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War On Women Lobby For Real Change On New Album, 'Wonderful Hell'

War On Women

 

Photo: Julia Schwendner

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War On Women Lobby For Real Change On New Album, 'Wonderful Hell'

GRAMMY.com catches up with the Baltimore hardcore band to discuss the making of their new album, participating in activism at any age and the importance of casting your vote this year

GRAMMYs/Oct 30, 2020 - 09:54 pm

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, Shawna Potter felt defeated. After nearly a decade fighting for women's rights and advocating for safer spaces and bystander intervention training, Potter, the front person for the Baltimore-based hardcore collective War On Women saw the inauguration of the 45th president as a direct threat to those very rights she'd been fighting to protect. So she did what a lot of people did after the election: she took some time off, put down her pen, and focused her energy elsewhere.

Since that fateful day four years ago, exhaustion be damned, Potter and the rest of War On Women—including co-founder Brooks Harlan, bassist and vocalist Sue Werner, guitarist and vocalist Jennifer "Jenarchy" Vito and drummer Dave Cavalier—have refused to stay silent, using their voices instead to produce two blistering critiques of the most important social issues we face today. The first album, 2018's Capture The Flag, saw Potter eviscerate America's gun culture, toxic masculinity and the current administration on songs like "Predator in Chief" and "YDTMHTL," which includes guest vocals from activist and Bikini Kill lead singer, Kathleen Hanna.

The second album, Wonderful Hell, released digitally today and out physically on November 13 via Bridge Nine Records, was written pre-COVID, during a time when Potter felt overwhelmed by life in Trump's America. Loosely echoing the words of the late John Lewis and his idea of making "good trouble," Wonderful Hell leaves no injustice unchecked or systems of oppression unscathed. Tracks like "This Stolen Land" and "Her?," produced by Harlan and Jawbox frontman J. Robbins, pairs heavy guitar and anthemic chants with Potter’s pointed attacks on immigration policy and the sexism women face in public office ("But Her Emails/ But her makeup/ But her health/But her age," she screams). And "Milk and Blood" finds Potter unapologetically tearing down and setting fire to capitalism and the patriarchy. She also delves into the personal on "Big Words," where she details the dissolution of a close friendship, ending with the devastating line: "Hurt People/ Hurt People."

Mainly, though, this album serves as a necessary salve for the chaos of 2020, and a reminder that raising wonderful, beautiful hell in uncertain times is the best way to make change.

"This album is really about me finding my way out of that pit, and remembering that I can make a difference," Potter told GRAMMY.com in mid-October. "That it’s worth staying in the fight and that there's still fight left in me. It’s about knowing that other people feel that way, too, and that maybe they need a reminder that they're still needed."

With the 2020 election only days away, War On Women is here to remind you to stand up and exercise your right to vote on November 3. We caught up with Potter recently in the midst of moving to a new apartment to discuss the making of the new album, participating in activism at any age and the importance of casting your vote this year.

Since lockdown began eight months ago, what have you been doing? Has it been difficult on you? 

I’m just really trying to enjoy my home and nest. That part has been a little easier than I thought. I'm actually making dinner every night instead of microwaving it, and I'm trying to make sure I move my body. I don't know where this comes from, but one of the main tenets of not feeling hopeless in a situation like this is to feel productive every day. And that can be defined in a lot of different ways. Sometimes, that literally is just to make dinner tonight. That's the thing you did, and that's fine, that's enough. I just try to make sure that I feel productive and get something accomplished, no matter how small, every day.

What do you suggest people do when they're feeling that sense of hopelessness and dread, which is such a common feeling people are experiencing right now?

That’s kind of what the album is about, at least a couple of songs. The first thing is to forgive yourself for having feelings; to not add the extra stress of feeling guilty for feeling hopeless. That's a waste of time. Then, it's to assess what you can do to get through the day. It can be taking that shower, making that meal, accomplish one little goal, organize your nail polish by color. I’ve done that.

It’s the little things.

Yeah, it helps.

Since you've been feeling this sense of hopelessness about the state of the country, about politics, how did you get to a good enough place to start writing an album again?

It was tough. It was a little foregoing after the last record because we put so much into recording an album. We really, really care, we really want to make it as good as possible within our limitations, and spend a lot of time on it. When an album is finished, I’m kind of like, "Cool, I don’t have to write any songs for a long time." I can take a break. I can turn off the writer part of my brain. I think taking a break and taking in new things, new media, and new ideas, that's a gestation period that’s necessary to actually produce something later on.

