there is a level of intellect and cleverness to the songs that makes it easy to build a world around what she's saying. 

You all are clearly interested in and express the complexity of identity and a feminist politics without that being a definition of who you are or what your art is. Does the current political chaos and darkness make that a more difficult line to walk? Did you feel an extra push to have your politics become your identity?

Naomi: I don't think that we necessarily feel an internal pressure to be politicized because it’s within the fabric of the band itself. It's both implicit and explicit. It's worked into the tapestry of the art in general. But we do feel we need to speak about what's going on in our time in a way that isn't inflammatory or contributing to the contentious style of conversation and rhetoric that happens. Obviously we are of the political left and it's a scary time, and that's a very real thing that we think about all the time. We'll see what happens when we start performing the songs and how people are reacting to them, because then maybe they'll take on a different political implication depending on what happens.

Katie: We did feel a pressure, to a certain extent, because there's so much to stick up for right now. There's so much at stake and it can feel extremely urgent. One of the biggest tragedies of our time is the fact that the political realm is completely devoid of spirit and heart. There's no room to be a real person. There's so much dehumanization in the political realm. One focal point for us is to humanize it, to put some spirit back into the world.  

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

Rotimi

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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

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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

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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

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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."