How "Cop Killer" Got Ice-T Into Hot Water

Submitted by notoriousclassics on Tue, 06/29/2021 - 18:24
Ice T performs with Body Count at CBGB in 1992

Hip-hop artists have always been truth tellers, even when they're telling truths that make some uncomfortable. Ice-T learned this the hard way in the summer of 1992, when a controversy erupted over a protest song he wrote criticizing police brutality.

Ice's fourth album O.G. Original Gangster introduced a side project of his by the name of Body Count. The group reflected Ice's love of heavy metal - indeed, there was no rapping on the record - and addressed social issues like racism and other social issues in aggressive ways. The closing track of Body Count's debut album was "Cop Killer," which Ice wrote "in the first person as a character who is fed up with police brutality." It called out Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates by name, who presided over the force while motorist Rodney King was beaten by police following a car chase in 1991.

The Body Count album and "Cop Killer" entered the fray in March 1992, just weeks before the cops charged with beating King were acquitted, resulting in a string of riots through Los Angeles. Before too long, hosts of police organizations were calling on the album - and Time Warner, the parent company of Ice-T's label - to be boycotted. Then-president George Bush even weighed in on the controversy, calling the song "sick," while actor Charlton Heston - himself a Time Warner shareholder - put pressure on the company at a stockholder's meeting, reciting lyrics from the album to a gathering of news crews.

Unsurprisingly, Ice stayed cool throughout the ordeal. "I ain't never killed no cop," he said at the time. "I felt like it a lot of times. But I never did it. If you believe that I'm a cop killer, you believe David Bowie is an astronaut." Ultimately, he did decide to reissue the album without the offending song, and left his label within a year. (Warner never censored him, he said, but noted, "I learned that lesson in there, that you're never really safe as long as you're connected to any big corporation's money." Time Warner's then-co-CEO Gerald M. Levin and Warner Bros. Records chairman Mo Ostin defended him during and after the controversy.)

Perhaps ironically, Ice - who'd already played a cop in the film New Jack City - is today perhaps best known as Sgt. Fin Tutuola on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a role he has played on TV since 2000.