So I did my normal thing of just taking a break, and every now and again when something would interest me, I would write it down in my lyric book and look at it later. The last album, Capture The Flag, felt really rushed. It basically felt like a social experiment where we were wondering: "Can we get this done in this period of time? Oh, cool, we did? Let's never do it again." I think that was in the back of my mind when I started thinking about this album. I knew we were going to have to start chipping away at songwriting a little sooner so that we could take our time, not feel rushed and get it done by the time it’s all supposed to come together. I wrote a couple of personal songs. I wrote "The Ash is Not the End," which has elements in there about feeling hopeless and wondering what to do next. What’s the answer when we’re dealing with all this caustic masculinity that is killing people? And I wrote "Big Words," which is a song about a friendship that didn’t go the way I planned, and being disappointed in that. It took a little while to start to feel fired up again about writing about the politics of being an oppressed person.

I feel like this directly connects to the album title, Wonderful Hell. What we’re living in right now can feel hell-ish, and by using "wonderful" in the title, it conveys a sense of hope…

...that we can get to the other side; that there are still moments of absolute beauty and kindness in this world. There’s also the double meaning of raising that hell yourself. To raise "wonderful hell" is to challenge a fked up system because you know things can get better for everyone. So it's a feeling, it's where we are, and it's what we can do.

And it feels good to raise that hell, even if you're doing something small like canvassing or making phone calls. You're contributing a lot to the community in those small acts.

If everyone does something small, it adds up to something big 100%. I totally feel that way. I talk about that a lot when I do workshops and trainings about bystander intervention, creating safer spaces, and calling out your friends when they say something kind of racist or sexist. It’s a small thing, but it actually builds up and makes a big impact over time. You don’t need a bunch of heroes or everyone saving the world all on their own. All of our small actions add up.

How long have you been an activist? Was that something that started early for you?

I came to it late, honestly. I was pretty apathetic growing up. I think when I was young, I knew that some people weren’t treated fairly because of who they were, the color of their skin, or the fact that they were women. But I didn't understand why or what to do about it. I thought it was unfair. I didn’t want anyone to treat me like that, but I was not willing to do anything about it. I actually remember thinking that because I wasn’t able to vote until I was 18, I didn’t have to pay attention because I couldn’t make a difference. Obviously, within the last few years, we've seen such a huge surge in young activist energy and impact that I feel ridiculous for ever feeling that way. But when I was young, I didn’t think I had to pay attention until I was eighteen. Even then, I was still like, "Well, I voted, what else do you want from me?" Activism really did coincide at the start of this band when I started thinking that there's more than just voting; there's more issues than just the issues I face. That's when I became a student of: What's going on that affects me, that affects others, how is it connected, how can I help, how can I ask for help?

The funny thing is that I was always reading BITCH and BUST magazine. I was listening to Bikini Kill, and I felt like, "Yeah, of course I'm a feminist. I want to do what I want." I don't know why I wasn't more active about it. I vividly remember reading an article in BITCH that was saying George W. Bush and his administration were trying to limit access to abortion. After reading that, I thought it was bullshit. They can't even get pregnant. Why the fk should they have any say at all about what anyone does with their body? That's when I needed to learn and figure out what was going on. It all started in my mid-20s. Hopefully we’ll let people know that it's okay if they're just coming into activism today. Welcome.

Later is better than never. There's a lot to be said about taking the time to educate yourself, and to learn and listen.

That's the key. That journey of education never actually ends. As soon as you really sit with that, it's so much easier to deal with the moments where you make a mistake accidentally or you put your foot in your mouth. People fk up, people aren't perfect, but once you know that you'll never be perfect, and there's always something you can to learn, it takes away from the stress and shame of not being perfect, which is impossible.

I feel like you guys do something very specific and very important in your music, which is calling out injustices and the people who commit them. Has that always been an important idea for you and for the band?

That’s a cool way to put it. I never really thought about that before. I do remember thinking that this is not the band to be lyrical about something with a lot of metaphors or flowery language. This was the band that if I'm ever going to just say something, this is the time to do that; just fking say it. What are you mad about? What's going on? Who's responsible? But I don't think about it too hard. If you're just talking about sexism, that's a really huge umbrella. The same goes for feminism, politics, our band—it's just too big. There is a way to talk about the larger issue. I can't address violence against women globally in a song, but I can talk about the disappearance of women from Juárez, Mexico. I can also talk about a specific activist letter that was submitted to the newspaper taking credit for the murder of someone thought to be partially involved in the mass disappearing of women from Juárez. It’s like zooming in on an aspect of a very large story or subject. That interests me very much.

A great example of this is on a song like "On This Stolen Land" where you’re calling out the harmful immigration policies that have been enacted over the past few years. To hear it called out like that, it feels good because it expresses a lot of the discontent that people are feeling.

