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Shamir Talks New Self-Titled Album, DMing With Mandy Moore & Being The Change He Wants To See

Shamir

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Shamir Talks New Self-Titled Album, DMing With Mandy Moore & Being The Change He Wants To See

The Las Vegas-born, Philly-based D.I.Y. luminary speaks to GRAMMY.com about managing his own music career and "reintroducing myself in an accessible way"

GRAMMYs/Oct 6, 2020 - 10:39 pm

When Shamir Bailey first showed up in music circles, he was barely out of his teens. The year was 2015, he was living in New York and interning at the "indie-major" label XL Recordings, where he'd even been signed. "I was on a fast track of being a major mainstream pop star," he tells GRAMMY.com in a phone call from his home in Philadelphia. That year, Shamir released the critically beloved debut, Ratchet—a bouncy-ball collection of electro-pop cuts, all topped off with Shamir's cheeky, countertenor vocals. 

Five years later, Shamir is in a markedly different place—musically, spiritually, emotionally. Splitting from XL in 2017, citing creative differences, Shamir self-released a handful of genre-jumping records: 2017's Hope and Revelations, 2018's Resolution, 2019's Be The Yee, Here Comes The Haw, 2020's Cataclysm. Last year, he launched his own label, Accidental Popstar, which incubates and develops burgeoning talent and is home to D.I.Y. performers Southwick, Grant Pavol and Poolblood. 

Now, Shamir has released his latest work, a just-released self-titled album, which serves as a re-entry of sorts into the mainstream music zeitgeist and is, as he said in his publicity materials, "the record that's most me."

Borrowing influences from a range of genres—punk, country, dance and, of course, pop—the self-released Shamir brings the 25-year-old's career full circle with its instantly catchy arrangements, authentic artistry and candid indifference for whatever the music industry thought he should be. 

GRAMMY.com called Shamir up to chat about his latest release, what going independent has taught him as an artist and the best advice he received from one of his heroes: Mandy Moore.

I love the new album, and I'm excited to talk to you about it. You had gone back to Vegas, but now you're in Philly. Is that correct?

I went back to Vegas for... I want to say four months after New York, because I didn't like it. But other than that, I've been in Philly since 2015. I was just basically homeless most of 2015 because I was touring Ratchet nonstop and didn't have a break until the end of 2015. But most of 2015, I knew that I was going to be in Philly. I just loved Philly. I've been here ever since.

I've the always gotten the sense that Philly is a little bit more of a rewarding community for artists and musicians, where New York can be… Well, it's its own kind of stress. Did you found that to be the case?

Yeah. When I came to New York, I was definitely welcome for the music scene. I was living and working at Silent Barn, but I just like how casual the Philly scene was, and how no one was trying to be famous. Everyone was just trying to have fun [and] share music, and it there was no pretension behind it at all whatsoever. And I'm like, "This is me. This is where I'm meant to be."

In many of the interviews I’ve read with you this year, you’ve spoken about being introverted and how that factors into quarantine life. When you look ahead into spending the coming months in quarantine, as a musician, how does that sit with you?

I don't know. I really want to tour. I often like to give myself hiatuses between touring, just to preserve my mental health. I was really ready to go back on the road this year. This is the longest I've ever gone without touring at all. It definitely just the longest I've ever gone just a show, because I still did one-offs last year. But other than that, I'm chilling, like I said. It's really not too different from my normal life, especially since all of my closest friends live in different cities and states, maybe countries. I’m still staying up in their life, digitally.



I’d love to spend some time talking about your transition from working with a major indie label to releasing music independently. What has been the most profound thing that you’ve learned from that journey?

I don't know. I think it's harder for me to say, because I've always felt it was deeply important to be as savvy on the industry and business side of music, as that's the most important for me. From the beginning, I worked on things behind the scenes. A lot of people don't know, during the Ratchet era, I was managing a band and interning at XL as well.

I think if anything, because of that, it made the transition fairly easy for me. I think, for me, it was just better once I started to do things independently in a way, because it's not playing a game of telephone. I think working with a label was like playing a game of telephone, and it's constantly having to explain yourself and set the truth and try to get everyone else on the same mindset that you're on. Which I'm better at now because of the years of experience. But I think, at the beginning, that was just very hard for me. And also, I was just very young and not confident. So, if I wasn't heard, I would just stand down.