In that song, I’m basically saying, "You guys, your whole fking premise is off. Like, you’re starting from the wrong place. How can you argue for what you’re doing now to people at the border when you’re just wrong?"

That’s why Wonderful Hell is really timely. It’s tapping into a lot of what we’re going through right now. But didn’t you write this album before COVID hit the U.S.?

All the lyrics were finished and we were recording before COVID hit. We kind of finished as lockdown started. I feel like the political lyrics are always going to predict the future a little bit. The world isn’t getting better in a perfect, linear way.

If anything, since you’ve written it, it seems like things have gotten worse. Did you have to push the album back, or was it always the plan to put it out at the end of October?

I was really pushing for it to come out before the election. That was always the most likely thing that was going to happen no matter what. But the label made the decision in the days of the pandemic to release it digitally on October 30 and physically in November. I was really adamant about having it out around the time of the election. I was thinking that if we can’t help people get through those few days before, maybe the years after, what is the point of this record?

More than other recordings, that’s what this record is for me. I think it sounds kind of silly to be like, "Oh, I hope people really get a lot out of my record." Whatever, music is subjective, I don’t know if you’ll like it or not, I don’t give a fk. But that's the vibe that this record gives me, that's what I was feeling while writing it. It was me saying, "Okay, pick yourself off the floor, it’s time to get back to work, there’s still work to do, you can do this, we can do this together. We’ll get through this even though it fking sucks." Sometimes we need a reminder, especially around election time. People are going to need to remember that we’ll see the other side of it. Other than all the people that the Trump administration will literally kill, we’ll have to find our way to the other side.

Was the rest of the band on board with this? 

The cool thing about our band is that it’s very clear that I write the lyrics. I do take suggestions and even sometimes steal phrases from our bandmates. If they say something cool, I make sure  to write that down, just for the greater good of pushing an intersectional feminist message. We don’t really get into the nitty gritty very much. Hopefully, that just means that I’m doing okay by them. But in the end, I’m happy to admit that if there’s ever a time when I fk something up—fk up an issue, or stick my foot in my mouth—it’s on me, not the entire band. That’s a big reason why I would want to make it clear that I write the lyrics, so they don’t get any heat for something they’re not responsible for.

We also pull an album title from the lyrics because it just makes sense. I scoured the lyrics for possibilities and asked other band members for suggestions, and I kept coming back to Wonderful Hell. Nothing sounded better than that. I think that’s because that’s where I am.

I love the video for "Wonderful Hell," too. I love how one of the first things you see is a VOTE sticker on the notebook. Why do you think it’s so important for people to vote this election year?

On a personal level, even growing up apathetic to politics, I was still like, "Of course I’m going to vote. I’m a citizen of this country. This is what I’m going to do." It’s my right. People have fought for it and died for it, and I don't take that lightly. When I was younger, I would argue with my friends who thought voting was pointless, who thought their vote wouldn't count because it was just one vote. I would argue with them about their mentality. I just didn't understand it. Why wouldn't you want to vote? We get to do this thing. We get to choose the person in charge. That’s cool. That's kind of what our country is all about. I think today, and I think knowing that I have the responsibility of speaking for a band, I completely understand people's apathy and lack of drive to stand in a line for hours and hours, to not get paid because they're not at work, to vote for someone that isn't who they actually want to be running the country. I get that.

But what I've been thinking about lately, my reasons to vote, other than my normal ones, is that I can’t think of a bigger "Fk You" to Trump than Biden winning in a landslide. For Biden winning by so much that an Electoral College fk up, or people going back on their word, or Russian interference, or voter intimidation, or voter suppression are still overcome and he wins so hard that Trump is just humiliated. That's worth it to me. To be clear, I’m fking resentful that I have to choose between two old white cisgender men accused of sexual assault or misconduct. That is not a good choice for me. That sucks. But I know that there are people that are suffering more than me, that are more marginalized, that are at higher risk of health issues, are working to be citizens or they’re refugees. There are so many types of oppressed people that need Biden more than I need to be right.

It’s important to vote for someone who has the people’s best interest at heart, and who is willing to take on police brutality, systemic racism, healthcare, and everything else we’ve been dealing with this year and decades before.

You’re right. This vote I’m casting is not for me, and in other years it has been.

Even with a song like "White Lies," which addresses police brutality, I can’t think of a song that’s more reflective of the times we’re living in right now, especially in the wake of George Floyd being killed in May. What were you thinking when you heard about his death?