Other than that, I think I've had a bit more freedom, and it's been easier. But it's obviously a lot more work, because you're doing everything yourself. You're doing the marketing. I have a publicist, thank God, but you're finding the right publicist for you. But, like I said, I was lucky to have a lot of those connections and understand a lot of that, but I made sure I could.

If you didn't go into artistry itself, what side of the business was interesting to you?

I think A&R and artist development.

That’s really interesting. Starting out as young as you did—that can be an age where you can envision yourself doing multiple things in an industry. You’re just trying to figure out what works for you.

Yeah. I realized artist development worked best. At first, I thought maybe managing, but I was managing up-and-coming artists, and I realized that I was mostly developing them, and the managing side of things, I actually hated. So yeah, even just less than A&R-ing, even though A&R-ers typically are supposed to help develop an artist.

I think because the industry wants fully formed artists these days, A&R is just maybe fewer artists, it's a producer or two, and help with the funding of the record and making sure all of that is intact. But I also like just working with raw material and just helping the artists build off of what's already within them, but just put it in a pretty bottle.



So, when you're developing artists via Accidental Popstar, what do you look for when you bring someone into that network?

First, I'd have a relationship with them, realistically. Everyone that I work was on the label, I have a really deep relationship what. Grant Pavol, I've known him since he was 16. I've been friends with Southwick for the longest, before we started working together, and actually met Paige five years ago when she was interning at NPR. You can actually see her at my Tiny Desk session, when everyone was sitting around me, and then we reconnected a few years later. I was just like, "Hi, nice to meet you." She was like, "We've actually met."

So yeah, I think I have to know the artists inside and out, not even just as an artist, but as a person as well, just so I'm aware of their boundaries. I think the industry in general, when working with artists, doesn’t try to do the work to understand the artist as a person. And so, because of that, they have a very one- or two-dimensional idea of the artist. And I think you have to know the artist as a person as well to get a full scope of who they are as an artist.

To circle back to something that you talked a little bit about in your Billboard interview, you said that were definitely open and hopeful when it comes to perhaps joining a major in the future, now that you have a more well-rounded idea of how the machine works. And part of that is because you want to see a more diverse, intersectional artist roster. Are there any majors—or really any labels at all out there—that you think are doing something right in terms of artist diversity?

Well, I'm not really sure. I have friends that work at majors, but I think for the most part, just being in Philly also has kept me in this bubble away from the majors, which was kind of the point. I came here to focus on myself and my art, and I just also love it as well.

I think now I'm really planning to get an idea of all of the different majors and specifically what they can offer, and specifically what they can offer me. Right now, I'm talking to someone from a major label, and she's been answering every question I have and letting things work, and blah, blah, blah. So, I don't know, I can't really say off the bat specifically any names, but I'm definitely in that process of dwindling down what makes the most sense.

Yeah, we’re living in a time where the industry at large is promising to do better, from a diversity standpoint. Have you seen anything from anyone—whether it’s a company or a specific person—that inspires confidence in you?

Yeah, I'm taking everything with a grain of salt. That's the only reason why I'm even caring about or coming back to reintroducing myself in an accessible way. At the beginning, I was on a fast track of being a major mainstream pop star. But that wasn't necessarily my dream at the time. Maybe not even still now. I just guess I feel more well equipped for it now. But I was like, "I'll step down, and then there would be another black, queer, genderqueer pop star." Right? There has to be. I made such a huge mark. People are literally copying me. People are literally ripping me off. It must happen. And it didn't, and that frustrated me. And so, it's like, "You got to be the change you want to see in the world." I was blessed with this platform, and it never really wavered. So, it would be selfish of me, at this point, not to fully go for it. Do you know what I mean?

Yes, absolutely. Switching gears to the album itself—Shamir experiments with dance, pop, grunge, country, punk. And you’ve said that this the truest representation of you, musically.

Yeah. I finally was able to mix all of those genres in. Does it feel like you're getting whipped?

No, it feels really balanced.

Yeah. That's what I'm most proud of, honestly. It's not so much that it's so different than anything that I've been doing—it's focused, it's super highly focused to the point where I'm able to hit every element without it feeling overwhelming. And I think that's just really it. And so, in that way, it just feels the most me, because it's the most digestible me I think I've been since ever, honestly. I think even in a lot of ways, it's more accessible than even Ratchet, because I think a lot of weird-ass heavy electronic production looks weird in Ratchet.