Can you imagine that I actually wrote that song before all of that went down? I was thinking that I wish I could release this song today or when the initial protests began. I wish I could have released the song as soon as possible so that people had a place to channel their feelings. I believe in that power of music to help us process our feelings, help us verbalize our feelings, give us a place to put our feelings. I know of music's magical powers. It wasn't like "Oh, if only people knew we had a song for them right now." It was like, "People need a song. I want to give them a song. I have a song." But we just couldn't release it. And, unfortunately, we also knew that this [police brutality] isn't going to end before the album comes out because Trump isn't doing anything to lessen police brutality. Statistically, I figured there's probably going to be another murder. It was a tough decision, but we ended up not releasing it. Also, I didn’t want it to seem like we were trying to market off of a tragic death. It’s not about that.

The video for "White Lies" came out pretty recently, and it features artist Landis Expandis. What was it like working with him?

We were one of the thousands of bands trying to figure out: How do you do something like this when you can’t get together? What kind of music video do you make instead? What's appropriate? What doesn't look like everything else that everyone else is releasing? I don't want another sing-along video that looks like it was made on Zoom. That's boring. So what could we do instead? Landis is a friend of mine. He's a Baltimore Legend, a Baltimore staple. He was in the All Mighty Senators. He’s just a really cool guy.

Earlier this year during lockdown, like most artists who are thinking about how they were going to pay rent, some people were coming up with some really ingenious stuff. He was one of those people. He was inventing these characters and making videos about the lockdown and COVID and bringing some levity to a tough situation. I was talking to him the other day for this exclusive interview that I did through my Patreon about how all of a sudden the idea came to me: What if we let Landis make a video?  I realized that one of the reasons he appealed to me was because he brings that levity to a serious situation. We’ve also been known to bring humor sometimes to a tough subject because sometimes that's just the way you deal with tough shit. We don't need to see a bunch of Black and brown bodies bleeding in the street to get our message across in this song. I didn't want a video of that. Instead of us having a video of only protest footage in it, I thought why not just center this artist who not only is affected by the issues that I'm talking about in the song, and who's doing something creative, and pay him to do his thing and also give him creative control? It just seemed like a perfect situation of sharing this platform that we have with someone’s voice who deserves to be heard.

Do you have any plans to release more videos in the near future?

Yes. Our next video should be out in November, probably around the physical release date. It’s going to be for the song, "In Your Path." It’s based on the Chilean protests back in 2019, and the chants that this feminist collective used. They’re name is Las Tesis. I got in touch with them to give them a heads up that they’re chants were inspiring to me, and that I was going to use some of their words on my song. I gave them full credit on the album as a way to raise awareness and to use their words instead of speaking for them. They were cool with it. And then I told them that we were going to do a video. I asked them if they had any footage we could use that they would be comfortable with, and they gave us a video that we could incorporate into what we're doing. It was very cool to get them on board. I feel like a lot of those protests fell off of the radar really quickly. I relished the opportunity to redirect people back to it or expose some people to what they're doing if they didn't get to hear about it the first time.

You also incorporate lyrics from Shellac’s "Prayer to God" on the opener, "Aqua Tofana." What is it about that song that made you want to sample it?

The words in that song are just so fking tough. I'm always really fascinated by songs that are really heavy and brutal, but not how we normally think of a brutal song; not musically. I really like the band HUM. They’re the heaviest band and the quietest band in the world at the same time. I like that juxtaposition. It’s just a regular guitar song, but it’s brutal.

Basically, the gist of the story is for the last however many years, I’ve been working at this big amp repair shop with Brooks. I’m not doing it right now because of COVID, but when you work in a small space and you’re listening to music, some albums come on more than others. So that album [Shellac’s 1000 Hurts] would get played a lot. Every time [“Prayer to God”] came on I was like, “Can we cover this? What are the options here?” So I always had it in the back of my mind---and I don't mind stealing little one-liners like that. That’s art, right?  I was just like, this perfectly describes how the women in this song would feel.

I think Steve Albini would be fine with that.

He's clearly not singing a feminist anthem. He might not be a straight-up misogynist, but it's still uncomfortable to hear about a man wanting someone to kill his ex-lover who is a woman. And I like that I flipped it around a little bit and had fun with some misandry.

Outside of being an album that addresses social injustices, you also call Wonderful Hell a call to action. What action would you like to see taken?

[Pauses.] Shit. [Pauses.] Because it’s not just about "Go Vote." My thought right now is that I want people to get back to doing the good work. It’s funny. It’s like the call to action is about getting yourself to a place where you can take action again. [Laughs.] There’s not a nice, easy, catchy little phrase. It’s not a simple idea because that looks different for everyone. I just want people to know that they are needed in the fight.

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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."

Mumu Fresh On What She Learned From Working With The Roots, Rhyming & More

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."