It's hard to strike that balance, but you make it look easy.

Thank you. Again, this is the longest I've ever worked on a record. Normally, as you've seen in the past, I like to just write the songs, record the songs, put them out there. And this was the first time... even since Ratchet. Ratchet was done very quickly. This is the first time where I wrote the song and let them breathe for a year.

There’s a line that stuck out to me in the single "On My Own." The refrain, "And I don't care to feel like I belong, but you always did." Is that referring to feeling fundamentally out of sync with a partner?

Exactly. I think the song is very generalized, but I think that one specific line is just to that person. To the person, I was like, "Yes. You." They weren't necessarily vain, and I don't think they necessarily felt they need to keep up with the Joneses, but I think they felt the need not to stand out. You know what I mean? And I don't like that. I think that's worse to keeping up with the Joneses to me in a way, because I think... The person was white, I'm just going to say that, but I think there is a certain amount of privilege to being able to still be taken seriously, but also being modest. I think I don't have the privilege [to be] modest, because then I'll just be not heard. You know what I mean? Therefore, I can't be modest, and I think a lack of modesty probably was a lot for that person. 

That's frustrating. And then you might not feel seen.

Well, it's not so much that not even just don't feel seen; it's just like, "This is how I have to navigate, I'm sorry. I've gotten everything that I've gotten right now because I have to navigate like this." I'd rather not. I just think that I'm a low-key person, I'm super introverted, I'm laid-back. I'd rather not, realistically, but I have to.

I was curious—you put out another record, Cataclysm, in March of this year. How did those overlap with each other in terms of the actual writing and recording?

I think Cataclysm, honestly, is very not pop production-wise. It’s very grungy and very fuzzy and very all of those things, but I think some of the best pop songwriting that I've done. There are some songs on there I think that are even poppier than stuff that's on Shamir, but that was the point of Cataclysm. It was supposed to be this very dirtied pop record, because the songs were so very pop and straightforward. So, in that way, that's how they coincide. And often, everyone's just really gravitated towards it as well, because I think I've made the record to sound like the end of the world. I think a lot of people are resonating with that, and I wanted it to sound like an old tape that you found in the ruins of the mess.

Cataclysm wasn't supposed to come out, and when lockdown hit, I was like, "I guess the world needs it." I actually had shot Cataclysm, and I think no one really got it. It's supposed to sound like this. Also, the record is completely a mono as well. It's so weird production-wise, and I'm like, "Yes. It's supposed to sound monochromatic." Yeah, I think it was just timing. I think the universe was just like, "Now. It's supposed to be for now."

On a lighter note, I was excited that you got to interview Mandy Moore for Billboard.

Oh my God!

How did that come together? Did the editors set you guys up, or had you put in a specific request?

No, the editors set us up. I've been talking about how much I love Mandy Moore my entire career, first and foremost. It all started with the Pitchfork Over/Under piece.

Yeah. It's so funny, and honestly ridiculous. But when they came up with the questions, they have to have gone through my Twitter, which I think I've mentioned in the video, because right before that, I had talked about how much I loved Mandy Moore and specifically Wild Hope. I'm not sure if I single-handedly helped us, but at the time, it wasn't on streaming, but then magically, I want to say two years later, it was. So, I don't know if I single-handedly threw the first brick, but I like to think I did.

And I just didn't think anything of it. And then because they mentioned it in the video, everyone started talking about Mandy again, and then she got on that huge show, on This Is Us, and then there was this whole new resurgence of Mandy Moore. And during that time, we actually followed each other, because she had saw the video, and she's like, "Oh, I don't know." So, we had already been internet friends, at least, for the longest. And then she actually specifically hit me up when "On My Own" came out, and was just like, "I love this song," and everything. Actually, we were DMing yesterday. I love Mandy. She's just the best, she's so sweet, and is just genuinely invested in my career.



Has she given you any career advice, whether in the interview or outside of it, that’s really stuck with you?

I can't even really pick out anything specifically, because that whole specific interview was just giving advice to younger people in the industry. I asked her about balancing acting and music, because I definitely want to get more into acting. She kind of confirmed what I [had] already been feeling. A lot of these things, you just have to go with the flow. You can't do it all at once. Just really, really pace yourself. That's what I've been trying to do. As much as I want to like do it all, I have to cut out time and pace myself.

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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 "F**k 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 f**king 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."